As the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union RMT holds elections for its new General Secretary, SSP national workplace organiser Richie Venton spoke to one of the candidates, socialist Gordon Martin
What’s your background in the industry?
I was an infrastructure worker with First Engineering from 2002, working on the overhead lines West Coast maintenance upgrade.
I was sacked by First Engineering for raising serious health and safety issues, but won reinstatement and worked there until I was elected as the full-time convener for the RMT Maintenance Grades in Scotland, in 2010.
I did that until I was elected to my current position as RMT Regional Organiser for Scotland and Northern Ireland, in January 2014.
Give me a couple of examples of what you’ve done or achieved as a union activist.
As Regional Organiser, working along with branch activists, we drove bad employers out of Aberdeen Harbour. And secured the Living Wage for foreign national seafarers working on a Scottish government contract.
In the rail sector, I instigated and led the Rail Infrastructure organising campaign, which has seen a 13.5 per cent increase in union membership in the contracting companies. The potential for growth in rail infrastructure is phenomenal, but for too long was ignored by the union, and it’s an issue dear to my heart, given my work background.
What qualities do you think you would bring to the post of General Secretary?
I believe that to be General Secretary you need to be a real team player: listen to people, take other views into consideration, lead by example, and remember at all times that you have two ears and one mouth.
I believe I’ve got integrity and strength of character, and I’ve got trade union and socialist principles.
What are some of your core beliefs?
We need to remain a members-led union. The lay members on the National Executive Committee make decisions and as General Secretary I would implement those decisions.
I’ve highlighted four themes in this election: campaigning, organising, political independence and industrial trade unionism.
At one time the RMT were the foremost campaigning union in Britain. Though by no means the largest, we were the boldest, with good merchandise on all the demonstrations and events, and a pride amongst members to be in the RMT. We have lost that for the last number of years.
In campaigning, we should do so on industrial matters with our members, but also on social issues. For example, vigorously fighting against cuts to any services that communities rely on.
There are thousands of unorganised workers in the sectors RMT organises, and being organised is key to victory in the workplace.
Just one of many examples: in a company I was given responsibility for, we had 50 per cent membership when I took on the task. Within a year, I had doubled it to 100 per cent membership and won a dispute—without the members having to take action—which achieved an 11.5 per cent pay offer over 2 years.
A few short years ago the leadership of the union—including some of the other General Secretary candidates—tried to take the RMT back into the failed and discredited Labour Party.
I publicly and vociferously opposed that, and still maintain that the RMT should only support those politicians and political parties that support us on industrial matters as well as on social issues.
In other words, if a politician supports us on nationalising the railways but then votes to implement cuts on communities, they are no good to us. I stand politically for a total no cuts agenda.
In terms of industrial trade unionism, we need an end to industrial snobbery. Members in all grades, sectors and industries are of equal importance to me.
As well as an end to industrial snobbery, the regions and nations should have more autonomy to act swiftly and decisively on behalf of members.
The union is not Unity House, the union is where the members are. The Union is everywhere.
In conversation with RMT members, a regular theme is that it’s a divided union. What’s the situation with that and what would you do about it?
Unfortunately, at present there are deep divisions and factionalism within RMT.
The Covid-19 pandemic will lead increasingly to bosses going on the attack as they attempt to make workers pay the price. Only through being united, confident and bold—in theory and in action—will the trade union movement be able to resist and repel the coming onslaught.
From an RMT perspective, the self-indulgent factionalism must end. As General Secretary, I will work tirelessly with the National Executive Committee, national and regional officials, Regional Councils and branches, as well as workplace reps, to repair the divisions within the union and to show a united front against the bosses and the governments.
I am not a member of any faction within the Union and would appeal to everyone to pull together with members and in the interests of members.
Inevitably, debates occur in RMT and wider trade union movement on Scottish independence. What’s your opinion on the issue?
If the people of Scotland want another referendum—and I think they do—then that referendum must take place.
Even the reviled Margaret Thatcher, while Prime Minister, was of the opinion that if Scotland returned a majority of pro-independent MPs, they should go independent. Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day, and Thatcher was correct on that. As a socialist I believe in the right of small nations to self-determination.
What is your broad vision of what is needed to recover after the Coronavirus crisis?
If the political elite are genuine about ‘building back better’ then the only way this can be achieved is through massive spending on all essential public services.
Attacking the terms, conditions and jobs of working-class people will lead to an economic depression. That is not something that society can afford. However, we can afford to invest in our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.
Finally, in a nutshell what makes you different from other candidates?
Although I am an elected official of the union, first and foremost I’m a member and committed activist and will bring this rank-and-file mentality into the position of General Secretary.
I will not be a desk-bound General Secretary. I will be out where the members are, visiting them in their depots and workplaces on a regular basis and taking their views, wishes and aspirations straight into the heart of the RMT leadership.
We spoke to rail, ferries and offshore workers on why they support socialist Gordon Martin as the next RMT General Secretary…
“I’m voting for Gordon Martin as I believe he is the only candidate who is not London-centric and can reach out to all areas of the UK and unite the union. I’m voting for Gordon as I believe he has a formidable record in campaigning and fighting industrially and politically for all grades.”
Jim Gray, RMT Scotland Regional Secretary
“What issues make me vote for him? He will bring much needed new life to RMT with his modern and inclusive approach. He’s a strong organiser, campaigner and recruiter who maintains approachability and visibility. These qualities combined will sustain the long-term future of the union. Basically, he’s what the union needs at this time.”
Mandy Marshall, RMT Company Council rep, Caledonia Sleeper Services
“I’m voting for Gordon Martin because I feel he is the right man for the job. Honest, truthful and the best candidate to bring unity to the union.”
Robbie Wyness, RMT OILC offshore workers branch secretary
“Gordon Martin will end the divisions that are damaging our union and will unite RMT for the fights that are ahead with those who are ready to attack our members and their livelihoods. Gordon has been at the core of the campaign to maintain our political independence and maintain the policy of supporting only those who fully support RMT and our membership.”
Dan Henderson, RMT Glasgow Shipping branch
“Gordon has great experience dealing with unions and management and is a great negotiator. He is someone I truly trust to protect the members of the union.”
Ross Dick, RMT member, Caledonia Sleeper Services
“Gordon will represent all grades in all industries where RMT organise. Gordon not only cares about the members, he cares about the communities where they, the working class, live.”
Brian Reynolds, Calmac ferries RMT rep
“I will be voting for Gordon Martin because he is the candidate who I feel has the best grasp of the issues affecting seafarers today. A union led by Gordon will be one where the rights of every transport worker is defended.”
Michael Macleod, RMT rep on Loch Seaforth ferry
“Gordon will always fight the fights that our members need. He can negotiate and lobby the top politicians and then warn off fascist groups from peaceful demos. He will not be the man in the £1,000 suit, he will be the man with his sleeves rolled up right beside us.”
Kim Gibson, RMT rep, ScotRail
Demand full-blown rail nationalisation
by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
· ScotRail workers are in dispute with Abellio bosses, whose refusal to invest in their staff is backed by the Scottish Government, who told them any pay deal for non-driver crews would have to be self-financing.
In tandem with that fight, railway workers’ unions are stepping up the demand for the Scottish government to take the network into public ownership on 1st April, when current subsidies to Abellio end; a demand energetically supported by the SSP.
A ScotRail worker gave the Voice his views on the call for nationalisation.
“During the pandemic, we are essentially already being run by the government through Emergency Measures Agreements. These involve public subsidies of about £13million to Abellio, the Dutch state-owned company with the franchise to run ScotRail, and Serco who operate Caledonian Sleepers.
“Now the Scottish government have told Abellio there is no extra money available for a pay rise for non-driver grades, that it has to be self-financing.
“The current phase of EMA grants ends on 31 March and our unions are demanding the Scottish government use that as the next opportunity to take the railways properly into full public ownership.
“Proper nationalisation would mean all the arguments about black holes in the budget would just disappear, because there would be no need to create profit for Abellio or others.
“The focus could instead be on investment in staff, infrastructure, rolling stock, expansion of lines and services. Proper nationalisation would have to include the whole lot, not just ScotRail.
“None of the train companies own rolling stock, and it’s getting worse, as Hitachi—who have got a lot of the contracts, running some ScotRail trains and a couple of cross-country services—have begun to also take over depots. Like one outside Edinburgh, which in the past were owned by railway companies.
“It means Hitachi workers are not entitled to the same pay, conditions, union recognition and free travel as we get, because they’re not classified as railway workers. Those who build the trains are also taking over maintenance. So, the jobs are being moved out of the railways.
“Instead of that, these depots should be nationalised and the Caley Works in Glasgow should be reopened, to build and maintain trains, rather than the likes of Hitachi.
“If anything, that side of the railways has much greater potential for expansion under public ownership than just ScotRail itself, which would be more akin to a TUPE transfer, although with the advantage of removing the profit issue.
“Building and repairing rolling stock would provide high quality, skilled jobs and open up big opportunities for apprenticeships for school leavers.
“As the Scottish elections approach, we need to hammer the Scottish government with these demands in order to provide a modern public transport service, decent pay, conditions and job creation, by removing the barrier of private profit.”