Source > voicewales
16 June 2022
Coaches organised by trade unions are going from across Wales for a mass demonstration in London on Saturday. voice.wales spoke to the Wales TUC leader and other demonstrators days before the protest.
Ahead of a major protest on Saturday against the cost of living crisis, the leader of the Wales TUC has said that the workers movement in Wales must mobilise to defeat the Tory government.
Speaking to voice.wales on the eve of the TUC organised protest in London, Shavanah Taj hit out at the UK Government for “choosing this moment to again attack workers’ rights instead of raising the minimum wage to £15.”
Ms Taj, who recently became the General Secretary of the Wales TUC, said that working class people were suffering.
“People are skipping meals and falling into debt because of their utility bills, and the UK government is telling them to simply get a job that pays more and buy value brands,” she said.
“The working class are the last ones responsible for this crisis and Boris is picking the wrong fight. We’ll send this message loud and clear on Saturday when we gather in London to demand better for workers.”
The We Demand Better march in London on Saturday is set to be the biggest trade union led demonstration in Britain for over a decade as workers, their families and the poorest face an historic attack on their living conditions through a combination of huge price rises and stagnating wages. At the same time, the profits of energy firms are ballooning as the rich profit from the crisis.
Shavanah Taj said that “a bigger and broader trade union membership in Wales would be a powerful force” against the spiralling cost of living.
She also welcomed moves by the Welsh Government to repeal “the Tories’ hostile trade union legislation” and reject the racist policies of the UK Home Office.
“But we should also seize this moment to demonstrate our ability as trade unions to lead the push back against the arrogance and incompetence of the UK government,” she said.
This included unions being “at the forefront of the anti-racism movement in Wales” and “making workplaces greener.”
“And we are fighting back against the grossly unfair practice of fire and rehire,” she added.
Ms Taj said that the frontline for unions was the crisis in the workplace. “In Wales, union membership has been growing – we gained 33,000 members last year. This demonstrates how more workers are realising that they can be that collective and powerful force for good.”
Welcoming trade union victories in Wales over the past year – including at Airbus where an 8.6% pay bump was won by Unite and a 5.5% pay rise achieved by GMB at Panasonic after sustained strike action – the Wales TUC leader said that unions had “stood up for what matters.”
The protest comes as news of the major RMT rail strike later this month has dominated the headlines, bringing back memories of the militant industrial struggle in the 1970s and 80s. It also takes place against a backdrop of a Tory government in its own internal crisis over ‘Partygate,’ unable to respond to the spiralling cost of living and facing resistance over its racist Rwanda plan.
Speaking to voice.wales, Mathew, a care worker from Powys who will be up at 5am on Saturday to catch a coach from Llanelli to the protest, said that he was going because he was “angry and scared about the rising cost of living – rents are sky high, food is becoming more expensive, and of course, energy bills are through the roof.”
“I’m especially worried about those who are unable to work,” he said. “They’ve been struggling for years, and now things have gotten even worse – there is nothing left for them to cut back on. I work in social care and when I visit some people, it’s obvious they haven’t had the heating on in days. Their homes are stone cold.”
Mathew said that he hoped a big protest could generate momentum. “It also disrupts the usual order and is an opportunity to discuss work and social conditions,” he said. “Protests and strikes enable us to have different kinds of conversations, either on the bus down or picket line.”
He likened the current situation to that of the Poll Tax, when Margaret Thatcher’s flat rate levy caused widespread rebellion.
“I was a kid when the poll tax was introduced, and whilst, yes, there were big protests down in London, what I remember is how people on the estate where I grew up were vocally opposed to it. I remember Yvonne, an aunt of a school-friend, and how she proudly displayed a poster in her living room window and refused to pay.”
“The protests in London grew out of a grassroots movement that drew in ordinary people who did not consider themselves political.”
Mathew called for the movement to “fan back out to our own communities and organise” after the protest was over and said that the event will help to cut across an atomised society and support workers on strike.
“Protests enable us to forge links, show solidarity and to find out how others are being affected,” he said. “I’ll be getting the bus down with other trade unionists, which will be an opportunity to talk about what is happening in their workplaces, and for me to talk about mine. There are fewer opportunities to do that these days, but this will be one.”
Sheila Jones, south Wales
Sheila Jones is a retired supply teacher and NEU trade union activist from Caerphilly who will be heading to the march on Saturday.
“I think this protest will show that we have had enough of the government, that we want a society that works for the many not the few and that a decent standard of living should be available to all along with adequate housing, excellent education and health system,” she told voice.wales.
Sheila, who is also a campaigner for WASPI pensions justice, said she was specifically standing up for supply teachers and support staff who are underpaid and ripped off by private employment agencies.
“Protest speeches will inspire people to stand up and take further action to show enough is enough,” she said. “All unions will be represented and will encourage workers to further organise into a mass movement.”
“A new generation of trade unionists.”
Shavanah Taj said that workers were facing “crisis after crisis.”
“And we have been for almost 15 years. The foundations of our economy are fundamentally flawed,” she said, adding that the labour market had been distorted by 40 years of neoliberalism that undermined workers’ ability to live in dignity.
“More than ever, it’s vital that we fight to bring in a new generation of trade unionists. It is these young people who are among the most likely to be trapped in insecure and exploitative work but they are also the people who are best placed to help us re-energise and modernise our movement for the 21st century.”
“They are the new working class who have only known the labour market, the economy and the state to be in crisis. They deserve better.”
Ms Taj said that despite everything the workers’ movement faces, she was hopeful for the future of the movement as it faces its biggest test in decades.
The We Demand Better march is taking place on Saturday 18th June in London. For more information and to book a place on a coach, visit the TUC’s website
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