Taken from the Socialist Party Wales wesbite (www.socialistpartywales.org.uk)
A Bangor Socialist Party member
The front page of the North Wales Daily Post on May Day splashed a story of a worker at the Holyhead Morrisons store who had felt compelled to quit his job after being told not to speak Welsh. The last straw was when he asked another worker in Welsh to move some items into the store warehouse, when the store manager (who only speaks English) was passing by. The manager asked him not to speak in Welsh as he thought the workers might be talking about him. According to a Morrisons spokesperson the worker was having a conversation with the manager when the incident occurred. On the face of it, this amounts to bullying a worker into speaking a particular language.
The 2001 census showed that over 20% of the population of Wales spoke Welsh, but this increases dramatically in North West Wales, with 69% and 60% speaking Welsh in Gwynedd and Anglesey respectively. This means that Welsh is the first language of a sizeable proportion of workers in the area. Indeed in the quarry industry, which 100 years ago was the area’s main industry, the North Wales Quarrymens Union conducted all its business in Welsh. Moreover, being forced not to speak Welsh has echoes of the period of the emergence of capitalism in Wales which saw English bosses ban workers from speaking the language in order to maintain their dominance, and children who only spoke Welsh at home forced to speak and study in English at school.
In the present case, the worker's trade union, USDAW, did not initially take this issue up, although they are now investigating it. That was left to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) who have organised a picket outside the store to demand the right to work through the medium of Welsh. They have raised the need for the Welsh Assembly to have legislative powers over the Welsh language which should include the right to work through the medium of Welsh. Whilst this is undoubtedly correct, it doesn't go far enough.
Under capitalist society there are plenty of rights on paper, yet often the bosses can ignore them when it suits their needs. Workers have always had to fight for their rights, such as the right to vote or the right to belong to a trade union, which have been fought for. In reality, only workers organised via the trades union movement can guarantee those rights. Workers should have the right to communicate with people in any language that the person they are talking to is comfortable talking in. They shouldn't be bullied into speaking into any particular language just because a manager wishes to pry on their conversation