Issue 228 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 1999 Copyright Socialist Review

Wales: the fallout

Pete Jackson spoke to three Labour Party members in South Wales about what they think of Labour today and the future for socialists
Angry demonstrators against Lucas factory closure in South Wales

Roy Thomas: ten years in the Labour Party, delegate to Cardiff County Labour Party and Cardiff GMC, GMB shop steward for Cardiff council

'The Labour government has not been living up to my expectations ever since it got in. I thought they would stop foxhunting. But they've gone the other way. Blair says we're all middle class--well I'm not bloody middle class. The Labour Party has shot itself in the foot over Alun Michael. They say Blair is a power freak. I think he is a dictator. People around him let him get away with it. I thought, John Prescott, there's my man. Now look. This is one of the reasons I was for Rhodri Morgan. I wanted Rhodri to stick up for us. Blair gave us the Assembly. It's our Assembly--let us get on with it. I'm an old socialist. There's not a lot of socialists in the Labour Party now.

I'm absolutely disgusted by Bill Morris and John Edmonds. I'm a bit impressed with Bickerstaffe of Unison because over the minimum wage he said never mind about £4 an hour--we want £4.65. That's another promise Blair's broken. £3.60 is a disgrace, and you don't get that until you are 21. At 18 you can vote for him, at 16 you can die for him--it's ridiculous. I am very disheartened. I can't believe that the TGWU went against Rhodri who is a TGWU member. The TGWU members haven't gone against Rhodri, George Wright the TGWU leader has. He's got no right to put the block vote. The GMB were forced to give us a ballot. They wanted to give a block vote for Michael but we got a lot of petitions up and went down and said we want a ballot. They gave us a ballot vote through the branches. It was unanimous in our branch, about 270 members, that we put our vote behind Rhodri. I went to see my full time officer and said, 'Will we get to know how the branches voted?' He said no, the regional committee will decide. I said, 'What's the point of a ballot then?'

On the economy, if a firm sets up here there should be a clause that if it pulls out within so many years it has to pay the money back. They get all sorts of tax exemptions. The conditions are usually terrible. We have to safeguard ourselves. They know we are desperate for jobs. The unions just fall into line at the moment. They usually say they'll fight it--it's just lip service. Look at the steel industry. They said they would retrain people. That's a joke. Where's the protest in Llanwern [steel works]? People are accepting it. There's no fight. Since the coal strike, people say you can't win. I was involved in eight strikes in the brewery. In the end we got good conditions and were on top money.

We've all signed the Action Programme initiated by Socialist Worker. Even councillors have signed it. I think a lot of people support it but they are frightened to speak up for it. We went to a meeting where Rhodri Morgan was and people were reading Socialist Worker. I was surprised. A lot of people have had a gutful. The Action Programme is a good start. It will bring people together.

I'm not sure if there's a growing nationalist mood in Wales. I think most of it is bitterness with Blair. You can't go to the Tories or Liberals. You're going to go to Plaid. People were leaving the Labour Party before the Welsh Assembly. They were drained. If Rhodri doesn't get elected I think they'll come away in droves. They'll either go to Plaid Cymru or they're not going to vote.

There definitely is a future for socialists in the Labour Party. Otherwise we would be in the same groove forever and there would be no new ideas. The system has to be revised, and we should nationalise things. The local councils are the people who should start speaking out. But they're scared for their positions. You have to have people in positions to speak out and once that happens people will start to follow. I wish Prescott would speak out now and again, just to give us a little bit of confidence. Why didn't he come out over the minimum wage? When it comes to the trade unions or the Labour conference it's Prescott who gets up--I'm one of the boys, what a laugh. It's just a cover up for Blair, so no one rises up against him. I am disillusioned with the Labour Party. If you're on about bringing socialism back I think you can bring it back with people like Rhodri. I think he is a true socialist. I'd go a lot further than Rhodri, mind. I'm all for the SWP standing. Put the socialists in. When they're in, these people might start to listen.

Money should go on education and social services. We should have tax raising powers. I think taxes will go up in Scotland but as long as they tax the rich, I don't mind.'

Marc Delaney: member of the Labour Party for 14 years, who joined when Thatcher started privatisation

'I am very, very disappointed. I think it is a deplorable government quite honestly. The whole idea of a Labour government was that it would undo, very rapidly, some of the excesses of the previous Tory government. People expected of the Labour government an immediate movement towards narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, but the gap continues to widen, exactly as used to happen with the Tories. Now even the Tories are more democratic internally than New Labour. At least they managed to get one member one vote. Look at what is happening here in Wales. It is disgusting.

The election is close because of the union block votes. I am a one member one vote person--in any institution. It is the only way you can have proper democracy. The Dispatches programme recently was very telling because it showed the opinions of TGWU members. The leaders cast the vote for Alun Michael but if they had balloted the members Rhodri Morgan would have won.

Rhodri would be much better. He's not Blair's man, as simple as that. He would take more notice of the opinion of the people in Wales. I would imagine quite a few Labour Party members might leave, those who are hovering on the edge. This is the last straw. Others will become less active.

In terms of the economy, I have been uncomfortable about depending on the so called Tiger economies. I have this sixth sense--it niggles me that we are dependent on these economies which have suddenly spurted up, out of nowhere, are totalitarian, with no proper record of democracy. The sixth sense seems to say they might collapse as fast as they rose. To depend on them for all of our investment makes me very uneasy.

We should have a much more solid, indigenous base of investment. If we had to choose between capitalists then Welsh capitalism would be better than Taiwan capitalism. But I think the whole capitalist system itself needs looking at. I don't have any solutions to offer as to how it can work. Certainly the model that was tried out in the Soviet Union didn't work and I would not support that in any circumstances because in a way that was also capitalist, only state capitalist. I really don't know what the answer is but we have to try and find a way that is not so capitalist as the western countries are at the moment, where a handful of people control all of the money and the power.

The job losses we are seeing currently are because the ethos is profit, profit, profit, and just for the individuals. The shareholders are trying to get more and more dividends. So they are trying to get less and less people working to produce more and more. If they went away from profits, and the emphasis was on a better quality of life all round, then each person would be able to have a share.

There are two parties: one is the Labour Party as the Labour Party was and should have been--well, there should have been some changes--and the other is the New Labour Party. The ideas of socialism and nationalisation are still there among the Labour Party members. Most people can't see an alternative. I am going to find it difficult to cast my vote. I am not going to vote Labour any more. I don't know who I will vote for. I certainly can't vote Tory.

Socialists should stand against Labour. There is a huge gaping vacuum to the left of centre. Labour is very far right of centre. They are now the Tories. There is a huge vacuum to the left and any party which starts filling it needs only to convince the people that they are credible in some way.

I might well vote for Plaid because they seem to be the most independent, slightly left of centre at the moment. In south Wales there is a growing vote for Plaid in areas which normally have no nationalistic feelings. Many people will be supporting Plaid out of desperation. It is an anti-Blair vote.

I don't know how many are dropping out of Labour. Certainly some are--it could be a lot if Blair succeeds in forcing his poodles down our throats, if he succeeds with his welfare reforms, which are a great worry to disabled people and lone mothers. I have no hesitation in saying that there is no place for socialists in the Labour Party, rather the New Labour Party as it has become, because it is not a socialist party and it is doing everything possible to kill socialism. How can socialists belong to an organisation that is trying to destroy its very existence? Socialists should leave the Labour Party and should try to form a left of centre party.

It would be very helpful if the Assembly had the power to renationalise. I'm not saying blanket renationalisation because then you would have monopolies governed by faceless people. I'm not in favour of taking away from private people and giving everything to civil servants. But natural monopolies and essentials of life like water and gas should be nationalised.

One recent example of how distant New Labour has become from social justice comes from Stephen Byers, who said wealth generation takes priority over wealth distribution. I think it does not. They must go hand in hand.'

Janet Clowes: Cardiff RMT branch secretary, 15 years in the Labour Party, delegate to Labour Party conference in 1998

'Tony Blair is carrying on with the Tories' principles and I find it very disheartening. I was a bit surprised by the things Rhodri Morgan's been saying, that there was no difference between him and Blair--but I don't think he's as right of the party as Blair. I like Rhodri and he works hard as an MP but he's never taken a stance as to whether he's from the left or the right, sort of centre of everything.

The unions should be doing more. I would say they should be sitting round the negotiating table but that doesn't usually happen these days. They should be educating their members and keeping them up to date with what's going on. We went through privatisation on the railways and if I'm honest about it my union completely stuffed up on it. They took legal advice and we were told there was nothing we could do about it. We were told that if we came out on strike or showed any industrial muscle my union could be sequestrated--but the NUM are still going. They should be educating their workers to say, 'Look, we don't have to put up with this and we're going do something about it.' Unfortunately I think Blair's got a lot of support for his project. Look at John Prescott. You couldn't have got a better socialist than him once, but he has totally gone the other way.

In Wales we tend to be a lot more socialist because of the mines and the steel. If you go to the valleys they're going from labour to Plaid Cymru because Plaid offers them more now.

I look upon myself as a nationalist, I suppose. I don't like being beholden to central government. I don't see myself as English or British. That was one reason why I agreed with the Welsh Assembly. If we had home rule we would still be socialist. There will be a growth in Plaid Cymru support. The polls suggest Labour will win the Welsh Assembly but I wouldn't be so sure. I don't think we'll have the majority. That will go to Plaid Cymru I work with a couple of guys who are in Plaid Cymru and they're gaining support every single day. So far the Caerphilly branch of Plaid has been given £7,000 for the election. They are gaining all the time but they are still very small compared to the Labour Party.

People are leaving the Labour Party. Every day I think, 'Why am I a member?' The only thing I keep coming back to is because you just don't want to let go and you want to keep an input into something. If I took a more active part in the Labour Party maybe I would make a difference, but people like me are becoming more and more of a minority every day. People are leaving in droves.

The Assembly will make a difference in making our own decisions without central government. When it was first announced I thought it would just be a second tier of government. It should be policy making. If a company gets into trouble, for instance, we could renationalise it in Wales itself. I work for Cardiff railway company and it should be renationalised. There's only 350 of us working for the company. The last thing I want to do is become unemployed. I certainly don't want to stay employed by a private company. The Assembly should also have tax raising powers.

In reality I don't think there is a future for socialists in the Labour Party. Everybody is just so pleased that the Labour Party got in the last time that they'll do anything now to stay in power, even if that means going along with the old Tory principles. The chairman of the Tory Party was on the telly talking about how the Labour Party are using their principles. That gets me upset.'

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