RMT votes for solidarity not boycott on Israel / Palestine

June 25, 2008 at 8:05 pm (AWL, class, israel, Jim D, left, palestine, unions)

Good news from the RMT (rail union) Annual General Meeting: they’ve voted by more than a two thirds majority for a two states, anti-Hamas postion on Israel / Palestine, and overturned the union’s previous policy which advocated a boycott of Israel.

This may not seem a particularly big deal, as it merely reiterates the traditional position of left-wingers, secularists and progressives in the Middle East itself. However, in the UK (and to a lesser extent elsewhere in Western Europe and the US), there has in recent years been a concerted drive to delegitimise the state of Israel, reject “two states” and offer de facto support to anti-semitic, clerical fascist forces like Hamas. This tendency (spearheaded by the British SWP and other “left” anti-semites) has usually taken the form of the call to boycott Israel and has achieved limited success at the national conferences of some UK unions, most recently and notoriously the UCU.

The RMT victory is particularly significant because it overturned the existing pro-boycott position of the union and because (unlike most of the unions which have passed pro-boycott motions recently), there was a proper debate and none of the usual abuse and accusations of Zionist conspiracies, etc, etc. It was also remarkable to see RMT General Secretary Bob Crow defeated on the question of the boycott – the only issue on which he has (so far) lost a vote at the AGM.

The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) were a major force (though not alone) in organising to win the debate and the vote; AWL supporter Janine Booth comments:

“I think we won…because of leading on condemnation of Israel’s action and support for the Palestinians, then pitching the issue in terms of unity and solidarity (trade union principles) versus boycott (passive and divisive).”

NB: While we’re on the subject of the RMT: London Underground cleaners, organised by that union, will be on strike tomorrow (26th June) and again on 1st and 2nd July, demanding £7.20 per hour (the GLA minimum wage), proper sick pay, final salary pensions and proper disciplinary procedures. These mainly migrant workers will welcome support on their picket lines, especially on their night shifts at major stations from 10pm. If you want to help, contact


h/t for the cleaners stuff: Stroppy


  1. Janine said,

    Cheers for the report, Jim. I proposed the successful resolution, and you can read more details on both Stroppyblog and the AWL website.

    On the subject of the Tube cleaners’ strike – do you have any comment about the role of the T&G/Unite? To summarise – they refused to ballot their cleaner members alongside RMT, and then wrote to them on the eve of the strike telling them to go to work. They now have the cheek to demand that the RMT calls off its 48-hour strike starting on Tuesday night to give them a chance to catch up!

  2. Janine said,

    Come on, Jim …

  3. charliethechulo said,

    In the absence of Jim, may I make a few comments?

    It is true, Janine, that the T&G has not covered itelf in glory over this issue. But the fault is not entirely theirs. RMT and T&G (just like RMT and ASLEF) don’t talk to each other. Crow is doing the Millwall “everybody hates us but we don’t care” routine throughout the labour movement. Both unions are guilty of long term bad behaviour and sectarianism over the question of the tube cleaners.

    The facts, as I understand them, are these:
    1/ The T&G officer with responsibility for the cleaners (Paul Davies) approached the RMT for a joint campaign some time ago;
    2/The RMT declined;
    3/ The ballot was announced at the RMT conference without any discussion with the T&G;
    4/ Woodley asked Region 1 of the T&G why their people weren’t striking and got the above three points as his answer.

    The first two points and the fourth I can vouch for. The third is probably true, but there is no way of checking who phoned whom; if Janine or anyone else in the RMT can give a name and time we can decide who was at fault.

    I don’t for one moment doubt the existance of bad behaviour, bureaucratic inertia, sectarianism, etc, etc, etc on the part of the T&G over this business. And of course, now that the RMT have gone ahead all trade unionists must give them support. In the longer term (well, as soon as possible, actually), we need a spheres of influence agreement between the T&G and the RMT: as things stand at the moment the T&G would have to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, but the RMT just won’t do it in principle.

    I’d like to predict a happy ending to all this, but it won’t happen anytime soon.

  4. Janine said,

    I think you have been misled.

    The T&G knew all along that RMT was balloting; there is absolutely no reason why the T&G could not have balloted on the same demands and at the same time as the RMT. In fact, RMT openly said that they should and were disappointed that they did not. There were jont meetings building towards a strike earlier in the year, but when RMT went ahead with a strike ballot, T&G chose not to.

    It sounds to me like the T&G’s officer seriously dropped the ball and is trying to cover his tracks with a disingenuous, inaccurate attempt to blame RMT. That is borne out by the ridiculous assertion 3. RMT did not announce its ballot at its conference: it’s ballot was over by then! It started at the beginning of June and finished the week before the AGM. The result was press released days before the conference started – and quite why the RMT should consult the T&G about announcing the result of a ballot that the T&G had refused to be part of is beyond me.

    If this was a discussion about the ongoing turf war that preceded this ballot, we might have an interesting discussion in which I would argue that rail cleaners should be in an all-grades rail union and you might argue something else.

    But this has moved on a stage now. RMT Tube cleaners are striking, and the T&G official wrote to their members telling them to break the strike. That’s scabbing. It’s an utter disgrace.

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