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First Minister's farewell to Wales TUC thanks unions for 'partnership in power'

Carwyn Jones celebrated the partnership between a Welsh Labour government and the Trade Unions in his final speech to the Wales TUC Credit: Adrian Masters

Carwyn Jones was among friends at the gathering in Llandudno. Amongst those I’ve spoken to there’s a feeling that he’s done his utmost to promote the cause of trades unions often at a time when they’ve felt the government in Westminster has done the opposite.

That’s led opponents, mainly the Conservatives but also Liberal Democrats in the years before Kirsty Williams was a member of his cabinet, to accuse the First Minister of being too close to the unions, to being in their pockets.

You mightn’t be surprised to hear that those I’ve spoken to in Llandudno reject that. He’s listened to their concerns, they say, but hasn’t been afraid to challenge. "He’s said no to us on many occasions", one veteran union figure told me.

In his speech, Carwyn Jones claimed that his government has been in a "genuine social partnership" with the unions, helping Wales, its economy and its public services. But he acknowledged that it hasn't always been a smooth relationship, with the squeeze on public sector pay a source of friction. But he celebrated what he regards as a successful relationship.

Whatever the frustrations of this job, and whatever the occasional tensions there have been between us – we’ve been a partnership in power. And we’ve faced difficult decisions together.

When I took over in 2009, we were in the midst of one of the worst financial crises the world has ever seen. Those times were tough. They tested the bonds of our social partnership. Difficult decisions were made as a result. But we made them from a position of power. I’m proud of that.

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the TUC this year, I’m proud that in Wales we have a government that works with, and not against its trade union partners. In Wales we have a government willing to stand up for working people. And in Wales, we made tough decisions in tough times, together.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Naturally there’s an overlap between delegates here for the TUC and Labour members here a few weeks ago for the party’s conference.

Back then it was clear there was a mood for change amongst members when it comes to the way they choose the person who replaces Carwyn Jones.

One member one vote seemed to be on everyone’s lips and calls for it to be introduced before the leadership election only increased after the deputy leadership vote.

There’s an acceptance amongst union representatives meeting here that there will be a change, maybe at a special conference or maybe by some other means. I understand that will be decided at a meeting of Labour chiefs at the beginning of June.

But there’s considerable pushback against a headlong rush towards OMOV. While understanding Labour members urge to have a greater say in the way the party’s run, there are more defenders of the electoral college here in Llandudno than a few weeks ago. They say it was introduced to reflect the historic and ongoing role of the trade unions in forming the Labour Party and whatever replaces it should continue to do the same.

They also point out the irony of OMOV being seen as totemic to the left because they remember battling Blairites over it. One leading figure told me "We fought against the right trying to silence us, now we’ll fight against the left".