RMT president Sean Hoyle speaks to the Socialist
Under attack but organising to fight back
The transport workers' union RMT has been involved in various disputes recently and played an important role in both supporting Jeremy Corbyn and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). RMT President Sean Hoyle spoke to the Socialist about the union's industrial fightback and political strategy.
RMT members are facing a concerted attack on their pay and conditions. How do you see the fightback?
On all fronts the RMT seems to get it in the neck!
For example in Scotland, there were plans to remove the guard with the doors being completely controlled by the drivers, so we went on strike.
Transport in Scotland is devolved so we were dealing with the Scottish Government, who had talked previously about keeping the guard. They weren't serious about keeping that commitment but, with the public behind us, our strike forced an agreement in which the driver will open the doors and the guard will close them. And new electric trains are now going to have controls for a guard put in which wasn't going to be the case before.
We had also previously had the Calmac dispute in Scotland in which we forced Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government to keep it in public hands. That was quite a painful experience for the Scottish National Party and I don't think they wanted to go through it again.
What about the continued dispute on Southern?
We will not be moving from our current position that we need a second 'safety key critical' trained person on the train, so a guard or a conductor. The important thing is they need to be safety critical but Southern's idea of a second person is someone on minimum wage to clean windows, check a ticket and serve drinks at the same time.
We don't think that it is safe to have driver-only. Train drivers' union Aslef has released a statement saying the same thing. It's clear we need a safety-trained conductor on every train.
For example we recently had a medal-winning Olympian coming home from the Paralympic Games in Brazil but then couldn't get home because there was no guard to help them get on and off the train in their wheelchair. They were told they would have to give 24-hours' notice of travel. Why should people with disabilities be second class citizens? That's not acceptable.
At TUC congress this year you moved the RMT motion calling for an emergency conference to discuss resistance to the Tory Trade Union Act. The motion was passed unanimously but a conference has not yet been called. What do you think needs to happen?
In 2013 we had a motion put forward by Steve Gillan of the POA union of prison officers and allied workers, seconded by Bob Crow, at the same venue to consider a general strike and how we would implement it. The TUC responded by sending a bus around the country to gauge opinion!
Last year, previous RMT President Peter Pinkney moved a motion calling for generalised action and nothing happened. The TUC has got form on not acting to implement decisions. But if the TUC don't want to lead, the unions on the left need to do it for them.
Jeremy Corbyn has been overwhelmingly re-elected, but he still faces major opposition from the majority of Labour MPs, councillors, and from the Labour machine. What do you think is necessary to transform Labour into a 100% anti-austerity party?
We won't get a 100% anti-austerity or socialist Labour Party while the Parliamentary Labour Party is formed the way it is. The DNA of hundreds of MPs is different. They have the mindset of Blairism, the mindset of not having principles.
I can see them being welcomed back despite opposing Jeremy, which just stores up problems for the future. The Labour Party for many years has not been a party of labour, only in name.
I support deselection of those MPs who don't support Jeremy Corbyn. I think Constituency Labour Parties need to be more involved.
The Labour Party has grown to be the biggest party in Western Europe because normal working class men and women have gone to rallies, signed up to vote, joined. They've all been inspired by Jeremy's politics, but its got to be more than just a rallying cry to become just slightly left of the old Labour Party. The Labour Party needs to become a workers' party again.
Ultimately, I can only see the splits in the Labour Party leading to divorce. For example John McDonnell came out and said they won't support any councillors who back illegal budgets. We've all been calling for needs budgets. If John really says that these are illegal and won't support them then it's just continued austerity.
And if the call is to continue with austerity then we have a situation where the Tories say they cut us off around the knees with austerity and the Labour Party say they will chop us off around the ankles. Either way you can't walk!
When Bob Crow came up with the idea of TUSC it was because we wanted to take the first steps towards a new workers' party and try to get trade unions on board. We stood over 100 parliamentary candidates, which is quite formidable.
What role can TUSC play in the new situation?
The debate in TUSC now will be how we can best help Jeremy. The RMT's policy is to support Jeremy but we've also got policy that we don't support any candidate that doesn't support Jeremy, which will create problems within our parliamentary group.
We also support Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP) but Labour rules state we can't do that. So it's quite simple for the RMT, we have policy passed in July that we will support anybody that supports us, which would bar us from re-affiliating. We also reaffirmed our position in TUSC.
We have a strong position, we support Jeremy, John McDonnell and others, we were one of the biggest donors to Jeremy in his first leadership campaign. And I think any progressive left movement, whether it's a federation or not, if it brings forward socialist principles then its for the good.
Under the rise of Jeremy we have seen people inspired, some for the first time ever, people from right across society and we need to grab this opportunity to get a socialist party in power.
We are 100% behind Jeremy and John McDonnell but by keeping Hillary Benn, Tom Watson etc happy, how will we progress?
My final point is if the Labour Party carry on in the direction they are going then they can win a general election. The media say Corbyn is unelectable. Well I believe he can be prime minister but he has to stick with what has inspired people. By compromising he could lose what inspired people in the first place.
- Hear Sean Hoyle speak at Socialism 2016, 12&13 November
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