50 years of TUC Cymru: 50 years of changes from devolution to diversity

Published date

As trade unionists gather in Llandudno for TUC Cymru Congress 2024 I've been reflecting on the last two, and 50, years of our movement.

TUC Congress is a gathering that represents not only the collective spirit of our movement, but also our shared commitment to the rights and well-being of every worker in Wales. 

Since our last Congress two years ago there has been a resurgence in industrial action.  

Against the many hurdles put in place by anti-union laws, workers have time and again demonstrated that they have had enough. Had enough of bad bosses. Had enough of below inflation pay rises. Had enough of a cost of living crisis.  

No worker wants to be out on a picket line. Strikes are usually a last resort.  

Workers need a pay rise

But we are now facing the longest period of pay stagnation for more than a century. In real terms, pay has gone up by just £12 a week since 2008.  

Workers have been let down time and time again by Prime Ministers that have no idea what it’s like to work for a living, and Chancellors who care more about tax breaks for their wealthy friends than funding public services.  

The Minimum Service Levels law was yet another attack by this government on workers Unnecessary, divisive and showing complete disregard for devolution in our public services. 

And the never-ending austerity has eroded public services across the UK. Welsh Government’s budget is worth £1.3 billion less in real terms than when it was set in 2021.  

Those workers at the sharpest end are the lowest paid – the outsourced workforce, the casual workforce, those at the bottom of the chain of funders and commissioners. I’m talking about social care workers, teaching assistants, and the many in our creative industries.   

Workers need a New Deal

Workers deserve better, we need a new deal – a substantive and radical new deal, including ending exploitation in the public sector. We need to be able to grow as a movement, not spend our time hurdling all the barriers put in place for basic workers’ rights.

And we need to see basic conditions improve for all workers - it is unbelievable that after a global pandemic, there has been no reform of the UK’s sick pay system.  

50 years of TUC Cymru

This year’s Congress marks a special time in our history. It is 50 years since trade unionists first met like this as a Wales TUC.  

Looking back on the report of that first annual report, there are striking parallels. Wales TUC was making representations to government about the threat to our steel industry – also our biggest industrial fight today.  

We warned of a social chain reaction, as the social contract is not just about the maintenance of income levels, but about the maintenance of jobs and employment security too.  

Changes in our movement and our nation

We were also staunchly pro-devolution. Our first policy document, titled ‘Devolution for Wales’, called for the creation of a “Welsh Assembly.” It said, and I quote, that “The Assembly would be a single chamber body of about 100 members.” We’re at – or at least close – to that point now and we expect and demand that our strengthened Senedd now delivers for workers.  

Things looked a little different 50 years ago too. There was just one woman on that first Wales TUC General Council –  Miss S I Jones from APEX.  

I am so proud of how much that has changed, of how diverse both our movement and our leadership has become, and how we are now properly representative of the working population that we serve. We are working through our development programmes and positive action to empower workers from across society to become the next generation of leaders. There must be no going back to how it once was.    

Celebrating our 50th anniversary

Something else that has changed is how we think and talk about ourselves. To mark our 50th anniversary we have created a new film to celebrate what we’ve achieved in the last 50 years, and to show the world that trade unions are here to stay. We’ll never stop fighting for what’s right, what’s fair, what working people deserve.  


Please share the film with your friends, family and colleagues

We've also created a bright new banner which was designed and made by The SPAF Collective.

You’ll see some familiar motifs on the banner such as the hands of friendship, and more modern elements such the rainbow people paper chain, symbolising diversity. 

Look out for it on marches later this year!

The front of the banner proudly displays the name TUC Cymru. GC recently agreed that, from now on, we will use TUC Cymru as our everyday name. This demonstrates our commitment to the Welsh language and demonstrates our devolution within the British trades union congress family. 

Ambition for devolution

The hard work and perseverance of TUC Cymru’s founders in gaining autonomy from the TUC fifty years ago was excellent preparation for our campaign for devolution for Wales as a nation.  

That ambition for Welsh devolution has now been delivered on. We have a Senedd and a government that has consistently sought to strengthen social justice. It has repealed some of the worst anti-union attacks in the devolved public sector, and legislated to give workers an equal seat at the table with their bosses.   

Future fights and campaigns

But we have so much more to do, not least to bolster our movement that is built on class and solidarity. We need to organise, we need to grow, and we need to deliver a strong labour movement for future generations. 

More than a quarter of children are growing up in poverty. More than half of working age adults have no financial plan for their retirement. 

And the risk of being in bad, exploitative work is still greater depending on your skin colour, your gender and whether or not you are a disabled person. Our country remains unequal in so many ways, and we must keep fighting for workers to get their fair share.  

I am confident that, over the next 50 years, the trade union movement will work together to tackle these challenges, and the challenges yet to come.