Elections for the Assistant General Secretary and National President positions are currently taking place in the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers (RMT). Supporters of Workers’ Liberty active in the union are backing Alan Pottage (AGS) and Sean Hoyle (National President).
The past year in RMT has seen outbreaks of conflict within the union over the application of its rule book and how much power should be held by union officers and staff, as against lay bodies like the National Executive Committee. The former General Secretary Mick Cash retired early, following claims that the NEC was obstructing him. Others saw the issue as the unwillingness of Cash and others to carry out the instructions of the NEC, stemming from a culture attitude amongst a core of officers and staff who saw themselves — rather than rank-and-file members or lay bodies — as running the union.
Pottage and Hoyle are both standing on platforms of empowering rank-and-file reps and lay committees, against the drift to a more officer and staff-run union. Their opponents, Eddie Dempsey and Alex Gordon respectively, have denounced criticism of officers as sectarian infighting and are promising to “support the General Secretary” if elected. Both Pottage and Hoyle have impressive track records of support for struggle, and both are long-standing advocates of greater democracy within the union. Whilst both are relatively standard-issue RMT leftists in their political orientation, including in ways Workers’ Liberty supporters would dissent from (for example, opposing affiliation to the Labour Party), they are sincere socialists who see the horizon of socialism in terms of working-class power and an expansion of democracy rather than top-down statism.
Conversely, both Dempsey and Gordon are Stalinists. Gordon sits on the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Britain, which publishes the Morning Star. Dempsey has made a number of reactionary interventions on various issues, including prominent support for misogynistic Russian nationalist warlord Aleksey Mozgovoy; claims that Tommy Robinson supporters were “right to hate the “liberal left”; false claims that there was a groundswell of opposition to gender self-identification from women activists in RMT.
Following the General Secretary election earlier in the year, the AGS and Presidential elections will be the second and third elections in which all candidates are white men. That is a poor reflection all round, but in this election, Pottage and Hoyle have at least spoken in support of empowering RMT’s self-organised equalities committees, and have a better record on the issue than their opponents. Whilst supporting Pottage, who is currently the appointed head of the RMT’s organising department, Workers’ Liberty members are also critical of a constitutional arrangement that allows unelected officials to stand for election to positions within the union’s democratic structures.
Beyond these elections, there remains an acute need to build an independent rank-and-file network within the union that sees its task as comprehensive democratic reform and the radicalisation of the union’s industrial strategies, not merely the election of better individuals to positions within union structures.