Witch hunt stymies fight

The train crew and shunting grades (TCSG) conference of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, meeting in Glasgow over the weekend of April 19-21, was dominated by the deep divisions caused by the witch-hunting of prominent leftwingers by the union leadership.

The grades president, John MacDonald, in his address to the 102 delegates, stated that there was something "inherently rotten inside our union". This was shown by the attack made by some Council of Executive (C of E) members and by the full-time officer, assistant general secretary Vernon Hince, on Tony Donaghey, Alex Gordon and Pat Sikorski.

These three left members of the standing orders committee have been disciplined simply for upholding a decision of the June 2000 annual general meeting, which called for a rerun of an election to the C of E. The leadership refused to accept the AGM resolution and preferred instead to close down last November's special general meeting against the wishes of the standing orders committee.

Discussion of this attack on the three comrades took up most of the Friday. Towards the end of the day national president Phil Boston arrived to report on the latest legal proceedings. He stated that he was acting on the advice of solicitor John Hendy and would continue to take on Vernon Hince and his supporters on the C of E, if necessary through the courts. Although he was reluctant to take this course of action, it was the only way he could see to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion, enabling the three members to "continue their good work on behalf of the RMT".

Of course a militant campaign by the membership itself would certainly force Hince and co to take note. The union is not their personal property. If they were flooded with resolutions, letters and e-mails and subjected to pickets and other protest actions they would have no alternative but to beat a retreat.

In a sign of the times, the conference was addressed by Tommy Sheridan, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party. True, before that the delegates listened politely to the Labour lord provost of Glasgow, invited to open conference in accordance with diplomatic protocol. By contrast comrade Sheridan was given a rousing reception.

The main theme of his speech was public ownership. He said there was a need for unity on the issue and the need for a campaign for renationalisation - not only of the railways, but of all privatised utilities. Comrade Sheridan stated that it was important for the unions to work together and fight for more jobs and resources to gain the maximum safety for workers and passengers. He called on the activists to step up the pressure on the politicians in the lead-up to the general election, and ended by saying that he would be giving the campaign for renationalisation his full support. But he did not make explicit the logical next step: workers should vote for the SSP, and the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales.

The policy of the SA is of course for renationalisation under the control of workers and passengers. But executive member Alex Gordon, reporting on the campaign to 'Take Back the Track', stopped well short of demanding this. He gave an optimistic assessment of the dispute on the London Underground despite threats of legal action, and confirmed that the next day of action would be on the May 3. This would coincide with the industrial action to be taken by the members on South West Trains.

This link-up, however, did not as yet extend to industrial action over safety and the role of the guard. Assistant general secretary Bob Crow informed conference that the ballot for this action would take place on May 17. Comrade Crow is of course a former stalwart of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, like so many RMT leaders, including comrade Sikorski. Now he has pledged his support for the SA candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, Louise Christian. Greg Tucker, secretary of the London Socialist Alliance, was the conference secretary by the way.

Many of the issues concerning delegates - some routine, some more pressing - did not get a full airing because of the central question of the internal dispute that for obvious reasons was in the forefront of conference proceedings. This issue is one that must be resolved through the democratic will of the membership. Our leaders must be made fully accountable. They must be paid wages equivalent to the average of the skilled workers they represent and be subject to recall.

Derek Goodliffe
TCSG executive member (personal capacity)

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