Link the struggles
A call for workers' struggles to be linked up with the political campaign of the Socialist Alliance was made at the open conference of RMT train crew and shunting grade members that took place in Birmingham on February 10. The meeting was called to build support for a planned ballot for industrial action over safety and to launch a 'train crews charter', which opposes any extension of driver-only operation.
The downgrading of the guard's role has led to the compromising of the safe running of trains and many members believe the time has come to take a stand, as shown by the numerous militant contributions from the 120 or so activists present.
Three SA members highlighted the role of the alliance. Greg Tucker, London Socialist Alliance chair, and Steve West of Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance both stressed that we in the SA were ahead of the union when it came to campaigning: we had already had a day of action for rail safety, and leafleted at railway stations over the issue of renationalisation under the control of workers and passengers. The comrades reported that they had received a positive response. The reaction to this from the full-time officials, who included president Phil Boston and assistant general secretary Bob Crow, was that the union would take this up and start a similar leafleting campaign.
The other SA member was myself. In my speech I backed the forthcoming campaign, but went on to state that it was a great shame that we did not have the foresight to coordinate this with the tubeworkers. Indeed we should be linking these sorts of campaigns with the struggles of other workers beyond our industry: for example, the car workers of Luton and the steel workers of Corus. We should also be seeking to raise our campaigns to encompass the fight of workers as a class, taking in such demands as the abolition of the anti-trade union laws.
Many contributions from the floor praised the defiant action of RMT members involved in the tubeworkers' strike, especially in the light of the high court injunction. There was also criticism of past efforts from our full-time officials for dragging their feet. Members have in the past endured some very spurious accounts of how legal constraints have tied the leadership's hands.
Many believe, however, that in the past court action has been very convenient for the full-time officials, who have used it as an excuse not to give their full support to rank and file demands for industrial action. Last week's strike by RMT tubeworkers demonstrated that the anti-union legislation can be sidelined if the will is there.
Bob Crow, who had himself been threatened by London Underground management for 'inciting' RMT members to strike following his presence on the picket line, talked about his "frustration" that yet again the courts had been used against the RMT. He praised Aslef members for their action and called for members to back the campaign against driver-only operation.
He did not, however, take up the argument about linking up workers' actions in defiance of the anti-union laws. Nor did he, as an apparently still loyal member of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, comment on the Socialist Alliance.