Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) will receive ballot papers for an election which could usher in a new era of militancy on the rail network and London Underground. Jimmy Knapp, leader of the RMT, and his deputy, Vernon Hince, face a tough electoral battle with left-wingers.
Mr Knapp is being challenged by Greg Tucker, a far-left train driver based at Waterloo who was expelled from the Labour Party in the early Nineties for his activities as a Lambeth councillor.
In an interview with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, Mr Tucker indicated that there would be more disruption to services under his leadership. "I think there is a lot of frustration out there on the railways and I think that frustration should be given a lead," he said. Asked if that meant strikes, he said: "One uses the weapon one has to hand."
Mr Hince faces opposition from two left-wingers. His principal opponent is Pat Sikorski, a London Underground driver and senior activist in Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (SLP). Also standing is Jim Connolly, a railway worker of Glasgow and a former SLP member. There is little doubt that a takeover by the hard left would increase the union's appetite for industrial action rather than negotiation.
Bob Crow, the RMT's current assistant general secretary, is a member of the SLP, and the party can count on the backing of a majority of the union's rail executive.
Although traditional Labour Party supporters in the union argue that members at London Underground have legitimate concerns, they also believe current unrest has been fuelled by a regional council which is dominated by the hard left.
At the train drivers' union, Aslef, the general secretary, Lew Adams, was defeated in a surprise poll result last year by Mick Rix of the SLP.
To make sure that the process is not repeated in the RMT, Mr Knapp's supporters have mounted a vigorous campaign and secured the support of 110 union branches, compared with 28 that back Mr Tucker. The ballot result is due at the end of next month.
In his election manifesto Mr Knapp said that he would continue the campaign to restore public ownership and oppose the privatisation of London Underground. He also promised to undertake a "root-and-branch overhaul" of the union if elected.
Mr Tucker has written that the union should reassert its own political agenda and demand the repeal of anti-union laws to "unshackle" the unions. He said yesterday: "Our members are being attacked on a daily basis. The whole way that the privatisation of the railways has taken place has meant that the individual railway operating companies need to keep profits up by driving down our members' wages and conditions."
Asked whether he was a Marxist, Mr Tucker said: "I'm a rail worker and I'm basing my position on my experience as a rail worker."
A privatised train company has been ordered to drop its pounds 1 surcharge for telephone ticket sales and to refund affected passengers. The order to Great Western Trains came from the rail regulator, Chris Bolt, who said that the surcharge breached the company's licence.
The Great Western surcharge was introduced on 1 February and has been criticised by West Country passengers and passenger groups. Mr Bolt said yesterday: "Great Western's surcharge breaches both the spirit and the letter of the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement between the railway companies and therefore also breaches Great Western Passenger Trains' licence."Reuse content