Unite the strikes. For a General Strike!

Strikes of health and education workers in Wales were postponed after a disgraceful pay offer to increase wages by 1.5% consolidated (guaranteed in the following years pay packets), and 1.5% as a one off payment over the rise that was agreed. That will be 6.5% for this year and 5,5% next year. But inflation only in 2022 was over 10%!

While health unions -with the exception of Unite, who has kept its action- have not set further dates, the NEU postponed its strike to the 2nd of March “pending consultation with members and further talks with the Welsh Government”. Health workers reacted in fury, whilst education workers’ reaction was more of confusion. But all workers are clear that this deal should be rejected.

It is clear that both these decisions were a patent mistake. They provide cover to a Welsh Labour Government that is making no serious attempt to resolve the disputes and sends a message that trade unions will be willing to settle for far less than what their members are fighting for. And, if this is the message in Wales, why will be different in the rest of the UK or England. Why will it be different for a Tory Government?

Welsh Labour Government with austerity and against decent salaries

Welsh Labour in Government, for all its rhetoric, is showing itself to follow the logic of austerity and capitalism. Both in governments and councils, they have not just managed austerity but actively promoted cuts and privatisation.

The prime example is the current proposed budget by the Labour-led Cardiff council, which will lead to closing libraries and museums, increasing the price of school meals and selling off cultural centres. They blame austerity, but at the same time spend £270m bankrolling a privatised “events arena” 1, to be run by Live Nation, a private company with a virtual monopoly on cultural events in the UK.

And this capitalist logic is happily subscribed by the Welsh Labour Executive that, when accused of privatising the Welsh NHS “by stealth” said they “will make no apology for the fact that we will use facilities in the private sector here in Wales.”2  A complete endorsement of privatisation where the working-class carries the cost and the capitalists get the profit.

Many more examples, such as the use of private companies to provide supply educators to schools, in defiance of a long campaign to employ educators “in-house”, can be given.

The truth is that, in spite of all the speeches about “clear red water” and standing up against privatisation, that is exactly what Welsh Labour advocates- not in words but in deeds.

The Welsh Senedd and the Welsh government were created in 1997 as a consequence of the devolution referendum that won more powers and autonomy for Wales. Among other things, Health and Education are under its remit.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Wales saw it as a way to enact progressive change. They were seeking a tool that can confront austerity and neoliberalism, at a time where Blairism was the prevalent ideology in the Labour Party.

Trade union bureaucracy and working-class fury

But these aspirations have been thwarted by Welsh Labour, which deploys a strategy of co-opting the trade union bureaucracies in Wales with words, empty promises, and institutional seats, while deploying the full logic of austerity capitalist policies on its constituents.

Within this strategy, to neutralise trade union rank-and-file activism and bring industrial relations and action into the safe folds of institutionalism has been the main aim, happily followed by the trade union bureaucracy. A tactic even more clearly in the last few years, when a social partnership agenda was even codified into Welsh law.

Another tool of class collaboration, creating an environment where trade union leaders and bureaucrats are taken out of the sphere of the workers’ movement and spend more and more time in backroom deals and negotiations, putting them under the influence of the State and the employers. As Morgan Rhys-Powell mentions in his article: “it cleaves union leaders away from the realities of work and from the movement which they claim to represent.”3

The Welsh Labour leadership present themselves as wishfully progressive and union-friendly, while blaming the UK conservative government for all attacks that they themselves pass on workers in Wales. For this they count with trade union bureaucracy collaboration, including the WTUC leadership, who agrees with this mantra and routs any attempt at meaningful working-class struggle. That is why they consciously refuse to radicalise the struggle, as now they had shown, to unite this wave of strikes with an rank-and-file programme and to raise the slogan of General Strike to get rid of the tories.

But even with all this efforts, rank and file workers and trade unionists have effectively forced the end of this class collaboration with both Tory Westminster and the Welsh Labour Government. This massive wave of strikes is opening a new period in the class struggle in the UK, showing the strength of the working class in the UK, and their deep consciousness that the only way out is to strike and fight.

An increasingly large layer of workers is reaching advanced conclusions that will not forgive the role of any government or bureaucracy that has managed and passed austerity, be it the leadership of trade unions or self-proclaimed “social democratic” parties- Labour, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru- who have effectively passed cuts at country, regional or council level. A serious warning for Starmer’s Labour, which explains his rejection to support the strike movement with the excuse that Labour is a party of Government and of “business”.

This shows that the habitual tactic of Welsh Labour- blaming any cuts on Westminster and congratulating themselves on any cosmetic “progressive” changes- does not hold water. Workers are clear: you are either for us or against us.

No excuses! For a General strike!!

Welsh unions, which were forced by their members to take action against the Welsh government, and the Wales Trade Union Congress leadership, have now a choice to make.

There is no hope in satisfying both Welsh Labour bureaucracy and an increasingly advanced layer of workers that has seen through its sophistry.

The Welsh TUC can do right by its members, by making the radical choice of uniting the strikes in Wales, calling for a general strike in Wales that, with a programme of rank-and-file action, can be extended to England and the whole of the UK. This would be one big step forward, to guarantee a victory against the nightmarish Sunak Government, and the conditions to combat new austerity policies under a Starmer Labour Government.

A general strike organised from below, through rank-and-file action, hand in hand with a genuine working-class programme based on rank-and-file workers demands and expectations for a genuinely democratically-run, nationalised economy, would galvanise the working-class movement both in Wales and England and can be the first step to ending the misery and exploitation we live in.

We need to fight for the General Strike Now! We need to fight for socialist revolutionary change!


[1] https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/questions-over-future-cardiff-planned-25904890


3 https://www.voice.wales/social-partnership-are-unions-getting-too-friendly-with-welsh-government/