In the Labour Party and among Trade Union leaders here in Wales, it is thought defeatist and almost traitorous, to express the belief that Labour may lose the General Election this year.
All three candidates for the leadership of Wales Labour expressed, during the hustings, their firm belief in victory when Gordon Brown calls the election. At Trade Union conferences and in constituency meetings no note of caution or doubt can be heard.
Now, of course, we in the Labour Movement all want to keep the Tories out of power. Most of us remember only too well what Tory government means and we hear clearly the threats from them now. The school of Cameron will be harsh indeed.
Blow upon blow fell upon the working people of Wales under Thatcher. No Thatcherite Tory Party could ever win here now. That’s why the Cameron leadership is so keen to try to present themselves as the nice guys. If their threatened cuts were to take place in Wales it would be devastating. During the leadership hustings Carwyn Jones, now the new First Minister, said that one in three heads of families in Wales are employed in public services. And by the way, even with the ‘clear Red water’ it is a simple fact that all of our health, education and care services are already understaffed.
The problem is though, that the devastation caused by the Tories has not been dealt with. And now with the deepest recession since the 1930’s things are getting worse.
This week we have had the death sentence passed on the Bosch motor components factory. This means the loss of 900 jobs in the factory and an estimated further 3,000 jobs to go in local supply and servicing of the works. The excuse in this case is that the production is being moved to Hungary where wage rates are 65% of those at the Miskin plant. It is unlikely though, that the Hungarian workers at Hatvan are holding their breath. Last year 500 job losses were announced there! Perhaps there is somewhere where wage rates are even lower!
The Bosch workers are being told to ‘keep quiet’ and then perhaps something might be done for some of them. It has even been hinted that there may be jobs in Hungary but the cut backs there make that a bit doubtful. The response to job threats last year by the Visteon workers and others showed however that a sterner response brings results. Those lessons will not be lost here.
There is a daft idea being pushed here that cities need to ‘stimulate entrepreneurship to create their own jobs’. Said Dermot Finch…’high levels of entrepreneurship and well-educated workforces would be crucial to recovery.’ He appears to be urging more public expenditure to bring this about. Or is it switching funds from services to ‘entrepreneurs’? In the article about this in the Echo they say figures show that ‘35.5% of the Cardiff workforce have qualifications of NVQ level 4 and above’. And yet, ‘the Welsh capital still has below average employment, with 70.3% of the working-age population in employment.’
On the page directly facing that article is a photo of Burberry workers marching in Treorchy against the job losses in 2007 when the company moved its production abroad. They quoted a local woman worker who had been at Burberry. ‘There’s hardly anything around here for people looking for work….There’s a bit of part-time work but nothing full-time, which is what people need.’
Perhaps if Burberry had paid ‘quality wages’ the workers may have been able to buy Burberry ‘quality clothes’!
On the same page of the paper is a report of figures recently released by the Office of National Statistics. These show that of the richest fifth of the South Wales population 1.7% are claiming Jobseekers allowance while among the poorest fifth 10.5% are claiming. The richest fifth have £147,000 of pension wealth while the poorest fifth has £500! Net financial wealth at the top is £24,000 and at the bottom is £700 in debt!
Last year workers in many parts of Britain including South Wales took part in illegal strikes and pickets. These actions were illegal because after twelve years of a Labour administration Thatcher’s anti-union laws were still in place. The trade union leaders had in the main kept a cosy quiet relationship with the government while hoping for a few concessions. Basically what they got was a minimum wage that the bosses could live with. With a very few honourable exceptions Labour MP’s rolled over and played dead. They did sweet nothing about council housing and allowed privateers to move in on the health service, education and even national defence!
Now, predicting the outcome of elections is more difficult than forecasting the Welsh weather. However in Cardiff at least every election since 1997 has seen a drop in the Labour vote. In valleys and estates that were once a sea of red during elections it’s hard to spot the Labour poster.
In Llanrumney Ward in Cardiff the Liberal Democrat/Plaid Cymru coalition on the council have upset everyone. In the face of widespread opposition they insist on going ahead with plans to dump a school on the ‘village green’. In the last council elections the vote went much like a three-way split between Labour, Lib. Dem. and Plaid Cymru. It is probable that the General Election will produce a similar result. The Tories will come nowhere and hopefully Labour will be the main beneficiary of this three-way split, if a few more of our people vote because they fear the Tories.
There are over 8,000 people on the housing waiting list in Cardiff with almost no chance of getting a home. In fact it is really a con to put people on the list and give them false hope. Big housing estates like Llanrumney were built in the 1940’s and 50’s when Britain was really broke. If we had a Labour leadership worthy of the name we could take over the building industry and build the million plus decent quality council houses that we need. If Labour made that pledge the General Election would be in the bag.