Bob Crow shoots himself in the foot

Bob Crow made a complete prat of himself on Radio 4 this morning. Responding to Network Rail’s successful challenge to his union’s proposed strike he somehow managed, with a bizarre combination of obfuscation and aggression, to completely fail to get his point across.

 The RMT messed up by not having an up-to-date list of employees eligible to vote and their current workplaces. I have some sympathy with the union because, as anyone who has worked in a large multi-site organisation will know, trying to keep track of employees’ grades and job locations is an administrative nightmare. A snapshot taken from a computer system on one day will almost certainly be out of date a couple of weeks later.

The issue of the so-called ghost signal boxes is a red herring too. Some newspapers, and the mini-me bloggers who quote their articles verbatim, have seized upon this story claiming that the RMT balloted signal boxes that no longer exist. Pictures of burnt-out signal boxes make for entertaining articles but the claim that the RMT sent ballot papers to these signal boxes is complete rubbish. Unions don’t ballot workplaces any more. Workplace strike ballots have been illegal for nearly seventeen years. All voting on industrial action is by secret ballot from employees’ home addresses.

It is unlikely that the RMT balloted employees who no longer worked for Network Rail. The company did not accuse the union of doing so and you can be sure that it would have, had their been any suspicion of ex-employees being allowed to vote. The RMT lost the case because it failed to link the employees balloted to their correct workplaces, which it is required to do by law.

Now there is an argument that demanding this level of accuracy in a strike ballot will nearly always lay a union open to legal action and that the increased use of procedural challenges by employers, and increased willingness of the courts to uphold them, presents a challenge to the right to strike. As the Guardian warns in its editorial today:

Bringing the trade unions under the rule of law was one of the great struggles of the 20th century. It is right that strike action requires a ballot before it takes place. Those ballots therefore have to be properly conducted. Yet the practical problems of conducting ballots in industries where workers are not always in the same place are genuine. Perhaps union record-keeping is at fault in some cases. However, if every election or ballot in which there are cases of bad practice was to be invalidated, democracy would soon become a laughing stock, and something worse would replace it. Employers seem increasingly ready to seize on individual cases of bad ballot practice to negate the entire exercise, even when it is clear, as it was in the BA case, that the vote was overwhelming.

The courts need to show some common sense in such cases so that the law retains the respect it needs.

It is a relatively simple point to make but Bob Crow completely failed to make it in this morning’s interview. He did mention postal ballots and that, like most unions, the RMT has its ballots run by the by the Electoral Reform Society but these points were buried in his bluster about job evaluation, grading of signal boxes and matrix systems which would have confused most of the people listening. Realising he was losing the argument, he then very aggressively accused John Humphreys of saying that his union had rigged the ballot. Mr Humphreys said no such thing but the interview then descended into a did-didn’t argument, leaving Mr Crow sounding rather like a petulant child.

If this behaviour is anything like the strategy he employs in his negotiations I pity the poor sods at the rail companies who have to deal with him. Sitting across the table from a man who combines extreme aggression, irrelevant and arcane detail,  false accusations and self-righteous indignation must be a nightmare. It’s no wonder that so many of the RMT’s industrial disputes descend into confrontation and industrial action.

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4 Responses to Bob Crow shoots himself in the foot

  1. I really worry about the state of trade unionisam these days. They are increasingly just a rabble of moaning faced gits who have no interest in their “members” and even less in the businesses that they “infect”. I grew up in a part of Scotland where TUs were critical in the development of good working practices and general organisational and societal growth. Trade Union officials were genuine and driven for fair treatment for everyone. As a consequence, I developed a huge respect for them and what they were trying to achive. Now many unions are full of irrelevant nonsence seemingly focused on their own status rather than their members. The underground and rail unions have recently demonstrated a complete lack on interest in their history or indeed the people they represent. This is desparate and it really is time we exposed them for what they really are. Just as an example – let’s have a peek at TU officials expense claims!

  2. London Bus Workers says:

    A public statement from London Bus workers Central Committee,

    In the light of the recent smear campaign directed against the London Bus Workers Committee, we think it necessary to enlighten everyone connected to London Bus Network and reveal some basic facts.

    Since last year 2009 many London Bus Workers unhappy, fed up, with the dysfunctional Unite union, started joining RMT. Currently Unite has the sole recognition by London Bus Companies.

    The movement towards RMT gathered pace and resulted in the formation of the RMT London Bus Workers Committee. This Committee consisted of dedicated activists voluntarily shouldering the responsibility of recruiting new members, and organising in the London bus garages – (nominating representatives, electing North and South London Convenors and so on).

    As the numbers joining the RMT grew (and in some cases RMT members became majority in London Bus Garages), a smear campaign towards our Committee and RMT London Bus Workers also began. The Committee eventually decided there was a need for setting up a fully funded branch for the London Bus Workers.

    In order to realise this aspiration in February 2010 some members of the Committee visited the RMT General Secretary Mr Bob Crow in the RMT headquarters office.

    During the meeting we were told by Mr Crow that the RMT Council of Executives had taken the decision not to organise London Bus Workers. Mr Crow conceded the RMT could not prevent new members joining , but Mr Crow now believed the appropriate union for London Bus Workers was and is Unite!

    At the same meeting he clearly stated he would stand by his Council of Executives decision, but also suggested that the RMT London Bus Workers Central Committee should be represented at the RMT AGM where there would be an opportunity to overturn the Committee of Executives decision.

    He asserted there was no M25 agreement between RMT and Unite but since both unions are affiliated to the TUC, he was facing suspension that would have paved the way to other unions to seek recognition in RMT recognised companies, and felt it was not in the best interests of the RMT for this to happen, ( i.e. suspension from the TUC.)

    The RMT London Bus Workers Committee then agreed to attend the AGM thus complying with Mr Crow’s suggestion.

    Also, after a short meeting following the meeting with Mr Crow, the Committee also decided to attend the RMT Bus Workers Consultative Committee meeting, and the National Bus Workers Annual conference, while also seeking additional support from the tube workers at branch level.

    The most recent smear Campaign was initiated by a letter by Unite Assistant Secretary Mr Len McLuskey, who in his letter published on Unite notice boards in garages across London, quoted extracts from the Minute Book of the RMT Council of Executives.

    In these extracts the RMT Council of Executives. affirmed RMT would not organise London Bus Workers, while also ruling out any attempt to seek recognition from London bus companies.

    In the last paragraph of his letter Mr McLuskey wrote “ must understand (that) all RMT members should join or re-join Unite now and all Unite branches should welcome them back” – in our opinion a form of words implicitly threatening.and amounting to harassment.

    This letter resulted in a response, also distributed in London garages, from RMT London Bus Workers Committee Chair Steve Blewitt who told Unite how in UK workers have a democratic and legal right to join any union they choose, and to be represented by the same union at any level, be it as an individual or as a group of members.

    This response was last week countered by yet another letter sent to London s bus garages by Mr McLuskey, but this time it was not his letter but a copy of a letter of Mr Crow to Mr McLuskey dated March 3rd 2010.

    In it Bob Crow accused the RMT London Bus Workers Central Committee’s elected Chair of sabotaging the policy of the RMT Council of Executives. Also in the same letter he dissolved the RMT Bus Workers Committee – or rather said it had never existed!

    We would like to ask Mr Crow , if this is the case, that the RMT London Bus Workers Committee has never existed, who did he meet with in his own office in Unity House in February 2010?

    The RMT Visitors Book at Unity House will verify the identities of the individual members of the RMT London Bus Workers Central Committee and officer holders who visited Mr Crow on that occasion.

    We also point out to Mr Crow that it was he who suggested that the RMT London Bus Workers Committee SHOULD go to the AGM to OVERTURN the Council of Executives decision!

    How can he accuse a decent RMT member of sabotaging the Council of Executives policy, when he blatantly sabotages the policy himself?

    Is it ethically right to put the blame on an individual, to accuse him of sabotaging the Council of Executives when as a matter of fact this comrade shouldered so much responsibility in a very short space of time, demonstrating overwhelming dedication for the well being of all RMT London Bus Workers.

    To top it all the RMT London Bus Workers Committee (allegedly now non existent), its members and elected officers are now BARRED from participation in the Bus Workers Consultative Committee, the National Bus Workers Conference, and the RMT AGM,

    The RMT London Bus Workers Committee has the full support of RMT London Branches and members, but Bob Crow disregards the views of his subscription paying members.

    While claiming to stand by his Council of Executives policy he has actually tried to sabotage it..

    In addition we remind how some of his Council of Executive members have attended our committee meetings, in fact we have comradely photos taken with us at our non existent committee meetings.

    Since Unite the union has been running the show in London’s bus garages they have displayed arrogance, a petit bourgoise mentality and actively aid the bus companies to coerce and harass workers, by e.g. by forcing them to drive unroadworthy and defective vehicles. In most garages Unite operates merely as an arm of management.

    To increase company profitability London’s Bus Workers are forced to work in unrenovated garages in uncivilised conditions but most of them are scared of losing their jobs as they know that Unite branch secretaries and reps are generally useless in representing them at disciplinary hearings.

    The top echelon of Unite has absolutely no control over most of their branches, and branch officials.

    In some cases branches can’t even produce their accounts (e.g. at First Capital Northumberland Park garage).

    Many bus garages indicate health and safety hazards. No wonder London’s Bus Workers are choosing to get away from Unite.

    In the year 2010 , in one of the most democratic countries in the world , a worker can’t choose his own union,.

    A union Assistant Secretary can tell workers they are owned by his union and they have no other option.

    In this country a worker can be denied his most basic, democratic and legal right to choose the union he/she wants to be in.

    As for Bob Crow, a respected leader of a major union, while defending his own members against bullying and harassment, he is actually bullied himself and harassed by Unite and the TUC.

    RMT London Bus Workers Central Committee (dissolved or according to Mr crow never existed)

  3. thehrd says:

    Well Rick…..you win for weirdest (and longest) comment on a blog!!

    The fact is that the RMT got their ballot wrong. Therefore it is illegal. I worry about the liberal press trying to justify this….when at the same time they would (rightly) see voting inaccuracies in other contexts as deplorable (Mugabe always had quite good reasons too…..).

  4. francis says:

    I was interested in what you said about the RMT, Bob Crow and how they have handle
    the London Bus Workers, and would be interested if you had any more information, as it would help me in my particular case , I have a date with a Tribunal and my garages for closed shop activity, that touches on the areas that you have mentioned.
    Sorry, that it’s now nearly 14 months since you posted your article to reply, but I trying to get as much information before I present my case.

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