Over in the UK industrial action by the Rail Maritime and Transport Union is attracting attention. And the RMTU head, Mick Lynch, is proving to be a media sensation. His clear and direct means of communication is laying to waste all of the carefully scripted union attacks that the Tories can muster.
Check this video out if you want a flavour of what he has been saying.
And the video in this tweet shows the clarity of his message and of his analysis.
We live in the age of the jabby, confrontational interview & the RMTs, Mick Lynch, has had a few of them.
— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) June 22, 2022
The tories have taken to the prospect of Industrial Action like a pig in mud. Anything to distract attention from Johnson’s woes and the overwhelming impression of grift and sleaze that they are up to their necks in.
The dispute relates to the RMTU seeking wage increases to compensate for inflation which in the UK is currently running at 9.1%. Boris and Co think this is a bad idea because it will be inflationary. Essentially their view is that workers should bear the brunt of the damage caused by inflation so that others, rich people and company shareholders in particular, do not miss out.
The employers of RMTU workers have responded with an offer that will not only cause a significant cut in wages in real terms but they also propose to cut the number of jobs and current job conditions. And complained that wage increases cannot be afforded, even though senior executive salaries have been increasing and there was a recent shareholder payout. From Open Democracy:
Train companies paid out nearly £800m to shareholders last year before telling rail unions that employees must take a real-terms pay cut for them to stay afloat.
More than 50,000 train workers across 13 train companies began three days of industrial action on Tuesday. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) said it was striking in response to plans by the companies to cut jobs and real-terms pay, and worsen employment conditions.
Rail chiefs have said that a cost-of-living pay rise, one of the RMT’s key demands, is “not sustainable in the current economic climate”.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail companies, said it had rejected a pay rise on the grounds that it would be ‘unfair to taxpayers’ given the emergency funding the government had provided to the industry during the pandemic.
Yet just last week, the UK’s largest train operator, FirstGroup, boasted to investors that profits for this year were “ahead of expectation” and pledged to resume dividend payouts. The company handed its shareholders £500m in December 2021, just months after being awarded government contracts for running the South Western Railway and Transpennine Express.
The company said the contracts have “no revenue risk and very limited cost risk” and that the new system “works better for passengers and taxpayers, while generating more resilient and consistent returns for shareholders” in a statement at the time.
I am sure you get the picture. Workers wages will be decreased to hold inflation but not chief executive salaries or shareholder payouts. The current economic model preserves privilege but demands that workers receive even less.
Lynch’s performance has attracted considerable attention with Jeremy Gilbert in the Guardian stating that Labour could learn a lot from him. From the article:
This week, the RMT union leader, Mick Lynch, has done something that no political figure has achieved since Brexit tore the nation apart in 2016. He has united progressive opinion, from the revolutionary left to the liberal centre, in praise of his deft and devastating media interviews – almost all of them in the face of hostile questioning.
In part this is simply because Lynch is a brilliant communicator and strategic thinker, as would be expected of the leader of a union whose cadres have long been noted for their acuity, intelligence and determination. But it is also because millions in Britain find it refreshing to hear a socialist perspective on current events articulated with clarity and conviction. Lynch puts the case for collective action with a precision and a lack of moralism that is both appealing and vanishingly rare. He also points out the harm done to workers and consumers by excess corporate profits: a blindingly obvious point that almost no mainstream commentator makes.
Gilbert also comments on how since the 1980s politics has increasingly been dominated by people who could loosely be described as careerists or professionals.
… since the 1980s we have seen the consolidation of a professional class of senior managers, politicians and media operatives, who tend to share a culture and an outlook, whichever political parties or institutions they may be attached to. Its members tend to be socially liberal, but also utterly committed to the assumption that socialism, and even traditional social democracy, are political philosophies that died with the 20th century. This social group draws members from among the privately educated and from the most successful products of state education, and it occupies the positions of power in many institutions today: from the BBC to the parliamentary Labour party.
What it doesn’t tend to include is many committed trade unionists, many people whose vowel-sounds haven’t been honed at elite universities, or many who are willing to put corporate profits into question when giving interviews about the nature of price inflation. While at one time it was the Labour party itself that was supposed to be the vehicle for bringing such people into public life,for much of the Blair period and beyond it has prevented these people from reaching positions of power, with the exception of the period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
And if you want to read something really disturbing this Declassified UK interview by Matt Kennard with Jeremy Corbyn makes for somber reading. The essential message is that Corbyn never had a chance and was undermined by the establishment. The interview covers incidents such as the UK military sending Corbyn a warning, deliberate undermining by MI5 and MI6, an open threat from Mike Pompeo, the Guardian publishing 1,215 stories mentioning Labour and anti-semitism from 2016 to 2019 (yes I realise that I refer to the Guardian regularly but I cannot understand why it made such a song and dance of the anti semitism scandal) and Corbyn’s ultimate suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Lynch’s performance has drawn unflattering comparisons with that of Keir Starmer who still is unable to express support for the workers. In fact it is that bad that Starmer ordered MPs not to go onto the picket line and has threatened them with disciplinary action. From the Guardian:
Labour frontbenchers who defied Keir Starmer to appear on picket lines have been encouraged to issue public apologies or risk disciplinary action, despite some shadow cabinet members urging the Labour leader to drop the issue.
Several frontbenchers were pictured alongside striking RMT workers on Tuesday, despite explicit instructions from Starmer to stay away.
The Guardian understands some of the rebel MPs involved have been asked to issue a statement explaining their attendance.
One senior party source jokingly suggested a junior frontbencher had been asked to claim they had been “ambushed by a picket line” – a reference to an excuse used to explain Boris Johnson’s attendance at his own birthday party.
Another source, an MP, said the whips were “threatening people at the moment, trying to get them to issue apologies”. It is unclear what the consequences would be if they refused to apologise.
Meanwhile, Starmer is under pressure from some members of his shadow cabinet to drop the threat of disciplinary action.
One shadow minister said it would be “outrageous” to caution, or even sack, Labour MPs for showing solidarity with striking railworkers.
This endless focus group and polling to find the optimal triangulation point on issues makes a mockery of such traditional working class concepts as solidarity.
And when compared to Mick Lynch’s direct and principled stance on issues the Starmer’s principle free style is clear.
Finally Green Day’s version of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero ballad.