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.