Sunday, July 06, 2008

RMT AGM Report part 2

Despite the overwhelming disinterest in part 1 (judging by the empty comments box, at least), I feel obliged to post RMT AGM report part 2 to cover bits omitted first time round.

Overall, it was a gathering with very little hostility to the union's leadership. On one level this is fair enough - compare RMT's tops with most other unions' and you will see people a lot more willing to fight, not tied up in 'partnership' deals and not in the pocket of an anti-working-class government.

But absence of hostility is not the same as absence of criticism. Several resolutions implied dissatisfaction and called for improvements in certain areas, in particular: better information and accountability of negotiators during pay disputes; more campaigning on issues such as the anti-union laws at workplace level as well as at national meet-ups; and an approach to international visits that avoids overblown delegation sizes and recognises that international solidarity can only be effective if you don't neglect your own backyard.

The only issue on which the 'top table' suffered defeat all week (other than the Israel/Palestine resolution covered in report pt 1) was an appeal against withdrawal of legal support for a particular case in Glasgow. The employer sacked the member concerned following an anonymous complaint about him. The union backed his case to Tribunal, where he won, and thence to Appeal, where he lost, but then withdrew support rather than take the case to Court of Sessions. The AGM voted to overturn this decision, I think partly because of the merits of the case itself and the principle involved, and partly because a lot of branches are unhappy with deserving cases not getting union support on the basis of conservative advice from the lawyers and the Appeal over this case seemed a good way to make that point.

But on some issues, discontent that is plain amongst the membership did not find a voice at the AGM. There were two resolutions about the situation in EWS, where a vicious anti-union employer has marginalised RMT with the help of other unions. One resolution criticised the union's handling of the situation; the other did not. The President deemed the uncritical resolution to 'cover' the critical one, so the latter was not voted on. The criticism quietly slipped off the AGM agenda.

I don't like this business of one resolution 'covering' another, and objected when it reared its head again on the issue of migrant workers. There was a good resolution on the politics of migrant labour and the need for working-class unity; and another (submitted by my branch and others) on what the union should do to step up its organising work among migrant workers. When the President ruled that the former 'covered' the latter, I was on my feet challenging that ruling for fear that the specific proposals on organising would be lost. Although my challenge was defeated, it drew sufficient attention that lots of speakers specifically stated that they supported both resolutions, which will be hard for the Executive to ignore. Hopefully, people will also start to question this whole 'covering' business and support a rule change to replace it with a compositing process.

Having been successful in aguing my point on one international issue (the Israel/Palestine debate referred to elsewhere), I was most certainly in a minority on another. But that's what happens when you get up and question the union's long-cherished devotion to Cuba. But some things just have to be said, and my branch had unanimously agreed that I should get up and say it, so ... It's a one-party state, you know, and a significant number of our members and activists are uncomfortable with the union's uncritical cheerleading of the Cuban regime; we should be in solidarity with the Cuban people not with the regime. Including mine, there were four votes against the resolution, three more than I expected.

I successfully proposed a resolution committing the union to fight the BNP on the basis of working-class politics rather than alliances with Tories, and the AGM also unanimously backed a resolution supporting Notts Stop The BNP's mobilisation against the Nazis' Red White and Blue festival in Derbyshire this August.

And one final thing: This year saw the first ever creche at at RMT AGM. Pictured is one of its participants, escaped from the playroom to have a go at chairing the event (sitting in the seat occupied by his dad during the AGM sessions).