RMT President election: interview with John Leach

Submitted by AWL on 1 November, 2006 - 12:27

In the RMT President election, we think the best candidate is John Leach. He has the most commitment to rank-and-file members and to fighting the employers. His record includes leading unofficial action in defiance of the anti-union laws. He has also stood up to the union bureaucracy.

We disagree with some things that John has done on the National Executive. If he is elected President, he will probably do things that we disagree with. He will not change the union as much as we would like – but he will change things for the better, and there is no other candidate we can say that about.

But remember – rank-and-file members getting organised is the best way to make any union leader deliver!

Here, Off The Rails interviews John ...

What do you have to offer in the role of President?

Honesty and straightforwardness. A commitment to implementing and extending democracy within the union. A belief that our political stance should centre on working-class political representation.

I want the President's role enhanced and brought more into the centre of how the union is run. I believe I have the experience to do this, particularly because of the time I have spent on the Executive.

What do you see as the role of the President?

To make sure that decisions made by the rank and file are upheld and acted upon. To ensure that the union is led by the members, from the bottom up.

What are the major industrial challenges facing the union?

  • Network Rail harmonisation. We need to use the opportunity to level up pay and conditions and make sure that no-one loses out and as many people as possible win improvements. We must stop the employer levelling down and creating losers as well as winners. RMT's strategy needs to be consistent rather than piecemeal.
  • In shipping, we need to reverse the trend towards casualisation, and continue to fight against super-exploitation of foreign workers and abuse of 'flags of convenience'.
  • We have fights on our hands at EWS, GNER and other companies. Wherever workers face attacks, their union needs to defend them.
  • We need to step up our fight to end the scandal of low pay and casualisation. Ultimately, that means getting the railways reintegrated and renationalised.
  • If the rail pensions commission does not deliver the guarantees we demand, we need to be ready to fight attacks on pensions.

What are the major political challenges facing the union?

Pensions and renationalisation are two good examples of issues that the union needs to pursue politically as well as industrially. We also need to win a Trade Union Freedom Bill to unshackle us from the anti-union laws.

The labour movement faces a crisis: lack of political representation for workers. RMT’s leadership is rightly wary of getting involved in other people's political bandwagons. Regional councils need to take up the Executive’s call to hold conferences on working-class representation.

We support the Labour Representation Committee and John McDonnell's campaign to be Labour Party leader. I support the union’s backing of socialist challenges to Labour, such as the Scottish Socialist Party and Socialist Unity in Hackney. But the SSP has now split, and other ventures outside Labour have not merited our support.

How can we increase membership participation in the union?

Union activity should be more accessible. For instance, if cleaners work 7 nights a week ,the union will have to, initially at least, take meetings to the cleaners, provide secretarial support etc.

RMT has made big steps forward, eg. the helpline and the website. But there is more to do, like cutting down on bureaucracy and jargon. We need democratic control over our services. Members need to know that when they raise an issue, it will be acted on.

Increasing the skills and confidence of our reps and activists will in turn boost member involvement. This will be helped by the new education and training centre in Doncaster.

There is a lack of representation of women and ethnic minority members. The union needs to acknowledge and address this, and draw up a strategy to change things, so that we are not still saying the same thing in ten years' time.

And members need to feel that when they are involved in a dispute, they have a real say in when and how the union takes action.

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