Last week in Wales should, in years to come, be considered a few days that defined an epoch. After years of prevarication, the M4 relief road was finally scrapped for what must surely be the final time. Within days, Ford had announced they were shutting their factory in Bridgend, with the loss of around 2000 jobs as a consequence.
As always, in these days of political perversity, there was a certain cognitive dissonance in the response. The decision on the M4 was greeted by many with relief and some admiration – recognition, at last, that as with so many aspects of our economy we cannot continue as we are, and that a different response to our transport issues has to be found in the face of our climate emergency.
Options, options will be on the table, and the promise of thinking again about the presumptions of modern life that have driven politics since WWII. Perhaps, at last, we can begin to frame policy in response to imperatives other than making a quick buck, and consider what is best for our well-being imagined in terms of our environment, community, and way of life – rather than simply responding to the needs of the fossil fuel growth economy.
Yet despite this recognition, the response to the closure in Bridgend has been tantamount to disbelief; questions asked about how Ford could do this to Wales, why solutions cannot be found, and why producing more and more cars for another 10 years should be a problem. Mark Drakeford, fresh from his decision to block a major road project talked of his disappointment and shock at a car factory closing; Adam Price bemoaned the ineffectual Cardiff and Westminster administrations as if this was just a case of them being caught napping – both apparently blissfully unaware of the irony of championing a new beginning whilst damning the consequences.
The immediate results for Bridgend, its workers and their families are tragic, of course. But the response from our progressive politicians, blaming the company, is disingenuous to say the least. The car industry has long been on the verge of crises, so where, as our leading economist Calvin Jones asked, was our Plan B for the town? Moreover, as Dan Evans emphasised back in 2015, a Welsh economy run on Foreign Direct Investment is always going to suffer when times are hard, or a company finds the necessary skills and cheap labour elsewhere.
We need a sustainable economy built in Wales, for Wales; and this localism must be emulated across the globe if we are to fight the climate emergency and the ills of global, unfettered capitalism. Surely these two events, in such quick succession, should jump start our politicians into action, changing our direction of travel, rather than persisting in the madness of pursuing the same mistaken policies over and over. We can ill afford more people falling below the poverty line, under which 30% of Wales’ population reside.
Creating the truly integrated, green economy we need will, of course, remain a pipe dream for as long as we are shackled to the neoliberal British state. But for some inspiration and a vision of what we can aspire towards, watch out for Undod’s upcoming declaration on the green economy. In the meantime, we can at least pressure our politicians to remain true to their progressive rhetoric; we have the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we hear talk of the foundational economy – these are values and ideas we can pursue now.
Last week also saw an event in the Pop Factory in Porth – the former plant of the famed Welsh soft drink company, Corona (that symbolically ran out of fizz as a company after being bought by the multinational Britvic). There the prospect of the Basic Income was discussed: a policy to replace the inhumane and cruel welfare regime that has been imposed by the Tories, whereby every person is given financial resources based not on their lack of means, but on the grounds of their humanity – and the belief that no one should be born to this earth disinherited of the resources that we all should share. It may not be a panacea, but unless we explore and enact radical alternative such as this now, our future promises bleakness and further pain.
Photo by Mick Lobb