Monday, 22 March 2010

Golwg COLUMN: Referendum Lost?

Strike. That's the last act in a dispute between an employer and workers. The debate comes to an end, neither side has anymore to say on the issue. The situation has reached an impasse and the only way to solve the dispute is to do battle until one side yields. The strike is the final stage of the dispute.
As Wales was the birth place of the industrial revolution the 'strike' plays an important  part in our history.
There are many examples, strikes in the quarries of North Wales, like that in the Penrhyn in Bethesda. Strikes in the docks on the railways and of course a long history of disputes in the Welsh coalfields.
The last strike in the coal industry was the contest between Arthur Scargill  and Margaret Thatcher, who was the then prime minister. The strike went on for over an year and resulted in a victory for Maggie. Yes, it was a story of defeat for the miners and even today some of the South Wales valleys are suffering the effects  of  the pit closures. Coal, for better or worse, was what bound these valleys together and once the pits went there was very little left to maintain them.
Yes, a victory for Mrs Thatcher but Jim Callaghan was not so successful.
A series of strikes took place towards the end of his period as Prime Minister. It was public sector workers that were unhappy with their lot during this time. And some part of the sector was on strike or working to rule during this period.
Literally, there was litter on the street and the dead remained unburied.  It was called the winter of discontent. The public lost their patience with the government and as a consequence first the referendum on  devolution of powers to Wales was lost. And secondly, Mr Callaghan and his Labour government were thrown out of office. Yes, the keys to number ten were given to Mrs Thatcher. And as they say , the rest is history.
The economic landscape of Wales has changed since then. The old heavy industries like steel and coal have almost vanished. Gradually, our economy has moved away from manufacturing sector to the service sector.
But one thing that is very clear in our economy is the massive growth in the public sector. Now one in every four of those in work are employed in the public sector. Yes, a quarter dependent on the taxpayer for their wages.
Unfortunately it looks as if the taxpayers benevolence is coming to an end. In order to get the country's finances 'tidy', all parties are promising large cuts in public expenditure sooner or later.
This is why the largest civil service union has started on a series of strikes. Not strikes for more pay but strikes for  fair redundancy terms. Without doubt, many in the civil service will lose their jobs and not only civil servants but also local government workers as well.
As a consequence its not difficult to foresee a future when strikes are on the increase. And as night follows day dissatisfaction with the government of the day will also increase.
Will we see history repeat itself. Will the next referendum be lost for the same reason as the first?

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