Mick Lynch in His Own Words
Politics Joe interview with Mick Lynch
Sunday 27 November 2022
Q. Why do you think the tabloids have taken the government side rather than your side?
ML: The Tabloids are on the side of the ruling class, (people don’t like this terminology), Murdoch and all the others, oligarchs, that own the Sun, the Times, the press the Mail and all those outlets, are on the side of driving down wages and driving up profits; (most of the people working on those media outlets are not employed, they’ve all been driven down to precarious employment, self-employed casualised work) and they’ve got an agenda that wants to defeat the unions so they can have their way; and if they have their way, most of us will all be outsourced, on very low wages, with very poor terms and conditions that are based on statutory minima, and when they find the minima are too hard, they’ll get rid of those minima, and they’ve already hinted at that, that they will chuck out employment laws. Jacob Rees Mogg was very strident on it and it’s likely they will take away our entitlement to sick pay, to holiday pay, and they will take away other benefits such as pensions that we seek to get from our employment, and that’s their agenda, the Mail, the Sun, the Times, the Telegraph, the Express are all fully committed to that agenda, the libertarian madness that we saw from Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng.
The reason they got sacked in the end was that it was exposed tooth and claw what they’ve got in mind for working people, that we subsidise the super-rich and that we have to take whatever it is they dish out to us. Mr Hunt and Mr Sunak are a bit more subtle about that, but the last budget has shown exactly what they’re like: it’s austerity for us, and wealth for those that run the newspapers.
Q What do you think about being called a Grinch by the newspapers.
ML. yes, anyone would think there is some kind of consensus in the right wing press , that they come up with the more hackneyed cliché. We are not going on strike at Christmas.
These are the same newspapers that support the most right-wing causes, the most reactionary elements in the society, and indeed the Daily Mail supported Hitler and the Black Shirts: ‘Hurrah for the Black Shirts!’ was their famous headline and they supported the most reactionary irresponsible people, including Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, they were lauding them to the rafters during that election campaign, they got them in and then they were exposed as the most right wing hostile, libertarian militants we’ve ever seen. And that is the way that the press is set up in this country. We have to break through to the public, and get our messages across to the public. The public have seen that over the last six months or so, that working class people can articulate their cases, and they have a point to make in the debate in the society, about how it’s run and how it’s balanced, and we need to rebalance it for the benefit of the majority and not for the tiny minority of the super-rich.
Q. Do you agree with Keir Starmer that we need to wean ourselves from foreign labour?
ML: What we don’t need is foreign labour being exploited, people being brought in on low wages. Anyone who comes to this country should be on full trade union agreements, without any discrimination whether you are a new entrant to this country.
What they want in hospitality, what they want in agriculture, is special visas so that we can pay those people less than people who are already here. Everybody needs the benefit of a strong trade union agreement, with a high minimum wage so that everybody is paying tax and not living on benefits while they are working. If anybody needs to come to Britain, that’s fine, but what we also need to do is to protect the economies of the countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia where we are trying to cream off hundreds of thousands of their nurses and doctors, former Commonwealth countries and all sort of areas round the world, where we’re not training them, we’re looking to cream off their people, often on low wages and rip-off contracts. So we need a balance and everybody should be paid properly. Nobody should be illegal in this country, and nobody should be discriminated against, and we should welcome people on the basis they should get the same entitlements as the rest of us.
Q. A high wage economy, does that mean that Labour should be on the picket lines?
ML: Labour needs to support people in their struggle, they need to identify with their values that are socialist, that founded the Labour Party. They need to identify with the actual struggles that are going on today. People can’t pay their bills, they can’t fulfil their shopping requirements. And we’re not talking about people unemployed or on benefits, we are talking about people in full employment, and they’re not getting the full value of their labour because often they have to live on benefits and ask foodbanks to feed their kids and themselves. Keir Starmer needs to identify with that, he needs to decide which sides he’s on, he can’t afford to be neutral, he can’t afford to be the vanilla man, which is what he’s trying to paint himself as, and he needs to say ‘I am with the workers, and I am against the super-rich” and we can create a fair economy based on that. If Labour want to deliver that, they need to show that they are with working people, so that working people vote for them.
Q. What about the negotiations?
ML: There are two halves to the negotiations, there is Network Rail and the Train Operating Companies.
Network Rail made us an offer back in mid-summer which they’ve tinkered with but haven’t changed substantially, so it’s still not acceptable. We’ve turned that down formally at the time and they still have not come back with changes for proposals either on pay, job security or our members pay and conditions, despite hours of negotiations.
With the train Operating Companies it’s different to that, we’ve spent a long time talking to them, especially in the last fortnight and at the end of it they’ve said, we can’t make a proposal, we’re not allowed to make a proposal.
That was last Friday, last Saturday they phoned me up, they said they will make a proposal on Monday, a full written offer, and at five past one, as we were getting ready to go over, they said we can’t make an offer because we are not allowed to. Now that’s in the hands of the Secretary of State. The Department of Transport meets with the Rail Delivery Group, which is the group that represents the operators every week and give them their instructions, so they must have given them the instruction not to make the offer, that’s the only possible interpretation, and that’s the responsibility of Mark Harper the Secretary of State.
Our members are really angry about that, six months in and no improvement on the original offer.
Q: Can you say more about pay? The narrative is that you are unreasonable.
ML: The offer is about three items: there is job security, we want to secure our members jobs who want to work in our industry; there are the conditions under which they work, how they are rostered, how the shifts are set up, the work that they actually do when they are on duty ; for instance the companies want to close every booking office in Britain, they want to cut safety measures on the infrastructure.
And then we have a pay deal; we haven’t had a pay offer for three years now on the railway, we’ve been subjected to a pay freeze. We are not being unreasonable. While we’ve been in this dispute inflation have gone from 3% to 14%. So we’re playing catch up with pay, and our members like everyone else are suffering from the cost of living crisis. We have people in this dispute who are paid 18 000 a year, the majority are paid around between 28 and 32 000 and there are some people who are high earners, like in any industry, the people in the specialist grades, but the vast majority of the people are earning modest wages, that are in line with average wages, 30, 32 000 and that’s for 24/7 rosters generally, working on the railway, and we haven’t had a pay increase.
The public, I know it’s a hard sell, don’t like to be disrupted, at any time, to get to work or to get home is a difficult thing to take on, but the public has come behind us and I think the government and the commentators in the right wing press have been very surprised about the support we’ve had and we’ll keep that going. Our job as a trade union is to get a deal for our members and if that sets the tone for other workers who are perhaps not properly organised and who are more vulnerable, that’s all to the good.
We’re fighting for terms and conditions for ourselves but also for everyone else. I hope that people can see that.
But it is a difficult message to get across.
Answering the Daily Mail “How do you feel about being called Mick Grinch?
Listen to very good discussion of this on Novara Media;