Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Support freedom of speech for trade unionists

The Rail Maritime and Transport union is set to ballot its members for industrial action over the victimisation of two of its reps. The case is, unfortunately, far from uncommon. However, a direct challenge is also long overdue, and everybody with libertarian inclinations should support it.

The case, as told by the RMT, is depressingly familiar;
Eamon Lynch, RMT Bakerloo Line drivers’ health and safety rep, has been sacked by LU and although he remains on full pay following the union’s victory on Eamon’s behalf at an “interim relief” Employment Tribunal hearing the company refuses to reinstate him. Interim relief is only ever granted by the Employment Tribunal where there is the clearest possible evidence that an employee has been dismissed on the grounds of their trade union activities.

Eamon has an unblemished 15 year service record on the Underground and has been very clearly victimized for his role as an RMT activist despite management’s bogus claims that they sacked him following an “operational incident.”

Drivers, instructors and station staff at both Elephant and Castle and Queens Park will be balloted for strike action and action short of a strike in defence of Eamon Lynch. The ballot closes on 7th December.

Arwyn Thomas, a long-standing RMT activist and driver at Morden is facing trumped-up disciplinary charges following unproven allegations made against him be strike breakers. Arwyn has been an RMT/NUR member for over 29 years and has held various positions in the union. RMT is in no doubt at all that he is being victimised for his trade union activities.

Drivers and instructors at Golders Green, East Finchley, High Barnet and Morden will be balloted for strike action and action short of a strike in defence of Arwyn Thomas. The ballot closes on 7th December.
The case follows on the heels of the suspension of Fire Brigades Union rep Sian Griffiths, two days after she received a medal from the Queen. As with the RMT case, Griffiths is facing charges of "bullying and harrasment" in the wake of industrial action.

There were similar cases during the British Airways dispute. The press glossed over bullying by management and made much of trumped up charges brought by bitter scabs angry at being called out over their actions. No doubt, across the organised labour movement both in Britain and worldwide, reps and activists will be able to give examples of countless similar situations.

The reason is, quite simply, that those making the accusations are beset by a moral cowardice and do not have the courage of their convictions. If they did, they could retaliate to words with words, and challenge the basic precept of the workers' movement that to break industrial action is to betray your colleagues and even your class. As they cannot do this, they are reduced to appealing to authority for the right not to continue scabbing but to do so without anybody calling them on it.

This is not how freedom of speech works. It is not a privilege for a few, but a universal right to give voice to your thoughts - no matter how grand or banal - as you see fit. Inevitably, this will mean disagreements and even offence. But you do not have the right to be shielded from disagreement.

The bosses, of course, are more than happy to comply with this. After all, organised workers are a challenge to their power and profits, and they will gladly seize upon the pretext to strike back.

The problem is that the law, and the privilege granted to the rights of private property over people, not only allows but encourages this. Especially since Thatcher and Tebbit's anti-strike laws, the odds have been heavily weighted against the worker in favour of the boss and the scab.

The plights of Eamon Lynch, Arwyn Thomas, and Sian Griffiths deserve support and solidarity. Not only from the organised working class, in defence of our right to combine and assert our interests, but from everybody who believes in freedom of thought and action. Victory in this instance is not only beneficial for the individuals concerned, but also sets a useful precedent for the future.

According to the principles of the Enlightenment, if a liberty is not universal then it cannot truly be said to exist. Thus, twice over, an injury to one is an injury to all.