Thursday, 17 March 2011

Looming Dangers to Our Public Services

It is often said that where America leads, the rest of the world follows. This statement is, sadly, particularly the case as far the United Kingdom is concerned and as far as foreign policy is concerned. However, while we keep a watchful eye on the soundings of the Obama administration on the so-called “axis of evil” and their next target, it is recent anti-trade union legislation that we also need to be mindful of.

In Wisconsin, the Republican governor Scott Walker has successfully passed a bill, despite the best efforts of 14 Democrat Senators, which restricts the collective bargaining rights of workers. The issue has caused a political storm and workers are rightly outraged at being punished in this unjust way. The powers-that-be are making the workers pick up the tab for the nation’s budget deficit, which of course, was not of their making. Sound familiar?

This issue was brought up during the Noam Chomsky talk in Cardiff. Chomsky spoke of the messages of support that had been sent by the labour movement in Egypt to Wisconsin workers who were reciprocating the goodwill they had received themselves from Wisconsin during the successful ousting of their crooked dictator Mubarak. The spirit of solidarity extends across the world during tough times.

It is clear we need to be on guard against the introduction of similar, anti-union laws being passed in the UK. We already have some of the most restrictive union laws in the Western world yet the appetite of the likes of David Cameron and Boris Johnson to crack down on hard-won workers’ rights seems to know no bounds. The Tories, aided by the Liberal Democrats, are lining up their ducks-in-a-row before pushing through the type of cuts that will devastate the livelihoods of tens of thousands of working people throughout the UK. We have already seen plenty of evidence that shows that here in Wales, we will be hit particularly hard by swingeing cuts because of the numbers of people working in the public sector.

The recent and resounding ‘Yes’ vote has crucially extended Wales's protection from the socially destructive policies of the Con/Dems but there are still limitations. I am very worried about the plans Cameron has announced for opening up public sector contracts to private firms. We will know the potential impact on Wales when the detail is revealed in a forthcoming White Paper.

This week I chaired a meeting of the cross-party Assembly PCS union group. A reoccurring theme of the meeting was that in all sectors, our public service workers are facing the type of attack not seen since the days of Thatcher. This is not just at the hands of the Westminster coalition in areas such as Companies House and the Driving Standards Agency but also at the Labour-controlled RCT council who have used ‘gunboat diplomacy’ to force through a 40% cut in wages for some of their lowest-paid workers. This was all achieved while the council sat on a £2 million surplus they told no-one about. It goes without saying that the Plaid Cymru group at the council has vehemently opposed these measures from the very outset.

Next Monday, I will unveil a discussion paper called ‘Greenprint for the Valleys’ that puts forward some proposals for the future of the former coalfield communities and encourage debate about what we need to do to secure our future. There will be public meetings on the ‘Greenprint for the Valleys’ at the Cwmaman Institute on the evening of March 21st and Soar in Penygraig on the evening of March 28th.

The viability of our valleys' communities are at stake and we need to act now if we are to ensure a future for our children. But we also need to protect what we have or our work will be severely undermined.

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