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RMT union AGM votes to defend union democracy - now for a fighting general secretary
Ted Woodley, RMT AGM delegate (personal capacity)
This year's RMT transport union's annual general meeting (AGM) was like no other I have ever attended.
Delegates were relieved that the conference took place at all. Due to Covid, it was organised as an online event, and at the last minute, the national executive committee decided to curtail it from five days to only two, to be concluded early next year.
As a result, the agenda was reduced substantially, with only the items which could not be dealt with later included.
However, the item by which this AGM will be remembered was an appeal against the national executive committee's decision in April, to suspend and discipline senior assistant general secretary Steve Hedley for comments he had made on Facebook back in March.
Steve has held a position of opposing the 'national unity' arguments of so many others in the trade union movement since the Covid crisis began, and has argued against the leadership calling off strikes.
Steve put forward a forceful defence, and delegate after delegate spoke in his support.
However, when general secretary Mick Cash rose to speak against the appeal, he demanded delegates vote it down, otherwise he would stand down from his position. The delegates responded to this ultimatum by supporting the appeal 44 for, with 23 against.
Minutes after the AGM had concluded, an online report announcing the general secretary's retirement was retweeted by RMT head office, which disappointingly included attacks on the rank-and-file leadership of the union, and blamed bullying and factionalism for the reasons behind his decision.
These disgraceful comments, after a highly democratic decision, follow a controversial series of letters from the general secretary to the membership attacking our national executive committee over the summer. It is clear that Mick felt that the national executive committee, and now even the AGM, the parliament of the union, has no right to disagree with or challenge him. He was wrong.
The AGM passed judgement on this unacceptable position, and the process to elect a new general secretary now begins.
Socialist Party members in the RMT think that there needs to be a single left candidate who stands on a programme including:
- Defending the union's policy on redundancies and attacks on pay and pensions. Bring the whole public transport network into public ownership
- No Transport for London cuts. Organise joint industrial action. Call on Mayor Khan to refuse to pass on Tory budget cuts
- Defend lay member democracy. For the general secretary to be accountable to national executive committee
- Approach other unions inside and outside Labour to resist Keir Starmer by calling a conference to discuss building a political vehicle for workers
- Maintain involvement with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to ensure a political challenge in next year's elections
In The Socialist 11 November 2020:
Review and readers' opinion