'They’re trying to clamp down on any dissent, and I think that’s a very troubling state'
Standing in a sunny Parliament Square surrounded by a colourful mix of trade union flags, Mick Lynch spoke to LFF about the troubling state of democracy in Britain.
The RMT general secretary was a speaker at the emergency protest organised ahead of the final Parliament vote on the anti-strike legislation, Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.
Speaking passionately, Lynch warned of a wider government clamp down on dissent and said it was, ‘up to the British people to wake up’ to the implications of demonising trade unions.
He also called for Labour to go further than repealing the Strikes Bill if they come to power, and to introduce a bill of rights for workers that would enshrine the right to strike in law.
‘It’s up to the British people to wake up’
For Lynch, the anti-strike legislation comes under a broader attempt by the Tory government to clamp down on any kind of opposition, warning that a threat to trade union power is a threat to democracy.
“The government has got an attitude towards anything they don’t agree with, any kind of dissent. It could be politically or more broadly socially, where if they don’t agree with people, they try to ban them,” said Lynch.
“We got these police bills and these counter-demonstration bills where people will be stopped from demonstrating or protesting.
“We saw that during the coronation, one of the most passive pieces of civil disobedience if you like, was banned in effect and people were put in jail for the day.
“They’re trying to clamp down on any dissent, and I think that’s a very troubling state, and it’s time for the British people to wake up to that and see that if trade unions, which are an organic part of life and grow in every society, if they’re not allowed to function properly, democracy in this country is in a lot of trouble.
“We’ve got to make sure that people are out opposing that and we’ve got to make sure that people understand the issues.
“If they don’t have trade unions fighting for them, they’re all going to be poorer and they’re going to lose their basic working conditions.”
Taking us back 150 years
Lynch reflected on a capitalist political agenda that, through stripping people of their fundamental work rights, was taking the country back into a dark past.
“Casualization, zero-hour contracts, bogus self-employment, the gig economy, it’s all part of one chapter in the book.
“It’s part of stripping people of their rights and stopping there being a proper relationship between the employer, capital and labour.
“It’s taking us back 150 years before there was the concept of jobs and contracts, of employment rights and terms and conditions, that’s where they want to go. And emasculating the unions is part of that agenda.”
Rail dispute – ‘We’re not close to a deal yet’
Commenting on his growing media stardom, having recently made it into the New Statesman’s list of top 50 most influential people in progressive people, Lynch says it’s only important if it helps put his members case forward.
“If we get a profile, that’s helpful, but it doesn’t get me deals at the negotiating table,” reflected Lynch.
“My job is to get my members a deal that they’re satisfied with, that they can support. And we’re not close to that in the railway dispute.”
RMT members will walk out again on 2 June involving 20,000 train managers, caterers and station staff in the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions.
Looking to the future
Lynch looked towards adjusting work and industries, including the transport system, into a carbon-free economy and the challenges of AI.
“We’ve got a transition to make in the carbon-free economy. People have got to transition work.
“AI is going to be a tremendous challenge in every aspect of work, not just in media and written communications, but in all sorts of aspects, because learning technology will continue to eradicate jobs.
“We need a new settlement in all societies that protects people and gives them more leisure time but still gives them an income.”
Lynch reflected that there was a lot to look into to make this happen, including minimum incomes and more downtime in the workplace however added, ‘capitalism won’t wait for that.’
“Capitalism will just get on and dump the jobs and dump the people and leave millions in poverty.
“And we’ve got to stop that happening. And strong trade unions are the counterbalance to rampant capitalism.
“So that’s why we’ve got to stop this bill and make Keir Starmer repeal it as soon as he gets into power.”
Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward
Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust