Defend Steve Hedley, defend Trade Union democracy!

Steve Hedley

The Trotskyist Faction of Socialist Fight gives full support to Steve Hedley, Assistant General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), against the vicious attacks by the Tories and the Murdoch press propaganda machine.

Steve Hedley has been suspended from his position after he recently made ‘offensive’ remarks on Facebook. Replying to another comment on a Facebook post, he said: “I don’t want to offend you, but if Bojo pops his clogs, I’m throwing a party.” He later added: “I hope the whole Cabinet and higher echelons of the Tory party have been touching various bits of him.” These remarks followed Johnson’s admission into St. Thomas’s Hospital on 5th April after his Covid-19 symptoms worsened.

The Murdoch press, who have been fawning over themselves in their support for Johnson for years, described Steve Hedley’s comments as ‘vile’. These attacks from these gutter rags are not new. The propaganda against the RMT has been going on for years with attacks on Bob Crow who always confronted the government and its media lackeys, simply because the RMT is one of the last remaining militant trade unions representing its workers. As a direct result of this attack on him in the Murdoch Press, the bureaucrats in the RMT have capitulated to this right wing attack suspending Steve from his position pending a disciplinary investigation.

In a joint letter/statement on 10th April sent to  the RMT membership, President Michelle Rodgers and General Secretary Mick Cash said: “Steve Hedley’s comments do not represent the views of this trade union and are wholly unacceptable.” He added: “The comments have attracted widespread negative media coverage which has led to an extraordinarily large volume of complaints, from both RMT members and the public, through social media and also directly to the union and our staff with unprecedented levels of hostility.” A spokesman for the RMT said: “Following a meeting of the union’s National Executive a decision has been made to suspend senior assistant general secretary Steve Hedley with immediate effect while a formal investigation takes place into his conduct.” We suspect that the majority of members actually support Steve Hedley, and it is they alone who should democratically decide who represents them, not the right wing establishment and the union bosses kowtowing to pressure from Murdoch et al.

Some people may have mixed views on the remarks made by Steve Hedley, as to whether his personal remarks in a personal social media post were ‘offensive’ and in keeping with someone in his position as a representative of a trade union. What is offensive are the Tories attacks on the working class. Where is the outrage about someone who is homeless dying on the streets every 19 hours, the reliance on food banks and 4 million children languishing in poverty in the fifth richest nation, the cut in 17,000 hospital beds since 2010, or deliberately allowing people to succumb to COVID-19 with lack of testing and adequate provision of PPE to frontline NHS staff? These are the issues that should animate people, not this faux outrage against someone who expressing his personal views on someone that has been a champion for the ruling class with their attacks against the poorest in society.

The attacks on the working class in this country are integral to the class project of the Tories, this is not new. When Nye Bevan delivered his most famous speech, on the eve of the creation of the NHS at the Belle Vue Rally in Manchester on 4th July 1948, he said “So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin,” he went on. “They condemned millions of people to semi-starvation. I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying, do not listen to the seductions of Lord Woolton. They have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse.” His own bitter experiences growing up in Wales led him to have a deep hatred of the Tory party; a party that consistently objected to the forming of the NHS and the ‘Welfare State’ in the first place.  Bevan was not wrong then and Steve Hedley is not wrong now. We do not give sympathy to those that are waging war, an ideologically driven class war, against the workers and poor of this country.

These recent attacks from the right wing and the gutter press come on the back of a deliberate targeting of the RMT, which has been brewing for some time. It was no coincidence that Steve Hedley was violently attacked outside a London pub on 14th July 2018 by fascist Tommy Robinson supporters. Steve and his kind of union militancy represent organised labour, and also have a history of fighting racism and homophobia. These attacks from the right on the RMT have been drip fed in the media, whether it was Bob Crow going on holiday, which incidentally came from Boris Johnson himself when he wrote an article for the Telegraph in 2014, or the attack on Steve Hedley accusing him of anti-Semitism in November 2019 with calls for him to resign when a video surfaced of him berating Richard Millett – a hardened Zionist, in a speech attacking the oppression of the Palestinians in 2011.

Johnson’s dislike of the RMT has been simmering since last November when there were calls for action to be taken against the union for its planned 27 day strike against South Western Railway in December over safety concerns in operating trains without guards with the imposition of driver only operations.  The government’s response after its December election win was to deliver a Queen’s speech that contained 30 bills, which included further anti-strike legislation. The proposed legislation will ensure a minimum level of service on various modes of public transport, including trains and buses, has to be maintained during strikes. The Tories have a majority of 80 MPs, which allows them to continue their full frontal attacks on the working class, an extension of where Thatcher and Major left off. The speech includes for the first time ever new legislation that effectively bans strike action. The upholding of the right of workers to withdraw their labour and the improvement of conditions in the workplace is an abomination for the Tories, who see it as something to be crushed. 

Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, stated that “It is a basic right for workers to be able to get to work,”….. “The ability of a few people to prevent everyone from being able to earn a living has to come to an end. The new law will prevent London being brought to a standstill, with all the additional environmental damage done by people reverting to cars. There will be a bare-bones service provided, preventing ordinary workers being effectively held to ransom.” The safety of the public and workers is being used as a subterfuge to smash the union under a pretext of the environment and the rights of other workers. This attack on the last vestiges of union and worker militancy is in keeping with the  Tories’ drive towards the Singapore model come post Brexit, which this Queen’s speech was all about.

Support for Steve Hedley has been widespread amongst comrades on the left, who can see that this is another step on the journey by both the Tories and the neoliberal Blairites who have now reclaimed the Labour Party as their own. The attacks on Steve is part of a concerted attack on the left by Tories and Blairites, and their capitulators and agents in the unions. An open letter has been submitted to the Morning Star, which has been refused publication by its editor, Ben Chacko. This can only be interpreted as further capitulation to right wing pressures and shows how the trade union bureaucracy, even the ‘lefts’, act as agents of the bosses in the workers movement when the chips are down.  Indeed Steve Hedley is being punished by the ‘left’ bureaucracy – whose house organ is the Morning Star – not for the first time – for going further than worthies like Cash and Rodgers are prepared to go in opposing the bosses.

 The letter can be seen here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdvzYZoJnvfuNCqu42bQTYtQlbmcZqoHSc6cDWWlM_cPPY6Aw/viewform?fbclid=IwAR3sKHfE7oqT_XqIXr3hSM0KJdyZZEsKF0N7V1ewdavO0fauUsRBci8Eq4c

We demand the lifting of the RMT’s executive’s suspension of its Assistant General Secretary and the full reinstatement of Steve Hedley.

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