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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 July 2008

RMT conference discusses crisis of political representation

Delegates attending the rail union RMT's Annual General Meeting voted unanimously to call a conference on political representation and to encourage the union's regional councils to do the same. They also resolved to: "Initiate and support the setting-up of local Workers' Representation Committees which can identify and promote candidates in elections who deserve workers' support."

Dave Reid

Delegates also discussed how the union and its members are being confronted by employers attempting to attack the pay and conditions of rail and other transport workers in Britain.

The division of the rail network into dozens of employers and contractors which spread onto London Underground means the RMT is fighting on many fronts at the same time. The employers have new opportunities to get around employment and health and safety laws.

One of the demands of London Underground cleaners, who are currently involved in a heroic battle against low pay and appalling conditions at four contractors, is to end the barbaric practice of "third-party sackings". A third-party sacking is when the boss of the contracting firm can get around the employment laws by demanding the sacking of a worker, with no right of a disciplinary hearing or appeal.

This has been used to get rid of union activists with clear collusion between the different firms. One cleaner was dismissed for wearing a hat with no right of appeal or even a hearing.

International issues were also debated. The European Court has ruled that unions are liable for damages for taking industrial action that "breach free trade". This makes it legally impossible for workers to take industrial action to prevent employers moving around Europe undermining pay and conditions or from setting up new companies to pay workers less. Solidarity action would also be illegal in European law, which would be binding on all signatories to the Lisbon Treaty if it were enacted.

The AGM also passed by a clear majority a resolution that reaffirmed the union's support for the national rights of the Palestinian people but also promoted workers' unity between Arab and Jewish workers and opposed a boycott of Israel. The resolution described a boycott as "divisive" and "inconsistent with the principles of unity and solidarity between workers that our union stands for".

The AGM also supported the mobilisation against the far-right, racist BNP's 'Red, White and Blue' festival being held in Derbyshire in August. The RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, said the protest against the festival was a "tremendous initiative" and the union agreed to donate to, advertise and encourage the arranging of transport for the protest.

  • 39 copies of The Socialist were sold to the 62 delegates at the AGM
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