RMT Throws in the Towel - Without Even a Mandate

Submitted by Tubeworker on Wed, 12/23/2009 - 19:20

Many RMT reps and members are shocked at the union's decision to accept the company's pay offer that until that point it had told us was "unacceptable", and to do so the day after a ballot result in which over 3,000 members voted for action short of strikes against it.

There were positive things about the dispute - the fact that June's strike actually happened, the positive organising role of the strike committee, the concessions that we forced out of management. And obviously, the other unions' pathetic refusal to fight had a very negative effect. But RMT's potential to win more was squandered by foot-dragging and other mistakes from the union's leadership. Everything RMT's national leadership has done wrong during this dispute has been when they have made decisions behind our backs - ignoring or stalling decisions of mass meetings and reps' meetings, thinking they know best. Now, after pulling out the stops to scupper our campaign, they didn't get the crap result they hoped for and so have ignored it.

This shows contempt for the idea that we should have a say in how our own dispute is run. The national leadership has never once argued that this strike should be called off for x, y or z reason; if they had, they could well have persuaded a majority in the region to throw the towel in because there wasn't a great mood out there. At the meeting on Monday night (poorly-attended, partly because of the weather), those attending spoke honestly about their views. The lack of honesty was from our Executive rep, who did not tell us that he was considering accepting the pay offer, and whose attitude seems to be that he doesn't need to share his thoughts with us because he is the elected official and it's up to him what he does. Instead, we got fobbed off with a grandstanding speech about how we need to smash the anti-union laws, etc.

Whatever you think about how the dispute should or should not have continued, for the Executive to take this decision without even trying to consult or secure a mandate from the members or reps is very undemocratic. Many reps are upset, and bemused as to how they got no say in this and how they are supposed to explain this to their members. Reps and activists feel used by the Executive - expected to work their nuts off for a ballot, only to see its result ignored without even a discussion. Reps and activists told members to vote honestly in this ballot; this is their democratic voice and RMT is a democratic organisation. To then be ignored just disempowers people.

When TSSA and RMT called off the casualisation dispute a year and a half ago, it was so that we could "regroup and rally ourselves for future battles". Now this dispute has been abandoned for the same reason. Will we call of the next dispute for the same reason again?! Unless we examine the failings in the leadership of this dispute, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

We need to fight really hard now for democracy in our disputes. There is a different way to run disputes.

1. We need to go in them to win. We can't have another one or two days' strike and then stop. Action must be not just for the sake of it, but part of a winning strategy.

2. A ballot is not a form of action in itself. When people vote yes it should be because they agree and are prepared to do something about it. 'Yes' has to mean 'yes' because if they can argue it is just a 'yes' out of loyalty to the union, then the leadership can ignore it more easily. A union should not argue for a Yes vote just on the basis of loyalty or 'for the union', but on the issue and the strategy in question at the time. Union members need to feel they have a sense of ownership over what it does.

3. A few years ago, some disputes were won with one day of action then a deal cooked up behind the scenes, or just won with the threat of strikes. Our managment won't play that game now. We need to fight hard, to go for it, take several days' action. It's not that we want to make members suffer, but it's just the reality. Look at the Leeds bin workers, the posties (who even with 14 days action still didn't win). When oher workforces that are fighting are taking several days, how can we screech that we may have to lose 2 day's money?

4. We should no longer allow a dispute to drag on all year, with the national leadership slowly suffocating it and then finally putting it out of its misery. We shoud act quickly, effectively and decisively: if we win, great; if we don't, then move on - not drag on.

5. We need to assert democratic structures through which members and reps get to give opinions, and which the national leadership must listen to.