SOCIALIST WORKER has seen vital documents about the involvement of the Trades Union Congress in the current elections to high office of the RMT rail union. They make it clear that at least one official at the TUC has been plotting with a right wing official of the RMT to improve the vote of right wing candidates and smear rivals from the left. The main documents are:
- A memo from Mike Power, campaigns officer at the TUC, to Mick Cash, the RMT officer at Watford. Cash is organising the campaign of Phil Bialyk, the centre-right candidate for general secretary of the RMT. The memo says, 'Herewith my initial thoughts on why the Western Mail should interview Phil. As you will see there are many points to add and I'm far from an expert on the industry. But I think it is a useful outline from our conversation.' There follows a long screed on the experience and suitability for high office of Phil Bialyk.
The Western Mail, which has a long ultra-reactionary tradition, is the only local daily paper that circulates in Bialyk's area, South Wales.
- A summary of 'notes from discussion on writing Phil's election address, Monday 12 November'. This includes the passage: 'We are talking about a massive potential threat from a fanatic who already holds a key post as AGS. He is therefore on the inside and the attack on him has to be more oblique.'
This is followed by a series of demands, such as 'we have to prevent a take-over of the union by extreme left-wing fundamentalists'. The phrase 'left-wing fundamentalists' is repeated four more times in the document. The AGS referred to is RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow, the left candidate for general secretary.
- A document headed 'Briefing, November 2001 leadership elections in the RMT'.
This is a classical witch-hunting document directed at Bob Crow and other left candidates. It lists in dreary detail Bob's political associations, including his former membership of the Communist Party and the Socialist Labour Party.
It even cites his appearance at Marxism, an annual event organised by the Socialist Workers Party and repeatedly addressed by many socialists outside the SWP. The final paragraph reads, 'The main source of industrial unrest in Britain over recent years has been on the railways and in the post office.
'Already the left have made gains in the main post office union. In addition, an unreconstructed Communist-Mark Serwotka-has become general secretary elect of the main civil service union, the PCS...the direction of unions in these industries could spell trouble for the government.'
These documents are similar to efforts in the past, including the work of organised right wing factions in the unions, with their supporters in big business and in mainstream newspapers like the Daily Mirror. Their purpose is not to enquire why the left is so strong in the unions or to argue the political case against them.
It is simply to brand them as 'extremists' and call for a vote against them. Some of the material in these documents was published last week in the Guardian Diary and London's Evening Standard. The articles drew an immediate denial from TUC general secretary John Monks. He said the TUC was not in any way responsible for any of this material, and said it does not get involved in the elections of individual unions.
Like Bob Crow, Mike Power is a former member of the Communist Party. Last Friday I put a call in to him at TUC headquarters, explained that I was ringing on behalf of Socialist Worker and asked for an explanation of the documents.
He rang back immediately and explained that Mick Cash of the RMT was 'an old mate of mine'. Cash, he said, had approached him for help and advice about the RMT elections, and he had readily offered both. He denied that he had written any of the main documents, but agreed that he had advised on tone and content. His story was that he, a junior TUC official, had been acting entirely on his own.
He said he was 'under the cosh' and facing disciplinary proceedings for his involvement with Cash, and was very sorry for the embarrassment he had caused John Monks. This meek explanation clashes sharply with the professionalism and firmness of the documents. If indeed Mike Power was acting entirely on own initiative, he was behaving in a truly reckless manner.
A more probable explanation is that he was acting on a 'need to know' basis. It is likely that he had a nod and a wink to go ahead on the understanding that, if any of his activities were exposed, the mandarins of the TUC would dive for cover and offer him up for sacrifice.