The views expressed in this email and blog are those of the individuals whose name is attached to the posting. They do not represent a collective position of the WLG or the Labour Party
Welsh Labour conference, held in Llandudno on the weekend, went well for Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG). The 'anti-austerity' motion that we initiated, which had been submitted with slight variations by Unison Labour Link and by Cardiff West, Gower, Pontypridd and Swansea West CLPs, was carried nem con as a composite resolution. The Welsh Executive Committee had insisted on some changes to the final version of the composite, as the price of recommending acceptance. These watered down the motion somewhat - in particular, by removing the commitment to support industrial action against austerity; community campaigns to defend local services; and a Wales TUC anti-cuts demonstration. Nevertheless, the resolution, as passed, still represents a significant advance on previous Welsh Labour policy, adopting the principle that the party should provide political leadership to the anti-cuts movement, as well as the position that Labour councils should explore every available means of protecting their communities before passing on spending cuts. The text of the final resolution is posted: http://welshlabourgrassroots.blogspot.co.uk/#!/2013/03/anti-austerity-composite-resolution.html and we should try to ensure that the party, at both local and all-Wales levels, acts in consistency with it. I also posted: http://welshlabourgrassroots.blogspot.co.uk/#!/2013/03/wlg-welsh-labour-conference-bulletin.html is the bulletin that we distributed at conference.
Our fringe meeting on the Saturday evening was well-attended, with a number of those present new to WLG. We heard from three excellent speakers, who each gave their own perspective on the challenge of austerity and the response of the left.
- First, Mark Drakeford AM talked about the choices facing an incoming Labour government in 2015, having inherited a contracting economy with high inflation, unfavourable conditions for borrowing and a depreciated currency. Among the options favoured by Mark would be a financial transactions tax (to which a number of EU states are already committed); a land value tax; a more progressive National Insurance system; a minimum taxation level; and serious efforts to close the 'tax gap' produced by evasion, avoidance and a failure to collect taxes owed. Mark also touched on the need for a more far-reaching long-term strategy, reflecting the depletion and maldistribution of the world's resources, which would involve a fairer allocation of those resources and a greater focus on quality of life.
- Next, Cllr. Siobhan Corria addressed the question of how councils can protect services while managing austerity. Cardiff Council had applied cuts of 10-15% in each of its departments and had reduced funding to third sector organisations by at least 10% - in some cases, 100%. Siobhan argued that a more strategic approach was needed, which recognised that third sector organisations reduce the demand for statutory services. She also felt that the consultation on the budget needed to begin a lot earlier in future and that Labour councillors needed to be more engaged with the communities they represent, making clear their fundamental opposition to the cuts and affinity with campaigns to safeguard amenities. Siobhan finished by setting out the threat posed by the bedroom tax and the need for Labour to take a clear stance of opposition. She called for councillors who support WLG to work more closely together.
- Finally Mike Payne of the GMB provided a trade union perspective, recounting his own journey into workplace activism and reminding us that the Tories had been consistent in their determination to divide and exploit working people. He reported that 380,000 public sector jobs had been cut over the previous two years, putting pressure on services that served the Tories' privatisation agenda. In response, unions needed to overcome the complacency to which some had succumbed in the New Labour years. The GMB had adopted a comprehensive political strategy that involved a more proactive engagement with the Labour party, greater emphasis on political education for stewards and the politicisation of industrial campaigns. Among other things, they were working with Unite and UCATT on a campaign against blacklisting.
Each of the speakers prompted a range of questions and some lively debate. There seemed a general feeling that the left and centre-left needs to do more to share and develop our ideas, as well as redoubling our organising and campaigning work within the labour movement.
Finally, just a brief note about some important forthcoming events. This Saturday, 30th March, will see a second round of protests against the 'Bedroom Tax' around the UK. This will include the following locations within Wales:
- Cardiff - assemble at City Hall at 1.00 pm
- Swansea - 1.00 pm in Castle Square
- Wrexham - 1.00 pm in Queens Square
Please support one of these demos if you can.
We have also previously mentioned the People's Assembly Against Austerity, a major conference taking place in London on Saturday, 22nd June. This is an important initiative to establish a mass campaign against austerity, firmly rooted in the mainstream of the labour movement but also reaching out to people who have no political affiliations and feel their views are not being represented in Parliament. It is supported by several major unions, including Unite, CWU, PCS, RMT and NUT; Labour MPs like John McDonnell, Katy Clark and Jeremy Corbyn; and other prominent figures of the left, such as Tony Benn, Ken Loach, Tariq Ali, Kate Hudson and Owen Jones. It will be taking place in Central Hall Westminster, Storey's Gate, London SW1H 9NH between 9.30 am to 5.00 pm on 22 June. Several of us from WLG are already committed to going along; it would be good to see as many comrades from Wales there as possible - if you'd like to go, you can book a place online, in advance.
Fraternal best wishes