No.3: Experience of a Community and
Environmental Activist from Wales
A community and environmental activist from Wales told a
Workers' Weekly correspondent about some of the problems faced by the
community in her area and what had brought her to join the May Day protests and
demonstrations in London.
I can talk about Pembrokeshire, which is the county I live
in, but it will be similar in Wales as a whole. Pembrokeshire is depressed
economically, the number of people with jobs keeps declining and farmers are
living in a nightmare. Their produce is fetching joke prices, less than the
cost of producing it. They are not asking for subsidies, just a fair share of
the sale price. What they are experiencing is the same as third world
experiences, but they are generally not aware that the cause is the same. They
are being driven from the land they have had in their families for generations.
The prediction is that 50 % of farmers will be forced to give up within the
next 5 to 10 years.
Most Pembrokeshire businesses (90% I read) are
micro-businesses which just means less than 10 staff. Most are family
businesses and they are the backbone of rural communities. But the authorities
do not value them, they give grants and rate and tax breaks to the larger
companies reinforcing the unfair struggle of those closest to the communities.
Regulations appear designed to destroy small businesses as they cost the same
as for the large powerful ones, and they keep changing, bringing increased
costs year by year.
What people mind the most is that their children either grow
up to nothing or have to leave the area for work, it is called an old
But one result of this situation is that people forget the
value of what they have got. We still have communities where you can shop and
chat and meet lots of friends in the street, very little crime, a really
beautiful environment near most people, and the friendliness and culture of an
area where people havent forgotten the past or to take care of each
other. There are many artistic types and pioneering types who can live on
little and produce something of real quality that customers can trust.
If we started by building on our strengths we could develop
a local economy with an explicit commitment to community and environment. This
is the sort of thing that is needed everywhere in the world. We have a unique
opportunity in Wales now.
The reason for this comes from two things: We have the
National Assembly which we believe is the first government in the world with a
constitutional commitment to sustainability, and the members of this government
are excited by what this could mean for Wales. We have a major European funding
opportunity known as Objective 1. It brings £1.3billion to West Wales and
the Valleys which can be doubled by UK money Although this kind of funding does
not have a clean history, and can often make things worse, we have an
opportunity to get it right this time.
But there are different views on how this money should be
used, and how to develop Wales. Those used to exercising control are determined
to keep it, and they do not value the things that matter to Wales. They value
GDP and inward investment, and large showy developments where they can cut a
ribbon and be photographed, They dont care about Mrs Jones village
shop or the family farms. Inward investment is fine if it is coming to Wales
because it needs to be there and will put down roots. But the inward investment
they are looking for is not like that. It is either lured by grants and
generous concessions, and then moves on leaving more mortgages and unemployment
than before it came, or offers polluting businesses others do not want.
We fought amongst ourselves for seven years before rejecting
Orimulsion burning with its high level of pollution, we presented a united
front against plans to dump nuclear waste, and it withdrew, now council
officials are suggesting importing other people's waste for incineration. But
there has been too much conflict between conservationists and jobs-at-all-costs
sides. We need to find a shared vision.
I hope to work now to build on our economic strengths, and
to encourage local businesses to co-operate. This is their only hope to face
the power of the multinationals. The organic sector has already agreed to deal
as one with the supermarkets so that they cant play the producers off
against each other. We need to build up our strengths, the micro-businesses,
the voluntary groups Wales has more of these than any other area
the farming, craft and engineering and cultural skills and the pioneers, and
the strengths of the natural environment, like organic and quality foods,
pleasures like walking and cycling and renewable energy. If we build on what we
already do right we will be able to offer a model of a healthy local economy,
and develop or attract specialist businesses which can produce for the wider
UK, Irish, EU or global economy. Staple goods and services like food and
primary health care and heavy goods like energy and building materials should
all be produced locally. But its fine to trade with the rest of the world
in specialist goods.
I came to the May 1st protest because we have got to have an
answer to the growing centralisation of power and wealth. People who work with
nature and people who can take care of nature and human values must become
empowered. We are custodians of a future worth having. The most powerful
corporations on earth cannot do that, their power is pointless, it is
destroying the world their children would want to live in. I love the spirit of
the people on the protest, so did the children who came with me. I think people
sense how important what they are doing is, that is why the protest is so
joyful in spite of the odds stacked against us.