Mick Lynch has made his name this year by despatching ill-prepared and over-confident journalists during interviews that have often descended into disorder. It’s therefore no surprise that the general secretary of the RMT’s interview on the Today programme this morning (13 December) became bad-tempered.
But one question that seemed to particularly rattle Lynch was how much pay rail strikers had forfeited since going on strike. They aren’t paid when they walk out, so unions spend much of their time amassing “hardship funds” to support strikers and their families through the industrial action.
Lynch’s refusal to say how much strikers had lost in pay – Network Rail estimated in the summer that the figure was around £1,500 – revealed a key anxiety for the RMT. The union needs the support of its members to maintain the threat of strike action. During the Today interview, Mishal Husain pointed out that the percentage of RMT members who voted effectively to go on strike had fallen from 92 per cent in November to 64 per cent in December. As Lynch said, that’s still a strong majority. But the trajectory is going in the wrong direction for Lynch, and any fall in support will weaken his hand in the negotiations.
Nonetheless, the RMT isn’t the only organisation under pressure. The end of the strikes wouldn’t be a triumph for the government. As I wrote in today’s Morning Call newsletter, people won’t be cheering for the government when a struggling NHS or decrepit train network resume service. Unlike with the rail strikes over the summer, industrial action is spreading to other public services, piling pressure on the government as multiple industries threaten walk-outs at the same time. The RMT may be facing problems of its own, but so is the government.
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