12 July 2011

Cymdeithas activists sentenced

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) activists Jamie Bevan and Heledd Williams have been fined for a direct action in protest against cuts to Welsh-language television statement S4/C. Jamie has also been sentenced to house arrest for 28 days but says he will defy the court's sentence.

The activists broke into the offices of Jonathan Morgan AM and spray-painted slogans on the walls opposing the proposed merger of S4/C with the BBC -- a merger which the media have revealed is itself illegal, and which would end the independence of the world's only Welsh-language television station. The two committed no acts of violence against persons and waited at the AM's office for police to arrive and arrest them.

A group of fifty activists and supporters, including members of the Socialist Party, rallied outside Cardiff Magistrate's Court on Thursday 7 July in defence of the two, and packed the courtroom wall-to-wall for the brief trial, in which both Jamie and Heledd declined to enter a plea. The trial had originally been planned for April 2011 but was delayed for several months as, in a brutal display of irony, the police failed to provide evidence in Welsh as was the defendants' right.

The presiding judge of the trial refused to allow either Jamie or Heledd to raise political issues in their defence: a revealing absurdity, given the political motivation for their actions. Nonetheless, Jamie Bevan, before his sentencing, made a statement to the court in which he noted that the legal, democratic routes for preserving S4/C had been exhausted, and, when explaining why he and Heledd had taken direct action, asked, "what were we supposed to do?"

Heledd Williams, a member of Cardiff University Socialist Students, pointed the way toward the solution in her statement to the court, in which she noted that the Welsh language would never be safe until the capitalist system is replaced with a collective economy. She also shrewdly identified the root cause of the attack on S4/C when she stated:

"I don't accept the logic of the Government's savage cuts. They intend to cut the budget which S4/C receives from the culture department of the government by 94% and for the BBC to fund a little of the remainder."

"The greed of bankers caused this economic crisis and an easy excuse for the Tories to cut S4/C's budget. Despite this, their bonuses still run into billions, they caused the problem and they have the money to pay for it. We won't pay for the mistakes of the bankers by accepting these cuts. The economic crisis shows us that capitalism is not a sustainable nor just system."

Resistance to cuts to public services is right. This resistance must build mass movements against all the cuts, linking in language campaigners with trade unionists, youth and students, and the broader working class, across all ethnic and religious boundaries. Cymdeithas's campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s extracted S4/C as a concession from the Thatcher government precisely because it was a mass campaign, taking up mass tactics such as non-payment of the license fee in a foreshadowing of the Militant-led anti-poll tax campaign that brought down Thatcher seven years later. The action also had the backing of prominent members of a large political party; with Welsh Labour now a party of capitalism and the upper class and with reformists within Plaid Cymru increasingly sidelined, Welsh language campaigners should help establish a new mass workers' party and build a working-class alternative -- a Socialist alternative -- that can not just defend the gains of the Welsh language campaign but create the conditions under which all languages and cultures can thrive.

Addendum: Cymdeithas report tonight that the Government will move an amendment changing the funding of S4/C somehow. However, they have no details on what is being offered.

Cymdeithas correctly attribute the motion to the campaign of non-payment involving tens of thousands of people, rather than individual actions. However, they confuse pulling away from isolated acts with pulling away from militant demands; when they say "the cut is too much" or that the cuts are "unfair compared with the cuts to other public broadcasters", they move against unified action by playing one side against the other, ultimately splitting the working class against itself. What cut would be fair? What cut would be enough?

Link in with the trade unionists in the BBC, who are fighting the cuts within that organisation. Link in with the other anti-cuts campaigns. Then there will be no need for concessions: every cut can and will be defeated.

No comments: