Dead Men Left

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Bob Crow vs Simon Huges (pt. 2)

The spat continues; RMT members on the Underground have voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay and conditions, and - god bless him - Bob Crow's decided the brothers and sisters are going to walk out on June 10. A faultless negotiation tactic; always good to turn your sectional demands into as big a political problem as possible. Looks like I'll be walking in that day, but do you know what? I don't give a damn. May the RMT's example spread widely. The one element, the sole factor that can decisively reshape politics here in the UK has lain dormant for too long. The simple truth is that without a trade union movement able to take on the government - any government - over pensions, or working hours, let alone the war - progressive forces in Britain will remain constrained. The anti-war movement has opened a space, for sure; with any luck, Respect will go some of the way towards filling it. But to shape the space vacated by New Labour's destruction of Labour's mass support requires something more than an electoral challenge.

Not everyone agrees. Predictably, Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor, "unequivocal lover of Israel" and, alas, my MP, thinks differently.

Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Simon Hughes renewed his calls for Mr Crow to be removed from the Transport for London board.

Mr Hughes said: "This sort of industrial action does nobody in London any good. It is no good for passengers, no good for London Underground and no good for the unions.

"Of course, employees are justified in raising concerns over any number of issues with their employers, but to threaten strike action every time they are dissatisfied with negotiations is bad for business, bad for the travelling public and bad for London.

"The right to strike is a sound principle when used correctly, but the RMT threat to strike at the drop of a hat abuses this right.

"If anything, the TGWU bus drivers have a far greater right to be on the board rather than the RMT. Bus drivers have been instrumental in improving London's transport, while the RMT have done very little to help London and Londoners.

"If elected as mayor, I will remove the RMT from the board of Transport for London and appoint people who owe their allegiance to Londoners rather than the unions, so we can get on with making the transport system work for the capital, and stop Londoners from yet again being held to ransom."

Pause awhile, and ponder upon that statement. The call to expel Bob Crow from the Transport for London was the one Hughes earlier made, based on the lie that Bob hadn't attended TfL meetings whilst pocketing a TfL salary. Instead of lying about him, Hughes is now calling for Bob's expulsion because he observed the results of a legal ballot of his members, conducted under trade union laws of which Hughes is a supporter - indeed, an enthusiast. What intrigues me most, however, is the claim that

The right to strike is a sound principle when used correctly...

How, I wonder, can a "right" be a "right" only when used "correctly"? If it's possible to use it "incorrectly", it's not a right. If the T&G had a leadership with slightly more backbone, Hughes would stop being the Friend of the Bus-Driver he pretends to be now. For Hughes to claim he supports trade unions is only slightly more ridiculous than his claim to have opposed the invasion of Iraq. Fortunately, barring the truly untoward, he's not going to become mayor of London, and I maintain the hope that Respect will pick up enough of the anti-war vote to deny these shameless opportunists a Euro-seat or two.