Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Socialists Support Welsh Language

Article from Socialist Party Wales website www.socialistpartywales.org.uk

Osian Jones has been freed from a month's jail for protesting against the anti-Welsh policies of some store chains. Iain Dalton presents the view of Socialists in North Wales

In November this year, the Welsh Assembly approved a bid for powers over the Welsh language, seeking the passage of legislative competency order (LCO) through parliament. The step is argued as being the first move in a bid to legislate for the extension of language equality measures to cover the private sector.
The 1993 Welsh Language act stated that; 'in the course of public business and the administration of justice, so far as is reasonably practicable, the Welsh and English languages are to be treated on the basis of equality' - in essence giving equal status to English and Welsh languages, but only throughout the public sector. This leaves many large companies with no compulsion to provide Welsh medium services to first language Welsh speakers.
According to the 2001 census, in Wales around 20% of the population speaks Welsh, although this is heavily concentrated in certain areas, such as Gwynedd and Anglesey where around 80% of the population speaks Welsh. This is an increase of 2% from the previous census, but the 2004 Welsh Language Use Survey showed a further 1.2% increase on that figure to 21.7%. This marks the reversal of a century long decline in the Welsh language.
Socialists stand for the equality of English and Welsh languages within Wales and demand that all major companies provide services that give the option of using Welsh. Already some companies provide bilingual signage, but this should be extended to cover packaging as well as customer service. Whilst many staff in companies in Wales may not at the moment speak Welsh, learning to speak the basic Welsh needed in relation to their job should be seen as part of their training for that job and paid for with company money in company time.
However, even if the Assembly was granted such powers and passed legislation along these lines, such measures would not bring about real equality, just as equal pay legislation hasn't stopped there being major differences between the pay of men and women. The faults of current legislation and the lip-service paid by some public authorities can be seen by the poor quality of many translations. These are often made fun of in the press (for example, the sign where apologies for a translator's being out of the office has been put on roadsides as the official Welsh translation). 'Golwg' the Welsh medium weekly magazine runs a section 'Sgymraeg' highlighting more egregious errors. Under capitalism, equal rights always come second to the need to skimp and do things as cheaply as possible. In the Public Sector, this means 'belt tightening' and impending cuts in budgets. In the private sector, anything which weakens the great god profit must be axed.
It is entirely possible that with the prospect of such legislation there may be an attempt to set Welsh speakers against non-Welsh speakers as companies, who wish to avoid the cost of a fully bilingual service, seek to threaten non-Welsh speakers with the prospect of being unable to get a job. That's one of the reasons why socialists call for these companies to be taken into public ownership so that it's not left to fat cats who only see the bottom line to provide our services, but ordinary workers, both Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh speaking to be able to work out how to provide services bilingually and accessible to all.

Socialists do not necessarily support the use of direct action against companies who refuse to support the Welsh language, but we understand the anger of young Welsh-speaking people and see the use of the prison system against them as wholly wrong.


  1. This topic is obviously extremely important in Wales. However, most people, apart from the Nationalists, normally avoid it like the plague, because to discuss it always leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
    Socialist Party Wales needs to be very careful before formulating a policy on language rights, as the consequences of getting it wrong could be very serious as the organisation meets opportunities to grow in the future.
    Obviously, it's vital to bring the Welsh speaking population on board the struggle for socialism: only socialism guarantees the rights of minorities.
    I'm not entirely sure what the right answers are, but I think the following points are worthy of note:

    Welsh-speakers have a right to converse in their language of choice.

    Welsh-medium education should be provided by the state for all those who request it.

    The statistic 20% of the population can speak Welsh, is not the same statistic as 20% speak Welsh as a first language: after all, 100% of the population can speak English!

    Only 2.5% of the Welsh population live in homes where every member of the family, in that home, has Welsh as a first language.

    Traditionally, socialists have supported the language rights of different-language, monoglot, populations living in the same country.

    If all front-line public-sector employees need to be bi-lingual, then the 80% of Welsh citizens who only speak English would be excluded from the best jobs. Would Welsh-speakers really see that as being just?

    A recent article in the Western Mail claimed that already the average wage of Welsh (bi-lingual) speakers in Wales is greater than English speakers in Wales, and the reason for this is the requirement for public sector employees to be bi-lingual.

  2. Hi Denzel,

    I think the article takes up questions you raise about the situation regarding non-welsh speakers in Wales like myself. The feeling of most people is that we wouldn't mind learning some basic welsh, you get training for most jobs so why couldn;t that be part of it? but that we shouldn't be penalised just cos we don;t speak any welsh at the moment.

    On the amount of welsh spoken in Wales. Whilst around 20% of the population speak welsh, in Gwynedd and Anglesey in North West Wales this shoots up to around 80% of the population, making it the majority language up here.
    Where did you get the 2.5% figure from, haven't heard it before and it seems a tad small

  3. Thanks for your response, there's a nice tone to it.

    The 2.5% figure comes from 'Wales Today' Dunkerly and Thompson (Cardiff, 1999).

    I guess the essence of what I think and feel: yes, to be honest its a bit emotive, is that in North-West Wales you couldn't even be a Care Assistant in a hospital without the Welsh language, you can't work for the council, most local businesses only employ Welsh speakers.
    The only employers for English monoglots are national businesses such as Boots, Morrisons, the Co-op etc. And, hey, along comes someone - who speaks and understands English, no doubt - and says look these businesses should only employ bilingual staff as well.
    Come socialism, we can all have an hour a day at work to learn Welsh, but in the mean-time what do the English monoglots do to earn a living?
    Having said all that, if this were just happening in North-West Wales you might be just about able to understand it. But, where I live in Mid-Wales, jobs for the NHS and councils are advertised with the proviso 'Welsh speakers preferred'. Now, this means if two people with the same qualifications and experience apply for the job, but one speaks Welsh, they will get the job.
    The sticking point is that you practically never encounter anyone that speaks Welsh and if you do they speak fluent English as well. So, on that basis why discriminate against the 95% of the population here that are English monoglots.
    If there were two distinct monoglot language populations in Wales: 80% speaking English only and 20% speaking Welsh only, then socialists would have to say that jobs in the public services should be allocated in percentage according to the local language strengths of the two groups.
    But, if every Welsh speaker understands English then this is more than about language, its about politics, its about reversing the Anglicisation of Wales: its about Nationalism.

  4. You've missed one of the points of the article - that whilst we should support the rights of welsh speakers, we need to make sure this doesn't attack english speakers ability to get a job.

    Hence the demand for basic welsh to be part of training for jobs in wales - which is something that would be needed to be taken up by the trade unions.

    Of course, under capitalism, companies will play off welsh and english speakers - thats why to get a real solution we have to call for taking large companies into public ownership under democratic control.

    Whats possible is shown in the difference between Bangor Uni and Gwynedd Council - the first offers courses to all new starters in welsh, the second appears to just take on welsh speakers. this is rather crude comparison (as obviously the university teaches this stuff anyway), but the former is veiwed positively as an employment prospect and the latter negatively. We would go further and say that learning to speak welsh should be done in paid work time. Now obviously such a thing would cut into companies profits, and hence why it needs to be taken up by the trade unions

  5. Your article does synthesize apparently contradictory viewpoints - that's good.

    Leading on from the points you have made, I think that Welsh Labour has possibly attempted to occupy the Plaid's Welsh language policy territory to a certain extent. But rather than win votes from Plaid, it has ended up making their more extreme policies acceptable.
    Consequently, I think, Welsh politics is becoming polarised between the Nationalist Plaid and the Unionist Conservative Party: the Conservatives had the highest share of the Welsh vote this year.

    In 1926,the year of the General Strike, the Communist newspaper 'The Worker's Weekly' had 1000 subscribers in Ammanford, a Welsh speaking town. I think when class politics come into play, Welsh speakers will join the Socialist Party, regardless of whether the shop assistant in Boots can answer their questions in Welsh or not.

    Fraternal Regards.