The conference on 23-27 June of the rail union RMT passed, by a majority of two votes with six abstentions, a motion expelling left Labour MP Clive Lewis from the RMT’s Parliamentary Group.
The conference decided that Lewis should be expelled unless he retracts and apologises for the criticisms he made of comments by RMT member Eddie Dempsey from the platform of a “Full Brexit” rally.
RMT activists who oppose the decision are circulating a statement of protest, already signed by numerous AGM delegates as well dozens of other union activists.
Lewis criticised Dempsey’s assertion that Tommy Robinson supporters are “right to hate” the “liberal left”, and his claim that “too many in the Labour Party have calculated that there’s a certain section at the top end of the working class that’s enough… along with people from ethnic minorities and liberals, to get them into power.”
Lewis argued that these comments set up a dangerous counterposition between “the working class” and “ethnic minorities”, and represent a slippage towards right-wing populism.
The motion, and speeches for it, lauded Dempsey as a heroic anti-fascist fighter who was essentially beyond any reproof or criticism. One delegate ludicrously denounced Clive Lewis as “a Blairite”.
Others opposed the motion, including several black delegates who expressed alarm at the prospect of the union expelling one of the few black MPs from its group for criticising a white person over an issue of racism.
The chair of the RMT branch in Norwich (where Lewis is an MP) is also an activist in the union’s Black and Ethnic Minority conference, and opposed the motion, citing Lewis’s strong record of supporting RMT members locally and attending picket lines.
The fact that the motion passed, even narrowly, is an indication of the domination of an identitarian conception of “class politics” over a section of the union’s activist layer, where class is an “identity” in potential tension with and even opposition to other identities.
Historic arguments in the union that equalities committees and conferences are somehow divisive — “we’re all workers and RMT members, why do we need a women’s/BEM/LGBT+/disabled conference?” — are reflective of this same trend.
Following the debate, Dempsey (who was not a delegate at the AGM), posted, and then deleted, a gloating tweet crowing about Lewis having been “kicked out”, which he signed off “bye bye, Mr. Pee Pee.”
Sign the protest statement if you are an RMT member here.