Stanza VIII of Gwalia Deserta by Idris Davies is a fairly accurate summary of the UK’s nine-day general strike of 1926: the “great dream and quick disaster”, culminating in the Trade Disputes and Unions Act 1927 which banned general strikes, sympathy strikes and mass picketing.
The sun on idle wheels and deserted crossroads,
And the laughter and swearing in the moonlit streets?
Do you remember 1926? The slogans and the penny gigs,
The jazz-bands and the picnics of the moors,
And the slanderous tongues of famous cities?
Do you remember 1926? The big dream and the quick disaster,
The fanatic and the traitor, and above all,
The bravery of simple and faithful people?
“Ay, ay, we remember 1926,” Dai and Shinkin said,
As they stood on the pavement of Charing Cross Road,
“And we will remember 1926 until our blood is dry.”
Fifty years later, the workers are again hammered by Margaret Thatcher. New Labor is doing nothing to restore their rights.
Today we see the consequences: Increased levels of poverty among working people. Growing inequalities between rich and poor. The collapse of public services. The rise of the extreme right and the persecution of minorities.
The economic outlook doesn’t look good either, according to the latest OECD forecasts – so where are we headed? And what are we going to do with it?
There aren’t many options left.
Wales having control of labor law would enable us to prioritise, support and strengthen workers’ rights through the trade union movement.
Union membership has declined across the UK. In Wales, only a third of our workforce is unionised – very low compared to the Nordic countries, where an average of 70% are unionised.
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Why the gap? Because in these countries trade unions play a key role in shaping industrial strategy, and therefore workers are valued by employers and therefore want to be involved. Cooperation, rather than antagonism, works better for everyone.
In Wales we already have the Workforce Partnership Council – made up of the Welsh Government, employers and trade unions – to deal with workforce issues in the public service. It is an initiative that shows what is possible and that I support.
I also support the industrial action planned by the RMT union and others next week, and would like to see other private and public sector unions vote for their members. How powerful could coordinated action be?
Whether or not the mass action resulted in a general strike is debatable. Even if it did, the Westminster government would react with a heavy hand.
In response to the RMT’s initiative, the Tories are already considering legislation to bring in strikebreakers in the event of a strike, which is exactly what they did a century ago.
But that could be the start. The tactile paper.
In the 1920s, it was the miners, dockers and railway workers – the Triple Alliance – who led the way.
The miners as a force are now long gone, as are the dockworkers.
The railway workers stay, but they cannot bear the burden alone.
Today more than ever, we need “the bravery of simple and faithful people”.
And we need to dream again.
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