RMT conference: delegates defy leaders

NO SOONER had the rail union RMT conference started than it came to a grinding halt. For a day and a half, delegates wouldn’t let the union leaders start the conference until the issue of elections for the national executive seat for the north west had been sorted out.

Craig Johnston, Carlisle city delegate and Bill Mullins

General secretary Jimmy Knapp had ruled that the postal ballot election, which was tied after second preference votes were counted, would be given to the candidate with most first preference votes. The Knapp candidate was declared the winner.

The delegates were so outraged that the whole standing orders committee resigned and the conference couldn’t start. Eventually conference, against Jimmy Knapp’s wishes, voted to re-run the election, after which Knapp stormed off the stage.

In this acrimonious atmosphere, conference debated a resolution calling for a special conference to consider the union’s links to the Labour Party. The movers wanted to allow the union to set up an independent political fund so the union could sponsor candidates more in line with union policies.

Knapp threatened to report back those who voted for it to their RMT branch and their local Labour parties! He demanded a recorded vote and the resolution was lost by 28 votes to 20.

Meanwhile RMT seafaring members are preparing to take industrial action for shorter hours. In response, the Ministry of Defence organisation, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) had threatened to maroon union members in overseas ports.

When the RFA’s government-backed threatening letter was read out, delegates were extremely angry. Those who’d voted to maintain links with the Labour Party said they’d have voted against if they’d known of this letter.

A further sign that delegates no longer see Labour as was conference’s voting down of a resolution to go to Labour’s conference, demanding Ken Livingstone’s readmission to the Labour Party. Most delegates certainly weren’t backing Vernon Hince, their assistant general secretary, who campaigned against Livingstone in the first place.

Knapp was further rebuffed by a 40 to 1 vote when he tried to get conference to restructure union branches in line with the privatised rail companies.

The delegates saw this as tacit acceptance of privatisation and wouldn’t go along with the leadership. One resolution accused Knapp of “craven cowardice” in the face of the private companies.

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