Thursday, 14 May 2009

Holyhead worker victimised for speaking his own language

Taken from the Socialist Party Wales wesbite (

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


nationofduncan said...

Bloody hell, national oppression in 21st century Britain!

Any way we can support the bloke in question over this, send emails, phone up the shop, etc?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

cymdeithas yr iaith gymraeg organised a protest outside the shop in support of the worker last saturday, but apart from that i've not heard much apart from that USDAW are investigating the case.

Denzil said...

I agree that workers should have the right to speak the language of their choice at work.

However, your article unintentionally raises another point. You mention a past period when 'children who only spoke Welsh at home were forced to speak and study in English at school.' You point out that 69% of people speak Welsh in Gwynedd. Recent figures state that 97.9% of children in Gwynedd are educated in Welsh-medium schools.

English-speaking (Welsh) families in Gwynedd have no access to English-medium secondary schools for their children. Indeed some parents in Porthmadog send their children on hour-long bus journeys to a private English-medium school in Bangor. Why the private school and not the English-medium state school in Bangor? Gwynedd refuses to pay the fees for the state school, and the state school can not take paying pupils. Is this state of affairs right?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

No i don't think its right.
In the socialist party we support the right for parents to have their children educated in the language of their preference. We don't support playing off welsh and english speakers off each other like some councils (recently notable are Gwynedd and Cardiff) seem to do.

From the Socialist Party Wales programme

* The right of all pupils to be able to opt for Welsh or English medium education at an accessible school.

* No closure of English medium schools to create Welsh medium schools. Build new schools!