After RMT GS election: organise the rank and file

Posted in Off The Rails's blog on Tue, 11/05/2021 - 17:47,
RMT logo

An RMT activist


  • "How can we improve our union?" (July 2020)
  • "The conflict in RMT" (September 2020)
  • "Mick Cash to retire" (November 2020)
  • Mick Lynch has been elected general secretary of the RMT union. Lynch won 7,605 votes in an election that saw 19.4% of RMT's members vote. The three other candidates – Steve Hedley, John Leach, and Gordon Martin – won 4,352; 2,944; and 1,628 votes respectively.

    The outcome was expected: as the favoured successor of the retiring former general secretary, Mick Cash, and as the candidate backed by both a majority of nominating branches and most of the union's bureaucracy and officialdom, Lynch was always the favourite. While there is widespread desire for change in the union, the union's left has not organised this or focused it on specific proposals for change, so defeating the continuity candidate was always a tall order.

    Off the Rails supported John Leach, the Regional Organiser for the union's London Transport region, in the election. His vote was respectable, significantly increasing his total from the 2014 general secretary election, in which he also stood. Leach stood on a platform of rank-and-file democracy and effective militancy, differentiating himself from both Lynch's continuity campaign and the conception of militancy offered by Lynch's main rival Steve Hedley, which conflates it with machismo. Leach also stressed the need to empower marginalised and under-represented groups in the union. Gordon Martin, the Regional Organiser for Scotland, raised similar themes in his campaign, along with the legitimate argument that the union's national leadership is too dominated by officers from London. With the opposition to the union's current leadership somewhat directionless and divided, we will work to ensure that discussions begun in Leach and Martin's campaigns about an alternative vision for the union, and how to realise it, can continue.

    The RMT's current leading faction consists of an alliance between an “Old Labour” right-wing element, which both Cash and Lynch broadly represent, and a Stalinist element, involving members and supporters of the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star). They present themselves as serious, competent trade unionists, loyal to the structures of the union. In practise this has meant industrial conservatism and a consolidation of control by officers. Cash's retirement and the recent election were preceded by a crisis at the top of the union, in which both Cash and Lynch, then an assistant general secretary, essentially accused the union's rank-and-file executive – which, in constitutional terms, is the day-to-day leadership of the union – of preventing them, senior national officers, from running the union, which they saw as their role. Lynch's victory means that their conception of what the union is – i.e., that it is its officers and staff, whose job is to run the union and provide services and representation on behalf of members – will be consolidated, against a rank-and-fileist conception which contends that the union should be democratically controlled from as close to the workplace as possible, and function primarily as an instrument for struggle.

    With significant industrial battles on the horizon – including against a pay freeze in mainline train companies, potential job cuts in Network Rail, and attacks on pensions in Transport for London – different perspectives and strategies will soon be tested in struggle. Across the political spectrum, everyone in RMT says that they want the union to be "democratic", "fighting" and "member-led" - or that they think it already is. However, those rank-and-file activists who recognise that the union has some way to go to attain this ideal will only make genuine progress towards it if we organise.

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