The Rail Dispute: Union changing its spots in new climate: Track operator concedes RMT workers obeyed one-day strike call, but still manages to run 1,000 trains

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The Independent Online
THE RMT transport union, which is now clearly embarking on a battle with the Government, is an organisation in the throes of considerable reorganisation, writes Barrie Clement.

At its annual conference in Liverpool next week, the union hopes to steer through critical changes to cope with its parlous financial position and the reorganisation of British Rail. Helped by the University of Warwick, it is attempting to change its structure to replicate the 'businesses' created by the Government in preparation for privatisation.

The RMT has always been a highly centralised organisation, but the composition and size of the executive has been the subject of considerable internal controversy. There are 21 full-time lay executive members, who, apart from times of crisis, arguably find time lies heavily on their hands. They are each paid in excess of pounds 20,000 a year by the union and are elected for three years. Under the present circumstances the ability to contact the leadership of the union at short notice is a considerable advantage. However the full-time executive is seen as a luxury the union can ill-afford.

Proposals to be discussed by next week's conference include a plan to cut the committee in half so the union can afford to finance it on a full-time basis. The alternative would be to create an executive convening on a regular basis, but whose members retained their jobs and their wages.

The union had been running a deficit of about pounds 3m for the past three or four years, but its bankers have now demanded it brings expenditure in line with income. Its financial problems were made worse last year when BR withdrew the union's 'check-off' facilities under which management deducted union subscriptions from pay packets at source. Membership dropped by about one-third to less than 80,000.