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Merthyr Fest Merthyr Rising sets the tone for political debate and music

In 1831 thousands of workers in Merthyr Tydfil were brutally repressed when they rebelled in protest at starvation wages and casualisation of employment by iron and coal magnates. LOGAN WILLIAMS reports from the annual celebration

LAST weekend’s Merthyr Rising marked the sixth year that Welsh trade unionists and socialists have come together in an act of remembrance to the thousands of workers who rose in 1831 with demands of wage reform and a stop to the rapid casualisation of labour taking place within the industrialising communities of south Wales.

The festival this year included political debates on themes such as: Why do some working-class people vote Tory? and media bias and journalism, as well as workshops on how to fight the far right alongside live music both local and international across two stages.

Cast, Black Grape, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Son Of Man, Bute, The Neville Staple Band, The Deadtime Philharmonic, The Sandinistas, Attila The Stockbroker/Barnstormer and numerous others entertained.

This year the festival saw a growth in support from across the labour movement with Unite Wales becoming its lead sponsor.

The union’s regional women’s and equalities officer Jo Galazka who said: “Unite Wales is proud to remember the Merthyr Rising of 1831, where thousands of workers stood up against the cruel and unequal practices of the iron masters and coalowners.”

The festival also featured its annual trade union march and rally, led by the Merthyr Tydfil Trades Union Council, which culminated in a broad array of speeches from leading trade unionists and socialists from across Britain.

The rally began with Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie praising the actions of the Birmingham home care workers, arguing that “if we want equal pay we have to stand up and organise, this is our opportunity to shine in the light of socialism.”

Grow the unions in order to ensure that fascists don’t divide us and, our communities

McKenzie was followed by Mark “Pasty” Thomas-Turner, Unite Wales community co-ordinator, who urged the need for unity across the labour movement in the face of the news surrounding the closure of Honda Swindon and the collapse of British Steel: “to stand up and fight for each other. We are the backbone of this country.”

RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley spoke passionately for the need for a joint labour movement opposition to the rise of the far right within the European elections. He said: “Our movement can no longer ignore the rise of the far right, fighting them must be our priority.”

Usdaw officer for South Wales and Western Division Nick Ireland spoke about the conditions which inspired thousands of Welsh workers to rise up in 1831 and drew comparisons to conditions in contemporary Britain: “We’re here because workers stood up to their bosses in 1831 because they were on poverty pay.

“Sadly, that situation is all too familiar in 2019, with poverty wages on the rise.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka followed this by demanding every socialist work to “grow the unions in order to ensure that fascists don’t divide us and our communities.”

The rally was closed by Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford, who said Welsh Labour “can be a beacon for what Labour can achieve in government. We will end austerity, invest in public services and create a more equal society where everyone can profit.”

For more information about Merthyr Rising visit www.merthyrrising.uk.

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