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Red October in Wales

Mike Davies

Two events in the coming week show the extent - and the limits - of Forward Wales' development in its first year. On Sunday it is supporting a benefit gig by Attila The Stockbroker alongside Wrexham football fans facing eviction from their ground by a property developer. A classic "local campaign" on which it has built its base in the area.

On Thursday it plays host to a wider and more ambitious event with Bob Crow, the FBU's Welsh secretary and a PCS speaker in a rally to "build a workers' political alternative to New Labour".

The geographical limits of Forward Wales have been obvious from day one - they have established a genuine base in North-east Wales but remain weak in the rest of the country. Their strength has been to establish real links with trade unions and community groups. The challenge, as the party prepares for its second annual conference is to achieve throughout Wales what it's done in Wrexham.

This has included:
Successfully fighting the housing privatisation plans in Wrexham and winning the ballot among tenants. Since then it has advised other tenants in Wales facing stock transfer;
Winning affiliations from the RMT railworkers' union and working closely with other unions to build a political alternative to New Labour;
Setting up Save Open Spaces Wales, a campaign group dedicated to safeguarding playing fields against speculative development (usually because councils want to make a quick buck); this is now involved in four community campaigns - including one in Wrexham that won a reprieve for the Nine-acre Field after a 200-strong demo by local people;
Initiating a campaign for free and nutritious school meals for all children in Wales. This was launched on October 12 by FW Assembly Member John Marek with the backing of the BMA, farming unions, catering workers, food producers, environmentalists, parents and child poverty campaigners.
Winning 23% of the vote where FW stood in local council elections in June. In Wrexham, FW won one council seat at our first attempt and missed out on two others by just 7 and 14 votes. FW's new councillor Dave Bithell, the local RMT branch secretary, has quickly made a name for himself  as one of the borough's most active councillors.
Gaining 17,000 votes across Wales in the European elections in June, despite minimal resources and media coverage.

Not bad for a tiny party in its first year, although there are huge steps to be taken to make an impact in many parts of the Valleys and coastal cities.

There are also intriguing signs that there may be a realignment in the air. Just this week, a small group of SWP members requested a meeting with FW to debate whether to join Respect or FW. The meeting was useful if inconclusive, but it's likely that some at least will join FW because they all see Respect in Wales as dead in the water. One reason cited was that Hartlepool showed that how peripheral Respect was in white, working-class ex-Labour strongholds.


October 2004


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