This is a letter from RMT President Alex Gordon in response to the Guardian’s coverage of the injunction against the RMT.
Your twin editorials (‘Libel laws: judging the truth’ and ‘Rail strike: sharp end of the law’, Friday 2 April 2010) show The Guardian facing both ways. You rightly celebrate Dr. Simon Singh’s victory over the spectre of courts ruling on matters of legitimate scientific controversy – “an Orwellian Ministry of Truth” – at the same time as gleefully celebrating the arcane anti-trade union legislation that led the High Court this week to grant an injunction against my union’s strike action in our continuing dispute with Network Rail.
19th century Liberals were accused of defending freedom of speech and association, right up to the point that workers demanded it. Now it seems, The Guardian is reverting to type.
To editorialise that “Bringing the trade unions under the rule of law was one of the great struggles of the 20th century” is a post-modern parody of our history. Winning democracy and establishing workers’ rights to join trade unions and the right to strike in spite of class-ridden, arbitrary and opaque legal systems, is the great struggle of over two centuries that is still being fought today.
RMT members are defending essential safety jobs and operational standards against flagrant, cost-driven cuts proposed by Network Rail at the behest of a government rail regulator wheeled out to provide safety validation for its own ‘cost-savings’. Some of my members think this may be dangerously close to a conflict of interest, one perhaps even worthy of investigation by a serious newspaper. But The Guardian says that this strike was “not the right way of ensuring that staff grievances are properly addressed”. We know your paper shares offices with Network Rail, but you appear to be sharing your editorial line as well.
Britain’s anti-union legislation is a mess that like her libel laws protect the rich and afflict the innocent. The judgement in Network Rail v RMT ratchets up the scope of anti-union laws by invoking ‘proportionality’ (a concept imported from recent European court judgements) since the company made a great deal of the disruption that a strike will cause. This will have a massive bearing on public sector workers seeking to fight post-general election public spending cuts and is a trojan horse for outlawing by subterfuge effective strike action in key services used by the public.
The ability of workers to defend their interests and the public interest and through joining trade unions to withdraw their labour remains a hallmark of democratic society. My union will continue to vigorously defend our members’ interests in delivering a railway safe for workers and the travelling public.