Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/697/13288
Building a fighting union
Steve Hedley, the transport union RMT's London regional organiser will be standing for election as the union's assistant general secretary. He recently spoke to Sarah Sachs-Eldridge about crucial issues for the union in the transport industry.
What made you decide to stand in this election?
We want to do more than react to attacks on our terms and conditions. For example we have a policy of nationalisation. We need to make fighting for that a priority including in all the feeder industries. We require a political as well as an industrial campaign to win over public sympathy against the proposed massive attacks on jobs, terms and conditions and that means standing anti-cuts candidates where necessary.
Can you tell us about some of the successful campaigns you've had recently?
We've had people reinstated who've been suspended for trade union activity.
We've also had a pay increase of 5% this year and RPI inflation plus a half percent for the next three years with a built in minimum (if inflation is below 1.5%) of 2% a year.
This deal is one of the best in the public sector and reflects the level of organisation we have in London. To achieve it we organised a massive political campaign to educate and build the confidence of the members
You've also won recognition in some areas?
We're organising all the people who have not been traditionally organised in unions because they were employed by contractors. It makes all of us stronger in the region to have those sections unionised. We've won recognition in the cleaning companies. We have just agreed a deal with John Laing - which is being signed off.
Why is it important to support the National Shop Stewards Network?
I think it's important to build up links with militant trade unionists in other sections of industry. I always remember when the miners were picked off and the movement didn't come to their aid in terms of widening the strike. I think that was a historic defeat. And in a union like the RMT there's a danger that something like that could happen to us if we haven't built a broad layer of support in other industries.
And that's why you've supported the construction electricians' protests?
Absolutely - they've got the same bosses - Balfour Beatty and people like that are in the railway industry as well and if they can get away with cutting the wages for them - we're next. It's simple solidarity action.
What about the national picture for the RMT?
With McNulty [report recommending cutting staff on the railways] people don't want unstaffed stations and they don't want driverless trains. They don't want a minimal level of staff anywhere on the railway. When British Rail was first privatised people wouldn't use the stations after 6pm because they were worried about safety.
We've got to build an alliance with the public and rail user groups, and to campaign in parliament and locally to stop this being carried out. We've got to coordinate a campaign of industrial action across all the companies to stop it coming in.
If it comes to the situation where we can't go on strike to defend our members because of the anti-union laws - then we've got to go back to the foundations of the union when people were organising illegally to defend workers. The trade union movement has always opposed unjust laws and today the RMT should do the same thing.
As far as other sections of the RMT are concerned, I think the OILC in particular have a tremendous tradition of taking action to defend their terms and conditions. With shipping we've already got the Royal Fleet Auxiliary balloted over pensions and they won the ballot which is quite a historic victory. They took action on 30 November with the other unions. If I'm elected I'll be campaigning on everyone's behalf - not just rail workers but all those in our union.
Why do you support the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)?
I've got lots of respect for people like MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party but we've got Labour councillors condemning the cuts and then carrying them out.
When we've got Ed Miliband condemning people for going on strike to protect their pensions I think the Labour Party is no longer recognisable as a party that represents working class people. We need an alternative.
I think building a new party out of the trade unions is viable. I think it's going back to how the Labour Party was constructed in the first place. It was supposed to be representative of organised workers in parliament and that's just not happening.
We're putting forward a five-point anti-cuts platform and saying to Labour councillors - if you don't want a TUSC candidate standing against you sign up to these points. And as far as I'm concerned if they agree to fight the cuts there's no need to stand against them.
In The Socialist 7 December 2011:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party editorial
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reviews