A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bob Crow - recruiting sergeant for de-unionisation

I wonder how many workers on substantially lower wages and worse terms and conditions than tube staff have been put off joining a trade union by the RMT's unnecessary 72-hour long act of economic vandalism this week and are cursing Bob Crow and his members as they walk home or queue for overcrowded buses?

I've actually recruited union members over the years. Once you explain that a trade union is about practical things like negotiating on your behalf, helping you with legal support and advice, trying collectively to improve your conditions at work, people are interested.

But the biggest push back - often from people who would really benefit from being in a union - is the fear that they are going to be signing up for unnecessary and/or politically motivated strike action, and being publicly represented by Trot or Stalinist demagogues.

Crow's brand of neo-Scargillite macho industrial willy-waving is a disgrace to the trade union movement and will make recruitment to trade unionism more difficult. Indirectly, it will therefore damage the working lives of many people who would have benefited from being trade union members.

I would be interested to know how much of the push for the current action is coming from professional revolutionaries from the AWL and Respect who have entered into the RMT as it is a small and easily manipulable union, and in an industry where shift patterns afford opportunities to go to lots of caucus meetings and subsidised travel means you can move around London easily to recruit and sell newspapers. I'm aware of at least one Trot former member of the NUS National Executive, with a PhD, whose career move into train driving then LU station management has facilitated an equally destructive role in the RMT to the one they played in student unionism.

Saner unions should get in there and start recruiting those tube workers who want a leadership for whom strike action is the last resort, not the first way to get publicity.

The TUC should condemn the strike.

Normally I would never criticise a fellow union member in dispute with their employer, but as the RMT are no longer showing any solidarity with the rest of the Labour movement, having stepped outside the Labour Party, I can see no reason why the rest of the Labour movement should show solidarity with them.

Jimmy Knapp, under whom the RMT was a force for great common sense, must be turning in his grave at the current exploits.


Blogger fairdealphil said...

Excellent post Luke. Members of the RMT deserve better than Bob Crow. i saw him interviewed by Jon Snow tonight on C4 news and he did nothing to promote trade unionism.

10:34 pm, September 04, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

"but as the RMT are no longer showing any solidarity with the rest of the Labour movement, having stepped outside the Labour Party..."

When was the last time the Labour Party leadership showed any solidarity with, or loyalty to, the rest of the trade union movement?

If RMT members are unhappy with Crow, they can vote him out. Although their membership has increased under his stewardship.

Of course, if 'big tent' Gordon hadn't dogmatically insisted on PPP for the Tube in the first place some of this mess might have been avoided.

11:25 pm, September 04, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Also, Luke's post doesn't at any point mention the issues at the heart of the dispute, which are the PPP and Metronet shambles, undemocratically foisted upon us with the help of a certain G Brown. Still, it's clearly not as important as a bit of intra-left nerdery about which irrelevant Trot sects are alleged to be 'stirring it all up'. Do you really think the strike would be so solid if it was just so oddball paper sellers running the show? You really do credit ultra-leftists with ridiculous amounts of influence. They wish.

12:22 am, September 05, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

You will be granting me a link soon Luke I hope? Nine months without a reciprocal agreement. And you a Trade Unionist and all?

9:38 am, September 05, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

What e10 rifle said.

Criticising the RMT in this action is criticising the workers. You can dress it up with all the dirt from Crow's past if you like, but the workers elected him, they voted for the strike, and they went out solidly. They now seem to have got what they wanted, of course.

The whole thing could have been avoided if Gordon Brown had "shown some solidarity with the rest of the Labour movement" by heeding the warnings from all the trade unions about the PPP.

But blaming a couple of dozen micro-sects is always the easier option.

Oh, and people join trade unions in my experience because they want to improve their working conditions. The pay and conditions which LUL workers have as a result of their union's militancy are an excellent advertisement for the union movement.

10:24 am, September 05, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Penultimate paragraph should read:

"But blaming a couple of micro-sects with a dozen members is always the easier option."

It is quite amusing how threatened the right seem to be by the smallest and most insignificant grouplets.

11:05 am, September 05, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Like Luke I want to resist disunity with Trade Union colleagues. But I have to say that Bob Crow's whole rationale, tactics and demeanour strongly remind me of the great disasters across the Labour movement in the 1970s. Obtuse, aggressive, unblinking zealots who in reality care nothing for solidarity with others (as Orwell found and exposed in the Spanish Civil War - they never change).

I witnessed this in no small way in London in the 1970s... as for Clydeside at the time, there was simply no room for any debate with these guys (and strangely they were almost always guys).

They were prominant among the 'guilty men' who contributed to the electoral destruction of the Labour Party in the 70s and the (inevitable?) arising of a certain Iron Lady.

The only concession I will give some of them is that they are overcome with a sincere but utterly misguided and dangerous 'faith system' in some sort of historic class struggle.

12:03 pm, September 05, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Ah, the old lie about Thatcherism being the left's fault. Haven't heard that particular rubbish in a while so thanks for reminding me how myopic some of our "allies" in the Labour movement are.

And yet another rightwinger attacks Crow when it was the MEMBERS who DEMOCRATICALL took this action.

How original.

12:34 pm, September 05, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

The Right is obsessed with the 1970s (and of selectively invoking Orwell when it suits), yet they have the cheek to accuse the Left of living in the past.

Still, if anyone does fancy a justification of PPP and Metronet's stewardship at any point in this discussion, the floor's yours...

1:20 pm, September 05, 2007

Blogger grimupnorth said...

Why does the right always use Orwell to bash the Left?. Just finished re-reading Homage To Catalonia where Orwell advocates the revolutionary, socialist, ideals of the POUM as opposed to the expediency of the Communist Party.
On current point, how dare Luke criticise Bob Crowe when Brown is praising Thatcher, inviting more Tories onto his team, and generally insulting the labour movement.
Yes, the RMT should get back into the Labour Party.And, yes, of course we should support their fight.As someone said, the current mess is Brown's fault in the first place for insisting on the PFI road....

1:38 pm, September 05, 2007

Blogger el Tom said...

"as the RMT are no longer showing any solidarity with the rest of the Labour movement, having stepped outside the Labour Party, I can see no reason why the rest of the Labour movement should show solidarity with them."

In all fairness, as I'm sure you're aware, the Labour Party and the labour movement are hardly the same thig. Workers who don't back Labour or even a reformist strategy should be free to join and be active; they are as much workers as anyone else. Though I would of course contend that they should also be politically defeated.

On the issue itself, well, this shouldn't have been a PPP in the first place really...

2:17 pm, September 05, 2007

Anonymous David said...

E10 Rifle

I can't resist your kind offer. There seem to be two main strands of argument to consider:
1) Performance of the other InfraCo, Tubelines
2) Historic cost performance of LT / LUL

I would suggest you look at Tubelines. They run the JNP concession and to date have not had the problems Metronet has had. Is that due to better management? If there was an inherent flaw in the PPP, why has Tubelines not also failed?

Historically, LUL does not have a strong record of delivering upgrade work to either time or budget. Remember the staggeringly mispriced Jubilee Line Extension? Other projects, eg Central Line Upgrade in the mid 90s were equally poorly implemented. Remember the shocking punctuality record of the Central line when the new trains and signalling was introduced? If you dig through the records there will be many other examples of how public money was wasted on bad procurement. There is no guarantee that TfL will be any better in managing upgrade work than Metronet.

You should not forget that Metronet's shareholders have all lost money on the PPP, considerable sums. This is what is meant by risk transfer under PPP. Metronet only went into administration after it reached a point where its shareholders said that they were not prepared to inject any further funds (and suffer no further losses on their sub-contracts). Had Metronet been in the public sector, it is extremely unlikely that the cost overruns and delay penalties suffered by Metronet would have been borne by the private sector - ie LUL/TfL would have been picking up an even larger tab.

I don't know why the RMT has forced this to strike action. I don't really understand what their problem is - if even Ken Livingston can't see their point, and it is an arcane one, then how can they expect to generate any public sympathy for something which puts a great many people to huge inconvenience.

6:53 pm, September 05, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

I'll leave the rest of the posting to E10 Rifle but that last paragraph is rather confusing. It may be worded misleadingly but sounds as if winning public sympathy was the aim of the strike.

It's a factor but, especially with the hostile right-wing media whipping things up and traitors like Gordon Brown and Ken Livingstone slagging them off, it was never going to be uppermost in the RMT members' minds.

8:25 pm, September 05, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

I'm not sure how typical the Jubilee Line expansion was - it was a fiendishly complicated and ambitious project, which in addition had a deadline loaded with political pressure (getting everything fine and dandy for the Millennium and the Nation's Favourite Great White Elephant on the Greenwich peninsula and all the rest of it). I suspect it would have gone over budget whoever controlled it. And those Nineties modernisations were starting from a very low, and difficult, base - after decades of neglect and underfunding.

LUL was by no means perfect (though I detect no real improvement under PPP) but, as basically a public body, it never went bust on anyone's ass. Which meant staff were never put in the sort of position the tube workers have been put in with Metronet.

Faced with Metronet's collapse, which put them in a very vulnerable position, they had to work out a vigorous strategy to defend their conditions. They chose, democratically, to strike. They seem to have been quite successful.

The first duty of a union leadership is to its members, not - as Luke seems to think - to the leadership of the Labour party (though, like Susan grimupnorth, I'd like to see the RMT back in the fold).

And excuse for not breaking down into uncontrollable floods of tears for Metronet's shareholders - they'll have other fish to fry, financially. The Tube workers don't.

11:16 pm, September 05, 2007

Anonymous Graeme said...

Being a member of the RMT myself I can say that Luke's post is complete tosh. The idea that trotskyists have infilitrated the maintenance depots is complete nonsense and reflects more his failure to get over his obsession with student politics.

11:27 am, September 06, 2007

Anonymous Ravi said...

The reason stated for the planned action was based upon the pensions and jobs of workers of the failed Metronet.
The other recognised unions and Ken Livingstone believed assurances were made, whilst the RMT were left unsatisfied.
The RMT managed to recieve written assurances over any deal, thereby protecting their members.
Although I am a memeber of a trade union (Amicus-Unite)I am keenly aware of the weakness of unions. My finacee is a PCS rep and she has told me she thinks her union lets down the members (the implimantation of LEAN practices, asking managers for facility time, etc).
People leave unions because they are unaware of what the unions do, not because of militancy. They see paying their dues as a waste of money because the union (in their eyes) does nothing for them. This is ofcourse complete crap, but they are right to point out the weakness of unions. This is something that will continue, especially when you have sycophancy in the unions (USDAW, UNISON) and the anti union attitiude of Blair/Brown (I speak of their pride in us having the most restrictive labour laws in Europe).
David, with regards to Ken, any person asking members to cross their own picket line is beneath contempt.

11:32 am, September 06, 2007

Anonymous mindthegap said...

All those defending the strike on the grounds that it was caused by the PPP, not the RMT, are missing the point. None of the other unions joined the strike because they had received everything they had asked for.

The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, gave the trade unions exactly the guarantees they had requested. He delivered his own guarantees, and also obtained the guarantees from the administrator and the infraco, Metronet. On the basis of this, two of the three unions - Unite and TSSA - called off the strike.

The RMT did not call it off, for their own reasons. Perhaps they believed a strike would sharpen the arguments about the PPP and embarrass Brown. It had the opposite effect - it united Londoners against Crow.

Unite and TSSA showed substantially more responsibility to their own members and Londoners.

Having brought London to a standstill the RMT humiliatingly called off the strike without any further substantive guarantees. They had gone on strike for no good reason.

As Livingstone said, it was a purposeless strike.


By pursuing a purposeless strike the RMT isolated themselves from the public and the rest of the labour movement.

If they were trying to turn public sentiment against Gordon Brown and the PPP they failed - because their strike was unjustified.

The RMT called two three day strikes and then pulled out of them just over 24 hours into the first of these three day walk-outs. This was no doubt because there was clearly no coherent reason for the strike and their members were losing pay for no good reason.

The Metronet part of the PPP is unravelling, and Livingstone has put in a bid to take the maintenance back in house. This is what RMT members and most of the public want. But the RMT jumped into industrial action when they didn't need to.

It is little wonder the RMT has been on the receiving end of a wave of hostility as a result.

12:09 pm, September 06, 2007

Anonymous Centre Left Wing Commuter said...

Ravi, don't worry there was practically no chance of any RMT member crossing an RMT picket line because as ALWAYS with RMT strikes there were no picket lines at any of the central London stations that I passed on my way to work. I have lived and worked London in for about 8 years and there have been quite a few RMT strikes and I can hand on heart say I have NEVER seen an RMT picket.
There are some occasions when I have supported their actions others when I haven't but I would be much more sympathetic if RMT members where picketing and engaging with the public on why they were on strike rather than lying in bed, when the rest of us are strugling to get to work!

I look forward to hearing your responses! Incidently how many of the Bob Crow apologists use the Tube on adaily basis like I do!

12:19 pm, September 06, 2007

Blogger Duncan Money said...

Perhaps Luke Akehurst would like to explain why, if Bob Crow is such a recuiting segeant for de-unionisation, the RMT is currently the fastest growing union in Britain?

12:35 pm, September 06, 2007

Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Plenty of us thanks.

More than happy to endure a bit of inconvenience for a good cause.

12:36 pm, September 06, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

"Incidently how many of the Bob Crow apologists use the Tube on adaily basis like I do!"

I do most days, thanks. Sorry to knock down a chance for the hoary old "you lefties don't live in the real world" line to be revived.

BTW, I agree with the point that there should be more RMT pickets and greater efforts made to explain their case to the public.

12:46 pm, September 06, 2007

Anonymous Ravi said...

Duncan Money said...
"Perhaps Luke Akehurst would like to explain why, if Bob Crow is such a recuiting segeant for de-unionisation, the RMT is currently the fastest growing union in Britain?"

My guess is that the RMT have leadership with backbone as opposed to the likes of John Hannet, Dave Prentis amung others.

I agree with you, Centre Left Wing Commuter in that there should be more of the union's members interacting with the public to explain the disruption.

With regard to the right wing of the party's nonsense, the RMT have said
"The efforts the mayor and Transport for London have put in to try to broker a deal have been welcome but the problem for all of us remains that Metronet and its administrator are the employer, and the qualified assurances they have given cover only the period of administration."
That is fair enough, I am sure if it was your pension and job you would not be so flippent.

3:59 pm, September 06, 2007

Anonymous Centre Left Commuter said...

Please E10 Rifle you admit to "buzzinground....medialand" so don't try telling me you live in the real world.

5:56 pm, September 06, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Thacherism was indeed a product of what was laughly called 'the left' in the 1970s in tandem with other global trends.

Why can't certain people who still think of themselves as 'the left' ever have the political maturity or morality to own up to their contribution to making it possible for such a thing as Thatcherism coming to power to great popular acclaim?

And grimupnorth, I really hope you are not lumping me in with the right that 'always use Orwell to bash the left'. Firstly, I don't belong or promote anything that could be called 'the right'.

Secondly I think you miscontrue my reference to Orwell. His whole point was to expose the Communists and what they did to the democratic left. My point in refering to him was to instance how there are always unblinking zealots who assert to be on the left but who fail all tests of comradship, equality, solidarity, and above all downright shared decency when it comes to everyone else.

E10 also insults me by his implication of lumping me in with something called 'the right' when he says "the right is obssessed about the left... selectively quoting Orwell... and they have the cheek to say the left is living in the past". Well, I return to my earlier point about an unwillingness in certain people claiming to be of the left to admit their responsibilities - nowhere is this more true than the late 1970s. These people are not living in the past; they are denying it.

Just seems that some posters here are confirming again it's much easier to just endlessly villify any alternatives as being 'the right' than do anything else.

4:42 pm, September 07, 2007

Blogger Dave Brinson said...

"I'm aware of at least one Trot former member of the NUS National Executive, with a PhD, whose career move into train driving then LU station management has facilitated an equally destructive role in the RMT to the one they played in student unionism."

Carefully anonymised reference from Luke, but I think I know who you mean. As a station manager, presumably she occasionally supervises ticket sales from, erm, a Booth ?

5:27 pm, September 07, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Ted, I was a child in the Seventies. I can apologise for many things I did then - playing knockdown ginger, nicking sweets, breaking a neighbour's greenhouse with a cricket ball - but industrial militancy was kind of beyond me then.

My own 'career' in trade union activism has consisted largely of enormously difficult and at times very complex uphill battles in which the odds are stacked against the low-paid and exploited.

So enoguh of the patronising lectures, thanks.

9:36 pm, September 07, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

E10 if you don't want to be 'patronised' then I suggest you should be a little less caustic and all-encompassing in your derogatory comments.

Your comments about being a child in the 70s does say something about things you maybe still have to learn. Not the least of that is the reality that there are always a streak of egoists in any strand of any movement who are wholly self-seeking and/or self-deluded and divisive to the point of destruction. My point is that there are elements on the supposed 'left' who seem to believe that the 'left' is somehow
unique and never accomodates such
egotists. This is extended into a denial of ever having actually made any contribution to the 'bad' thiungs that happens in politics.

I was a child in the late 1950s, but that would not excuse me making ill thought-out comments on the Labour movement based on an ignorance because I was a child then.

11:15 am, September 10, 2007

Anonymous another unrepentant lefty said...

"Ignorance" now eh? Some on the right (yes, RIGHT - if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck) really do know to raise the standard of debate.

As many others have failed to note, including Will Hutton, this 'dinosaur' approach pursued by the RMT in recent years doesn't seem to have scared off potential new members. Quite the opposite, in fact.

11:48 am, September 10, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

"if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck" ... quite; you mean if it walks and talks like an alternative that requires you to own up to your culpability... well then of course it must be castigated as 'the right' (although I don't know why putting the RIGHT in caps makes it any different).

Yes this all does really keep the standard of debate at a certain level of rigidity,and continues to underscore my original point.

8:10 pm, September 10, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

I know it's fun carrying on fights from student politics. But it's also daft.

7:32 pm, September 13, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

"Not the least of that is the reality that there are always a streak of egoists in any strand of any movement who are wholly self-seeking and/or self-deluded and divisive to the point of destruction."

I know that. I'm in the Labour party, after all, and that description sits pretty well on recent party leaders.

But yeah, I'm well aware that ego-driven headcases can put themselves about on the Left too. And we should be wary of them (it's why the Galloway+SWP+opportunistic communal votes alliance always was a carcrash waiting to happen). But I don't see what that's got to do with the topic at hand here.

You and Luke seem very keen to personalise this whole issue - it's all about Bob Crow's ego (rather than the legitimate concerns of his members, who voted overwhelmingly to go out and of course who elected Bob) and old student politicos from irrelevant Trot sects.

I'm well aware of what happened in the Seventies (thanks for another pat on the head there), but we're not discussing the Seventies; we're discussing the very modern political issue of PPP and wasteful quasi-privatisations, and how they impact on staff, and how they respond to them.

11:57 pm, September 13, 2007

Blogger Matt Wardman said...

I find myself agreeing with most of your points Luke - particularly about some of the current reactionary TU leaders, such as Bob Crow.

>People leave unions because they are unaware of what the unions do, not because of militancy.

Not in my case. I joined what became MSF (now AMICUS) in the mid-80s, initially on the advice of departmental manager. Excellent local support by Reps (some quite left wing, some not).

There were huge proclamations in tehe literature: "our job is to represent our members", "we represent all our members" and so on.

Locally they did. In the mid-1990s I attended a national conference and discovered that the claims were a sham nationally. Those not following the leadership political line were treated with contempt.

That was one of the reasons I left.

I will start taking Unions seriously when they *do* start treating their members equally, and representing them all.

Specifically, that requires a reform so that unions represent their members with which political party they wish to support.

In turn, that requires a reform of the Labour/Union relationship. Either its dissolution (the most democratic answer) or some sort of relationships with multiple parties.

It will come eventually, but I expect I will be waiting for some time.

12:26 am, September 14, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Bob Crow is the best General Secretary our Union has had for many years..

Bob Crow has increased membership from 50,000 to now 80,000.

People are quick enough to judge him,but do any of you actually know him...

1:30 am, August 03, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on Bob...keep up the good work.....whilst they are talking about you they are leaving someone else alone....Best Speaker this Union has had...

At least he makes his mark and looks after his members...so what if he has a holiday...don't everyone else....Come on Millwall and you Brother Crow.....

1:40 am, August 03, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If TfL were to formally recognise our union, the "Associated train Crew Union" (ATCU: http://www.atcu.org.uk/), then we would love to get in there and recruit.
Our union, by its constitution, allows its members to work rest days unhindered as a personal choice (RMT have always had a ban on rest day working). This policy in itself would ensure a plentiful number of recruits.
Once such recruits were secured, we would be willing to negotiate with TfL a 'no-strike deal' for a certain length of time (5 years say). Such a policy would benefit ATCU, benefit TfL and last but not least benefit the long suffering commuters.

TfL are ignoring us at present. The ball is in their court.

9:44 pm, August 11, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does Luke equate only those unions affiliated to the Labour Party as being part of the labour movement. If so it means that he regards hundreds of thousands of teachers as not being part of the labour movement, as well as nurses, airline pilots, firemen, journalists, civil servants...

12:21 pm, October 30, 2008

Blogger Mark Still News said...

If UNISON had Bob Crow their membership would treble.

Since Bob has been the RMT GS 30,000 extra members have been recruited many of the bus drivers are switching from UNITE to the RMT.

A lot of you New Labour Right Wing Anti working class lot don't have any reasonable facts to back up your anti working class twaddle!

9:16 am, April 29, 2009


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