In April, rail workers lost one of our best workmates, comrades and champions, when Greg Tucker lost his battle with throat cancer. Greg was a lifelong socialist, a dedicated all-grades trade unionist and a nice bloke, very easy to get along with. Greg had been secretary of RMT’s Waterloo branch since 1993 and of the union’s National Conference of Train Crews & Shunting Grades since 1992.
Greg was a train driver at South West Trains. In a grade dominated by ASLEF sectionalism, Greg stuck with the principle of all-grades industrial trade unionism and with the RMT. He was Secretary of RMT’s Train Crew Conference for several years, always championing rank-and-file drivers even when that rubbed him up against his own union’s bureaucracy.
Greg had joined British Rail in 1980, working on the platform at Vauxhall and later becoming a guard at Clapham Yard then at Waterloo.
Greg served on RMT’s national executive in 1997-1998, when he led the fight against South West Train’s attempt to bring in driver-only operation (DOO). A key part of his strategy was to convince drivers to defend guards, and his leadership ensured a successful strike ballot. When you see a guard on every train in passenger service on SWT today, remember that they are probably only still there because of Greg Tucker. He even got the union to force SWT’s Managing Director to sign an affidavit to confirm that the DOO plan was withdrawn.
In the 1999 RMT General Secretary election, Greg stepped into the frame when the rank-and-file needed him to champion our interests. Jimmy Knapp was up for re-election, so RMT members had a chance to vote out the General Secretary who had led us to defeat over British Rail privatisation and elect one who would not allow slavish loyalty to the Labour Party leadership to hold back our fight for renationalisation and against Tube PPP.
When others shied off opposing Knapp, Greg Tucker stepped in as the candidate for members who wanted a fighting, political union. The press campaigned fiercely for Knapp, largely on the basis of 'red-scare' articles about Greg. Knapp was re-elected but Greg got a respectable third of the vote.
Greg was a Marxist, and after many years fighting as part of the Labour left, he joined the Socialist Alliance. He stood as one of its candidates for the Greater London Assembly in 2000, and for Parliament in 2001, standing in the Streatham constituency against New Labour’s Keith Hill, a former RMT staff member who had turned his back on the rail unions and fallen in line with Blair’s attacks on us and our unions. Greg polled 906 votes.
When Greg returned to work after a break for election campaigning, South West Trains sacked him after catching him on his first day back in a speed trap that nobody believed was random.
When it comes to anti-victimisation campaigns, we win some and we lose some. There are several factors that decide, one of which is the respect the workforce has for the workmate who has been sacked. Greg had that respect in spadeloads: he won his job back. The Employment Tribunal found that, ‘the dismissal was part of a concerted manoeuvre involving several influential members of the Respondents' management’.
On a personal level, Greg Tucker was a pleasant, affable man, who stayed calm, rational and good-humoured even in the thick of passionate arguments. He was talented, clever and articulate, and chose to use those talents in the service of the workers’ movement.
The affection and respect in which Greg was held was shown by the attendance of around 250 trade unionists and political activists at his funeral. He was held in great esteem by practically everyone in the trade union movement and on the left, and there are not many people who you could say that about.
‘Greg Tucker was a superb example of selfless dedication to the causes of socialism and trade unionism. I have known Greg for nearly 30 years from the days he was a rank and file activist campaigning in support of the Labour Left on the GLC, through the ratecapping campaign and the miners’ strike and onto his excellent work representing the RMT. Greg was one of those comrades who was always there if you needed support no matter how difficult the issue and whatever flack we were coming under. He embodied the best of our movement, a thinking, extremely well read, and determined socialist. Because he was such an effective representative of RMT members he was an automatic target for management victimisation but he stood up courageously to everything thrown at him. Greg would not allow anything to stand in the way of serving his members and our movement. The real heroes and heroines of our movement are those that quietly without thought of reward devote their lives to our cause. Greg was one of those heroes whom I am immensely proud to have known.’
John McDonnell MP
‘Mr Tucker represents all that is wrong with the RMT. An unreconstructed figure of the hard left ... He, along with several other RMT leaders, is a throwback to the trade unionism of the 1970s - an era that must never return. If we are ever to see a modern railway service in this country, sooner or later there will have to be a showdown with the mindless militants of the RMT.’
Evening Standard editorial, 4/1/02