Last weekend, young workers from across Britain’s transport system gathered for the annual RMT young members’ conference. With strikes breaking out on the railways and Tube network, it is vital that the unions organise coordinated action.
The RMT young members’ advisory conference was held on 24-27 February in Inverness.
The conference was dominated by a militant mood against the bosses’ attacks; and by a desire to involve young members across the RMT to take a leading and active role in the union.
As RMT president Alex Gordon stated in his speech to conference: “Young workers are clearly not going to accept the levels of exploitation that will come. A young worker’s place is in their trade union. And it is young workers who will be at the forefront of these struggles.”
General secretary Mick Lynch and union president Alex Gordon set the tone for the conference with their opening speeches.
They outlined the general features of the period we are living in; the industrial battles that are set to take place in response; and the role of young members in these struggles.
“We are in serious and choppy waters,” Mick began. In the aftermath of the 2008 crash and the coronavirus crisis, rail and transport workers are facing a series of attacks on conditions, pensions, pay, and jobs.
“The ruling class will be as vicious as they need to be. What we’re going to do is meet this challenge,” the RMT general secretary asserted defiantly. “They’re expecting us like other unions have done to stand back and take it. But we’re not going to do that.”
The RMT is indeed rising to the challenge.
Railway cleaners, employed by Churchill and organised in the RMT, for example, recently won a 100% ballot for strike action in a dispute over pay. This strike – the biggest ever action by rail cleaners, with hundreds involved – is now underway, and young members are playing a leading role in it.
Similarly, strike action is taking place across the London Underground this week, following a successful ballot amongst 10,000 RMT members on the Tube network.
Meanwhile, members at Network Rail and 15 train operating companies will be balloted in the coming weeks on similar issues, with ScotRail and Crossrail likely to be added to that list.
This, Mick Lynch stated, will be “the biggest mobilisation for coordinated industrial action of our generation”.
There is also a mood for coordinated action together with the rest of the labour movement, who are facing the same attacks as RMT members.
This was highlighted in Mick’s speech to conference:
“I’m calling on the trade union movement and the TUC general council: We must form a massive movement of the outsourced and the marginalised. It’s a despair that Keir Starmer is taking the Labour Party so far to the right. The trade unions must make an independent mark on working-class communities – whether they are affiliated to the Labour Party or not. We will bring the politicians back to us”.
As it stands, the TUC is supposed to be a body for organising across the trade union movement. But the general council is not playing the role that it should in coordinating struggles.
Nevertheless, as Mick stressed: “We won’t coordinate by talking about it, but by doing it. We will always be leading the charge.”
This is correct: as strikes develop, it will be up to us – rank-and-file activists on the ground – to take matters into our own hands, and concretely link these fights together.
“United we stand, and united we will win,” Mick emphasised.
This mood for action translated into the motions that were carried by the conference.
Socialist Appeal supporters, for example, put forward the following motion for coordinated industrial action across the labour movement. This was passed without opposition, with the following resolves:
- To lead in the formation of cross-union committees of action, starting at a regional level, which can bring together workers organised under different unions, in a joint effort to fight against the issues above.
- To support young members’ involvement, and ensure the regular meeting of these committees, in which industrial action and resistance to these rail cuts can be properly coordinated and strengthened.
- To call upon the TUC to organise concrete support for any industrial action taken on a national level, including joint action.
Conference motions and discussions also reflected the desire to involve young workers at all levels of the union, through recruitment, training, and education.
Many young members – and many militant older activists – no longer want to see union meetings dominated by passive, complacent, or condescending layers.
The conference therefore resolved to train up youth officers and expand their roles; to improve the strategy for the recruitment of apprentices; and to promote young members at all levels of the union.
There is also a thirst for political ideas amongst young workers, and this is central to recruitment.
In this respect, the conference discussed economic questions, and also resolved to have an annual three-day school for all young workers, on topics such as the history of the trade union movement in Britain.
The conference also resolved to stand in support of witch-hunted Unison President Paul Holmes, and to send an official message of solidarity.
?EXCLUSIVE: For years, an unholy alliance of council employers, right-wing union bureaucrats, and disgruntled opponents have attempted to victimise Paul Holmes, the President of Unison. Now the truth is emerging about this disgraceful witch-hunt.https://t.co/wXoHKTZ0xk
— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) February 21, 2022
As was raised by one comrade from the conference floor:
“What is the reason for this unholy alliance [of Kirklees council, the union officialdom and Paul’s political opponents]?
“It is because everything that we have talked about and resolved to do at this young members’ conference, Paul stands for and wants to do in the largest union in the country: Industrial militancy; getting new members and young members into leading roles; involving the rank-and-file; organising in the workplace; coordinated action.”
“For that reason we should stand in solidarity with Paul. An injury to one is an injury to all. If the bosses can get away with victimising and sacking one good trade unionist, not least the elected president, this will be a signal that they can do it anywhere, to anyone.”
Solidarity with Paul Holmes! Solidarity with striking RMT cleaners and rail workers!
In the words of Mick Lynch: “If we fight for our people, we can win for our people!”