Mick Lynch interview: RMT willing to work with Labour Party and progressives to resist anti-strike laws

“It’s an outrageous attack on our civil liberties and on democracy in our country. The trade unions are the bastion of democracy and the bastion of rights and the ability for people to organise independently"

Mick Lynch

LFF interviewed the General Secretary of the RMT, Mick Lynch this morning on a picket line outside Euston station.

In recent weeks and months, the Tory government has upped its rhetoric in trying to portray striking workers and trade unions who are fighting for better pay and conditions amid soaring inflation and a cost of living crisis, as ‘enemies of the people’ with unreasonable demands. Thankfully, it’s a strategy that isn’t working, with opinion polls showing that more of the British public blame the government over the strikes than unions and workers.

Part of the reason the Tories and their supporters in the press have failed so miserably in their endeavour, is thanks to the straight talking, no-nonsense approach of union leaders like Mick Lynch, who have despatched with ease ill-prepared and over-confident journalists.

We spoke to Lynch this morning about how the RMT intends to respond to the government’s proposed anti-strike laws, what he believes are the main barriers to a deal being reached over the strikes, and what he makes of the right-wing and corporate media’s attacks on the RMT and its members.

Reports earlier this week confirmed that Rishi Sunak and his government are planning on bringing forward anti-strike laws in a bid to undermine and attack trade unions which have been fighting for better pay and conditions. Under the proposed laws, bosses will be empowered to sue unions and sack staff in crucial sectors if minimum service levels aren’t maintained. The legislation targets health, education, rail, fire and border staff in particular.

“It’s an outrageous attack on our civil liberties and on democracy in our country. The trade unions are the bastion of democracy and the bastion of rights and the ability for people to organise independently and they’re trying to make that organisation ineffective, they’re trying to suppress our freedoms and we’ve got to fight it”, says Lynch.

“They’ve given up on putting hurdles in front of unions in terms of the ballot and voting process and getting the mandate because we keep defeating that because in some ways the latest laws have put the unions more in contact with their members.

“It’s such a difficult hurdle that we’ve had to get back to traditional stuff, like doing mass meetings, doing local meetings, being in the workplace and that’s what’s produced really good ballot results. So, they’ve given up on the stop the vote angle”.

The TUC and other unions have made it clear that they will do all they can to oppose any forthcoming anti-strike laws, will the RMT be coordinating action with other unions and consider a legal challenge?

“We’ll work with the Labour Party and any progressive element, we need to get protests, we need to challenge it in the courts and do whatever we can by any means necessary. The RMT can’t do it on our own, need a mass movement”, says Lynch.

While much of the focus in many sections of the media has been on the RMT’s dispute with the government over low pay, one element that’s been neglected is the fact that the union is also striking over passenger safety.

What’s being proposed is a 50% cut in maintenance tasks, half as many checks and a reduction in track safety. Such a move is strongly condemned by Lynch, who accuses the train operating companies of putting costs before safety.

He tells LFF: “We have a system called planned preventative maintenance, whereby you intervene on a regular basis to make sure things don’t go wrong, they’re going for risk based maintenance which means you wait for things to go wrong and you take chances.

“So, they’re cutting inspections by 50% and they’re doing that because that’s the means through which they can cut jobs and cut costs, so they’re introducing risk onto a railway which changes where we are.

“Following the incidents at Hatfield and Potters Bar during the 90s when rail track was got rid of, where cost was put before safety, they’re going back to that regime we think and they’re being compelled to do that by the government, their budgets have been cut by millions of pounds.”

The government has continued to torpedo any chances of a deal to prevent further strikes going ahead. What needs to be done to get a deal over the line?

“These conditions have to be less onerous”, says Lynch.

“We need a modern set of terms and conditions by agreement not imposition. We need movement on pay and a job security agreement, it’s going to be tough to get anywhere near inflation but we have got to make an impact on what our members spending power has been reduced by.”

Throughout the dispute, the Tory government has continued to repeat the line that there’s ‘not a bottomless pit of money’, not just at the RMT but other unions and workers who are demanding wage increases as inflation continues to reduce their incomes.

Lynch has a message for the government: “There was a money tree that was created to address all sorts of things. We’re not asking them to dip into any pit, we’re asking them for a decently funded railway. They’ve cut £2bn off the mainline railway they’ve cut £2bn off London transport.

“These are political choices, they can make another political choice by slightly amending their funding, slightly changing their position on some of these impositions they want to bring in and we can get an agreement and work it out quickly.”

The right-wing press have, in tandem with the government, upped their attacks on the RMT in the run up to Christmas, seeking to portray the union as the ‘enemy of the people’. Does Lynch have a message for them?

The union boss says that the tabloid press upped their rhetoric during the Christmas period, accusing the union of wanting to bring down the government, but he insists ‘we’re democrats, we’re not trying to bring down the government’.

“This is an industrial dispute with a political aspect, because the employer is the government, they run the railway.

“We can’t avoid making comment on politicians because they’re the people that set their scene.

“It’s a very peculiar situation, they keep saying it’s not political and then they say can you meet us on Monday”.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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