Cymru Under Tory Attacks

Geoff Ryan reports on two attempts by the Tories, both locally in Wrexham/Wrecsam and UK wide in Westminster to attack democratic and workers’ rights in Wales/Cymru.

 

The independence movement in Cymru/Wales has won a stunning victory against Wrexham Council. The local elections in May left Wrexham/Wrecsam council in the hands of an alliance of Tory and independent councillors. There are a lot of independent councillors in Cymru/Wales, the overwhelming majority (like in Wrexham/Wrecsam) are right-wing who gravitate naturally towards the Tories, though there are a few more radical independents often people who have left Labour or Plaid for some reason but still retain their politics.

On Monday (27th June 2022) the Wrexham/Wrecsam administration tried to ban the planned March for Independence to be held in Wrexham/Wrecsam this coming Saturday, July 2, though they now deny they wanted to ‘ban’ the march. They claim they were simply enforcing a council decision that political rallies could not be held on Llwyn Isaf green outside the Guildhall.

In fact, the Tory council leaders were quite clear in their desire to ban the march: they informed All Under One Banner Cymru, the march organisers that not only would the booking of Llwyn Isaf ‘not be permitted’ but asked the organisers, to ‘please change your advertising of the March to reflect our decision’. Since there was very little time to find a new assembly point and advertise this to the tens of thousands expected to take part this was, in effect, an attempt to make the march impossible.

This was challenged by AUOB Cymru who pointed out that celebrations of the Queen’s jubilee and Armed Forces Day were held at the green – though Tories probably consider support for the monarchy and military to be ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ and totally apolitical! More tellingly AUOB pointed to Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly. For the second time in a couple of weeks the Tories were forced to back down by the ECHR: no wonder they are so keen to abolish its role in the UK.

Within 24 hours the administration had capitulated and immediately began denying any intention to prevent the march from taking place, merely enforcing a previous council decision about the holding of rallies on Llwyn Isaf green. In a statement issued by Councillor Mark Pritchard (leader of Wrexham/Wrecsam Council), Councillor David A. Bithell (Deputy leader of the Council) and Councillor Hugh Jones (Leader of the Conservative Group) they claim:

‘To sum up, we have no problems with the organisers using Llwyn Isaf green – we never have – and as councillors, we’ve never intervened or made any attempt to stop this event’.

Clearly, barefaced lying in the Tory party is by no means the preserve of Boris Johnson.

The victory in Wrexham/Wrecsam is significant because it allows the March for Independence to go ahead. This will be the first AUOB Cymru march since the start of the Covid pandemic and the first since last year’s crisis in YesCymru so it will be a good indication of the strength of the independence movement.

The attempts by the Tories in Wrexham/Wrecsam to ban the AUOB march were only one aspect of an attack on devolution in Wales/Cymru. A more serious threat to the right of the Senedd to make laws in Cymru/Wales came from the UK government who announced that they would try to repeal the Trade Union Act (Wales) 2017. The reason the Tories so dislike this legislation is that it forbids the use of agency workers to temporarily fill any vacancies left by workers who are on strike – at least in areas such as health and education which are devolved to the Senedd.

As usual, no attempt was made to discuss this with the government of Wales/Cymru. According to First Minister Mark Drakeford :

‘It speaks volumes of the disrespectful agenda that the Westminster government has towards devolution and of course, we will resist it’.

Of course, as Mark Drakeford clearly recognised, this attempt to remove the Trade Union Act (Wales) 2017 is because of the rail strikes. ‘It’s nonsense’ he said. ‘The idea that you’ll find an agency worker capable of driving a train or operating a signal box. These are hugely safety-critical roles. This is just a piece of nonsense’.

Drakeford’s criticisms were echoed by Jeremy Miles (Minister for Education and Minister for the Welsh Language) who saw Westminster’s move as an ‘attack on workers’ rights and devolution – appalling, cynical and undemocratic from a party that doesn’t understand the first thing about social partnership. And it will be resisted’.

The Wales TUC Cymru claimed:

‘The UK government’s plans to scrap the Senedd’s Trade Union Act (Wales) 2017 are a total disgrace. This is a fundamental attack on workers’ rights and on devolution’.

Even Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds condemned the move in strong words:

‘This latest move by the UK government is a disgrace. This is just the latest episode in a sustained assault by the Conservative Party on the democratic legitimacy of the Senedd and devolved lawmaking.

‘The fact they are overriding our Parliament to try and trample on workers’ rights only makes it more disturbing’.

This double-edged attack on trade union rights and the rights of the Senedd has the potential to bring much wider groups of people into the independence movement. Hopefully, it is an issue that will be voiced in Wrexham/Wrecsam at the AUOB demonstration and taken up in the trade unions and the labour movement more generally.

In the meantime, we urge people to sign Wales Against Tory Tyranny petition launched by the Peoples’ Assembly Wales.


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Geoff Ryan is a member of Undod, YesCymru, Labour For An Independent Wales, and Carmarthen East & Dynefwr Labour Party.


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