Jeff Slee

RMT debates affiliation to Labour

Jeff Slee
RMT debates affiliation to Labour
Steve Hedley: It’s not enough to stand on the sidelines, chanting “Oh! Jeremy Corbyn!”

A SPECIAL GENERAL MEETING (SGM) of the RMT union on 30th May will debate whether to affiliate to the Labour Party. A consultation period was opened on 21st March, leading up to the SGM, and the issue is being discussed in RMT branches and regional councils (and, inevitably, on Facebook). As soon as the consultation period was opened, supporters of affiliation circulated a four page leaflet to branches. Signed by current and former RMT National Executive Committee members, other prominent union activists, and union officers, the leaflet says:

“A class struggle is taking place in the Labour Party. The outcome is vital for our members, for the future of trade unionism and for the working class. RMT cannot sit on the sidelines. RMT’s rightful place is shoulder to shoulder with those in the Labour Party fighting for the interests of our class. It is time for RMT to affiliate to Labour.”

The statement includes a report of our fringe meeting at the 2017 RMT AGM, where John McDonnell (a member and former convenor of RMT’s Westminster parliamentary group) appealed to the RMT to rejoin Labour.

John told delegates: “The RMT can only have full involvement in writing the policies of the next Labour government as an affiliated trade union”.

John said that he and Jeremy will need the RMT in the party when Labour is in government - supporting them as the establishment mobilises against that government, and holding the line in the party structures when others will want to water down Labour’s polices under pressure from the establishment.

Among those arguing for affiliation is RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Steve has put out a statement in which he says:

“For many years I myself wouldn’t have dreamed that I would ever be campaigning to rejoin Labour. I hated Blair with a passion and stood as a local councillor against Labour for the Trade Union And Socialist Coalition. I was proud to be part of our annual general meeting and later SPG that took the decision to sponsor Scottish Socialist Party candidates knowing that this would lead to our expulsion from the Labour Party. New Labour was an anti-worker anti-union neo-liberal party that was practically indistinguishable from the Tories.

So what has changed? Well, in a word, Corbyn. No one predicted the rise of Jeremy to the leadership of the Labour Party and to probably (if we all get behind him) be the next Prime Minister. Of course Corbyn is not a one-man band; supported by fellow long-term RMT parliamentary group leader John McDonnell, Corbyn is representative of a radical movement that has now taken control of the National Executive of the Labour Party and key posts like the general secretary of the organisation.

In my view we must do all in our power to support the Corbyn revolution and reafilliation can help him in three main ways. Firstly as an affiliated union we would have an extra vote in every constituency Labour Party we attend. Secondly we can stand a candidate for the party’s National Executive Committee. Thirdly we can as an affiliated union help shape the Labour manifesto in regards to a transport policy.”

Those opposing affiliation, influenced and backed by the Socialist Party, argue that new Labour is still strong among Labour MPs and local councillors. They point to Merseyside, where RMT has been in dispute for over a year against the Labour authority and mayor’s plans to bring in Driver Only Operation and remove guards on Merseyrail. They also point to the London mayor, who has done nothing for those cleaners and station staff who are still outsourced by Transport for London to companies which pay as little as possible and obstruct RMT’s efforts to recruit and organise.

Those opposing affiliation want the union to remain able to support candidates against Labour at elections - a ‘pick and mix’ approach. They want the RMT to ‘wait and see’. But the RMT has never been a union which stands and watches the class struggle from the sidelines - and we shouldn’t do so now.

There is still widespread distrust of Labour among RMT activists - a hangover from opposing New Labour. Responses so far from RMT branches are divided, and the vote at the SGM is likely to be close.


Secretary of RMT Campaign for Labour Affiliation