Socialist Alternative

RMT at a crossroads: for a democratic, fighting trade union!

RMT has had a proud and rich history of being a strong left-led, fighting, militant, members-led union and even more so during the period of office of the late great, former General Secretary Bob Crow, who sadly passed away in 2014. Bob was instrumental in the formation of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC, electoral coalition) and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and led the RMT to many industrial dispute victories during his time in office.

He was replaced in 2014 by then assistant general secretary Mick Cash. Cash was re-elected as general secretary in 2019 when he beat left wing candidate Sean Hoyle. Unfortunately Sean didn’t lead the best of election campaigns and was sadly defeated. 

On November 2nd the RMT Annual General Meeting took place via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the usual week long AGM was condensed into just 2 days. This AGM was indeed an extraordinary one and not just due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Let me give you all a little background to this year’s proceedings.

Back in March this year, senior assistant general secretary Steve Hedley made a comment on Facebook regarding Prime Minister Johnson and COVID-19. Steve’s comments were then leaked to the Daily Mail, which of course, blew everything out of proportion. Due to Steve Hedley’s minor error of judgment, he was disgracefully suspended with immediate effect on the recommendation of RMT general secretary Mick Cash. After a period of 3 months, Steve Hedley’s suspension was lifted, but again on the recommendation of the general secretary, Steve was stripped of his senior position as assistant general secretary and this role was given to close friend and ally of Cash’s, assistant general secretary Mick Lynch. This outrageous and unjustified act was clearly going to be appealed by Steve and indeed it was. As the RMT rule book states ‘any sanction imposed on an officer of the union can be appealed and overturned, only by a majority vote of delegates at the AGM’. Steve Hedley’s appeal was heard in front of the 72 delegates gathered and was rightfully overturned by a huge majority. 

But again this wasn’t before more interference by the general secretary who, before any votes were cast, threatened delegates with his resignation if the decision to sanction Steve was overturned as he believed his position as general secretary would become ‘untenable’ if that decision was reached. For Cash to try to influence the delegates before any votes were cast was a desperate act by a clearly desperate man who’s sole intention, with the support of his cohorts on the right wing of RMT, was to smash the left wing of RMT and with it the democratic machinery of RMT’s members led union ethics.

Mick Cash promptly resigned his position as general secretary after the result of Steve Hedley’s appeal vote came to light but in a public statement put out to the British press, Cash stated he had ‘retired’. In the run up to this year’s AGM, Mick Cash has been suffering from mental health problems, which he is quite open and honest about. This is indeed sad to hear and all of us at Socialist Alternative would like to pass on our support to Mick as he battles his current mental health problems. Unfortunately, Mick Cash lays the blame for his mental health problems at the feet of the RMT’s National Executive Committee (NEC) which consists of 16 democratically elected members. Cash has cited ‘bullying’ towards him by certain individuals and a group of individuals within the Campaign for a Fighting Democratic Union (CFDU ). This is clearly not the case.

The proposals Mick Cash wanted to implement would have taken away every element of a bottom up, members-led union and replaced the structure with a top down, officers-led union. Correctly these proposals were met with fierce opposition by the majority of NEC members. Cash’s frustration due to opposition to push through his dictatorial, anti-democratic measures has led to these outrageous and unsubstantiated accusations of ‘bullying’ and ‘constant criticism’.

Now with Mick Cash gone, we as Marxists must do everything we can to ensure Cash’s position is filled by a militant, fighting, socialist general secretary.  Socialist Alternative calls for a general secretary who will:

  • Fight against attacks on passenger safety and say no to Driver Only Operation. 
  • Fight against booking office closures and defend terms and conditions
  • Be at the forefront of a national campaign for rail renationalisation and a national campaign for real pay rises based on real consultation of the membership
  • Lead the fight against casualisation of the workforce through temporary workers and outsourcing and bring both back in-house.

Socialist Alternative supporters in the RMT are supporting Steve Hedley as the candidate who is in the best position to win this election for the left and fight for these demands. However, this election campaign needs to be linked to a serious strategy to build a genuine broad left in the union, which can hold those in elected positions to account and campaign for these policies to be implemented. We need a publicly owned railway system, run democratically by railway workers and passengers, which will meet the needs of the people and not the needs of privately owned train operated company’s profits – and we need a democratically run, fighting trade union as part of this.