Craig yr Undeb – Snowdonia’s trades union place of pilgrimage


CerdynUndeb1921bWe look towards the Welsh Valleys when we think of  Wales Trade Union history but in the heart of Snowdonia a significant event in Trades Union history took place.

Slate was king in the 19th century and North Wales quarry owners had grown rich through supplying roofing slate to the rapidly-growing urban communities in the UK and abroad at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Sadly, this was at the expense of the quarrymen who endured poor wages and appallingly dangerous working conditions. !n a situation where the quarry owners ruled absolutely, there was no provision for the workers to register their dissatisfaction over their working conditions. In the face of continued victimisation, the only course open to workers was collective action. The impetus for founding a Union came not from Penrhyn, Bethesda, despite many disputes and an earlier attempt to form a union in 1865, nor from Dinorwig in Llanberis. the other large quarry in the area, but from the nearby smaller Glyn Rhonwy quarry.

In the early 1870’s 110 quarrymen from the Glyn Rhonwy quarry declared themselves to be union members and were promptly locked out by the quarry owner. He soon realised he was losing money and within three weeks the workers returned and were recognised as union members.

However, the owners of the other quarries were alarmed by this development and attempted to stop the spread of the trade unions by refusing permission for any meetings within the quarries or on any of the extensive lands belonging to the large connected with the quarries.

Union rockThis is where the story takes a strange twist. Lord Newborough, owner of the Glynllifon estate west of Caernarfon owned some land near Llanberis on the shores of Llyn Padarn. He allowed the men to use a rocky outcrop (providing natural shelter) which became known as Craig Yr Undeb (Union Rock) to plan secretly the formation of a trade union. It’s fascinating to speculate his motives – perhaps he was in dispute with his aristocratic neighbours. Whatever his motives were, these secret meetings led to the creation of the North Wales Quarrymen’s Union.

Men at Union Rock
However, Dinorwig’s owners were unwilling to recognise the union. As a resut, 2,200 quarrymen were locked out of Dinorwic Quarry in June of that year, but after five weeks the managers agreed to recognise the union. This was followed by a dispute at the Penrhyn Quarry, which resulted in a great victory for the workers and their new union.

Conditions at Dinorwig were rapidly getting worse and in 1885. 53 men were suspended from working because ten men had broken a local rule. A mass meeting was held at Craig yr Undeb where strikers passed votes of no confidence in the manager, John Davies, as well as the chief manager, Walter Warwick Vivian.Neither had experience of the quarrying industry, having spent their training in the hard world of business. They were not in the least knowledgeable about how to improve inefficient customs and practices and had no interest in improving the working conditions of its employees. At that meeting, the striking quarrymen were led in a march to Craig yr Undeb (Union Rock) by the Llanrug Band whose patron was the owner of the Dinorwig quarry, G.W.D. Assheton Smith. He had presented them with new uniforms, a practice room at Gilfach Ddu in the quarry itself, as well as a new set of silver instruments worth £400. They were ordered to return their instruments forthwith to the band room at Gilfach Ddu and to leave them there until further notice. Marching back, they were persuaded by some of the onlookers to play a couple of marches. They obliged, and in so doing gave Assheton Smith the excuse to confiscate their instruments permanently.  He then took the opportunity of presenting them to a newly formed band in Llanberis and employed a conductor and tutor from England in 1886.

Centenary plaqueThe North Wales Quarrymen’s Union was initially not led by miners but by radical Liberals who later became supporters of David Lloyd George‘s Cymru Fydd. It merged with the Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1923. One hundred years after its formation, a plaque was unveiled by Jack Jones, the general secretary of the Transport & General Workers Union to commemorate the centenary of the formation of the quarrymen’s union.

 

 

 

downloadMoral dilemma

If you look carefully on the rock which is the end of the outcrop, you will see that somebody has painted ‘Cymru am Byth’ (Wales for ever!) on the rock. This has now almost faded away and every time I walk past I am sad because if ever there was a place such graffiti was appropriate, it is here. The Welsh Government have preserved the graffiti near Aberystwyth which says “Cofiwch Dreweryn” (Remember Treweryn!) – a reference to the valley that was flooded to provide water for Liverpool despite universal opposition in Wales. Should I go out with a pot of paint and a brush early one morning and renew the graffiti?

“Crumbs from the table” – the shambolic St David’s Day agreement

s300_PM-DPM-Wales-agreement-960Our newspapers and TV were full of the news recently of the St David’s Day agreement, launched at the Millennium Stadium by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Of course, it was neither an agreement nor was it launched on St David’s Day. It was surrounded by hyperbole and peppered with words like “historic”, “ground-breaking” and “unique opportunity.”

 downloadImmediately the First Minister described it as “slow to start, ad-hoc and poorly prepared.” He went on to say that, “Wales was still not being treated with the same respect as that being afforded to Scotland.” Similarly, Plaid Cymru claimed that Wales was being handed a “third-rate devolution.”

 Not the greatest of starts especially when one of its key planks was that the Welsh Assembly should be formally recognised as a permanent institution, enshrined in legislation and have the power to change its name if it wishes. Oh, how generous! You know what, David Cameron? We’ll call the Welsh Assembly whatever we feel is appropriate in the same way that we talk about the Poll Tax and the Bedroom Tax and not the ridiculous names the Tories gave those taxes.

Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Wales described the UK as the most successful political union the world has ever known in a speech launching the St David’s Day agreement. It can’t be that successful if both Wales and Scotland have nationalist parties seeking independence from the Union. I’ve always felt that a federal system like the ones in operation in Australia, Switzerland, Germany, India, USA, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Belgium, South Africa and Mexico is the way forward for the United Kingdom. However, the prerequisite is that we are all on an equal basis. Clearly there is huge inequality at the moment in terms of powers of the various constituent parts of the UK and don’t get me started on the Barnett formula which is totally unfit for purpose. It was only supposed to be a temporary measure and Barnett himself has called for it to stop being used.

 

I downloaded the full document, “Powers for a purpose: Towards a lasting devolution settlement for Wales” and quickly decided that it would be a particularly good cure for insomnia. The Government devoted quite a lot of the document to talking about the two models of “conferred powers” and “reserved powers.” Essentially, the government is seeking to move us from the place of conferring powers on Wales to devolving all powers to Cardiff except those things it keeps for itself. This sounds rather good but the list of powers which would be retained by Westminster covers two A4 pages of two columns, so the Government is certainly reserving its position. Some powers, such as defence, foreign affairs, our currency and national security are obviously candidates for central control but many of the others, such as policing, welfare and broadcasting should obviously be devolved to Wales.

 

Historically, the people of Wales have accepted whatever was handed down to them. That time has passed and the Government needs to accept that all parts the United Kingdom need to be treated fairly, with justice and people need to be put before politics.

Does Wales think its children are worth protecting?

senedd-logoWelsh Assembly Members will be debating today a ban on smacking children. It isn’t the first time that this has come before the Senedd and they have symbolically voted in favour of a bill in the past. This latest proposal has been tabled as an amendment to the Social Services and Well-being Bill and it removes the defence of reasonable punishment for assaulting a child. It is opposed by Ministers who fear that such a ban might be challenged legally.


wales-benevolent-land-of-advocacy-and-childrens-rights-3-728In 2004 we trumpeted with pride that Wales had adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. What politicians seem to have failed to notice is that Article 19 specifically prohibits physical chastisement of children. Yet, we allow children to be smacked. A failure to allow this amendment to succeed will show Wales as hypocritical in its stance.

I get really fed up with people who say, “I was smacked as a child but it never did any harm to me.” On the contrary, it did real harm to such people as it caused them to see that violence towards children is normal and acceptable.

So far, 44 countries have banned corporal punishment of children by parents (or other adults) and many others are seeking to do so. It seems totally illogical to me that it is a criminal offence to strike any other human being other than your own children. At the present, our TV screens are full of news of child abuse issues and it’s time that we were united in our opposition to any sort of abuse towards children.

 I looked at public opinion in this issue and the latest figures I was able to find show that 63% of adults oppose a ban on smacking children. Public opinion is not a good enough guide in this issue. Every country that has initiated a ban on smacking has done without that kind of general support by the public, but when it became law, attitudes changed very quickly.

In Wales 130 organisations have joined together to support a ban on smacking children. It’s time that the Welsh Assembly grasped the nettle and became a trailblazer in the UK by protecting our children.