Reaffiliation to the Labour Party - which way for the RMT?
THE RMT IS CONSIDERING WHETHER TO REAFFILIATE TO THE LABOUR PARTY, after 13 years outside. This year’s RMT AGM in Exeter agreed to a process of consultation with our union branches and regional councils, leading to a Special General Meeting (SGM) – probably this winter – which will decide.
A campaign for affiliation is getting underway. At a full launch meeting at the AGM, John McDonnell asked the RMT to come home to Labour, in order to have an influence on issues important to the union, particularly rail renationalisation. Other speakers for affiliation included RMT assistant general secretary, Steve Hedley.
The campaign will argue that Labour is now closer to RMT policies, and that RMT should affiliate to throw our weight behind the Labour leadership, and the movement to transform the Party. The Labour leadership includes many who have been long-standing friends and comrades of the RMT through our Westminster parliamentary group, including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.
The RMT was disaffiliated by the Labour Party in 2004, after the union decided to support the Scottish Socialist Party as a result of increasing union disillusionment with the Blair government. This disillusionment was particularly over its refusal to renationalise rail, and its privatisation of London Underground engineering under its PPP scheme.
The election of Jeremy as leader, the transformation of the Labour Party over the last two years, and the commitment to rail renationalisation and to the repeal of the Tories’ 2016 Trade Union Act, has led many RMT members - including Steve Hedley – to join the Labour Party as individual members, and has opened up the question of affiliation.
It is uncertain which way the consultation, and then the SGM, will go. Some RMT activists are influenced by those left groups - particularly the Socialist Party - who are embarrassed by the influx of hundreds of thousands of new members into the Labour Party because this has upset their sectarian schemas.
Many RMT activists also have concerns over what effect affiliation would have on our ability to support those MPs from other parties who have helped and worked with us, such as Caroline Lucas. Those opposed to affiliation also point to the presence of the many Blairites among Labour MPs and local councillors; to the recent decision of the Welsh Labour government to privatise Network Rail in Wales by handing it over to whoever wins the franchise for the Welsh railways; and to the role of the Labour Mersey Travel authority which proposes to remove guards from Merseyrail trains and make them DOO (driver only operation).
Our argument at the AGM fringe meeting, and in the coming months, is that there is a class struggle going on to transform the Labour Party and against those who cling on to neo-liberal Blairite policies, and the RMT should be part of that struggle.