Tory legislation is providing the legal basis for increasing authoritarianism

The devolution of employment law to Wales would help prevent Tory Westminster from running roughshod over workers in Wales.

By Plaid Cymru economy spokesperson Luke Fletcher MS

In recent years, we’ve witnessed a raft of legislation in Westminster which provides the legal basis for a new era of authoritarianism.

It’s no longer threatening to emerge — it’s here. The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021; the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act 2021 (more commonly referred to as the “spycops” Bill before it gained royal assent); the Nationality and Borders Act 2022; and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 have been firmly criticised by legal scholars, the UN and various human rights NGOs for their violation of civil liberties.

Many will be reminded of the “Kill the Bill” protests that took place last year in opposition to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, a bona fide legislative assault on the right to protest.

Just this week, on the biggest day of industrial action since 2011 as half a million workers went on strike, I was reminded of the Kill the Bill protests once again.

In Cardiff city centre, several hundred people rallied against the Tory government’s Minimum Service Levels Bill currently being rushed through Parliament, this time a legislative assault on the right to strike.

Echoes of last year resounded clearly: the democratic rights of ordinary people are once again under attack.

Many could be forgiven for thinking that this is simply Tory callousness and myopia. This is undoubtedly partially the case, however, it is also symptomatic of a system that is wholly unequipped to provide the basics for the vast majority of people.

Real wages and living standards for working people have fallen as economic inequality has increased. Capitalism is in deep structural crisis as it has been for decades, and the Tories’ heavy-handed response to anti-austerity movements is to police the response to the crisis, rather than address the root causes of the crisis itself.

Their efforts to remove our rights are telling — together, they know that we can win. Solidarity is in the air and it terrifies them.

Governments on both sides of the M4 have left people no other choice. The appetite for strike action reflects the failure of governments to safeguard the living standards of public-sector workers, coupled with the unfettered profiteering of private companies.

Indeed, we learnt of Shell’s record annual profits on Thursday of £32.2bn, the highest in its 115-year history. As people are plunged into fuel poverty (up to 45 per cent of households in Wales last year according to the Welsh government’s estimates), oil and gas giants rake in obscene profits, profits which of course won’t be used to bring energy prices down, but to fatten the already-bulging pockets of shareholders.

Dividends and larceny on such a scale when millions cannot heat their homes or put food on the table is why I, alongside many others on the left, repeatedly call for the nationalisation of energy companies.

Where natural monopolies such as energy are concerned, there should never be private-sector involvement.

A few weeks ago in the Senedd chamber, I raised Plaid Cymru’s concerns about the draconian minimum service legislation.

Striking is central to protecting public services against hollowed-out conditions, cuts to jobs and pay as well as casualisation. It is central to the rights and bargaining powers of working people.

The legislation is ultimately a red herring. Many public services are already in freefall because of the chronic under-resourcing by consecutive Conservative Westminster governments and the inaction of Welsh Labour governments in Wales. The irony also hasn’t been lost on trade unions.

The nursing profession, for example, has campaigned for minimum levels of service for years. The Royal College of Nursing has long called for safe and effective staffing levels for patients, but the Tories have always refused.

Now, in these particular circumstances, they suddenly want to introduce minimum service levels to discipline workers.

This is an obvious attempt to take the wind out of the sails of a working class that has been gaining exciting momentum in their struggles for better pay and working conditions.

Situations like these are why Plaid Cymru has called for the devolution of employment law, which is needed to fully protect the rights of workers in Wales and neutralise Westminster’s right to run roughshod over Welsh democracy.

Having been out on a lot of picket lines over many months, speaking to workers in the Welsh Ambulance Service, nurses in the RCN and posties in the CWU, situations like these are why I have always extended my solidarity to all workers beyond Wales in their struggles for better pay, working conditions and living standards.

As Britain slowly drifts towards increasing authoritarianism, where it gleefully suppresses the rights of the working class, Wales needs the means to oppose this.

We simply cannot rely on the goodwill or political composition of Westminster any longer.

As an institution it has proven time after time that it will repeal, withdraw, revoke and stifle, whatever the cost, to preserve power.

The Welsh government continues to resist the devolution of employment law. The only way for them to secure workers’ rights in Wales is to heed Plaid Cymru’s calls.

Full solidarity to all striking workers. Cefnogaeth llwyr i bob gweithiwr.

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