Socialist Appeal met with Steve Hedley, the senior assistant general secretary of the RMT union to discuss a range of issues: from the attacks facing rail workers to the need for nationalisation of the railways; and from the future of the Venezuelan Revolution to the question of the union's relationship to the Labour Party.
Socialist Appeal: Steve, what are the main issues facing the RMT at this moment?
Steve Hedley: There are a number of issues at the moment, mainly around the question of jobs. We have the dispute with the train operating companies that are trying to get rid of the guards from the trains. That’s on Southern Rail. The same story goes for Mersey Rail, Northern Rail, and we are heading into dispute with Greater Anglia and possibly with South West Trains on the same issue.
These disputes are all about removing the safety role of guards on the train. The actions of these companies would jeopardise passenger safety, as 70% of accidents have taken place on the 30% of the network which is currently driver-only operated.
You also have an accessibility issue as disabled people can’t access trains unless there is a guard on board and station staff to assist. And it is these workers – the guard on the train and station staff – who are all targets because the train operating companies want to make increasing profits every year and the way they see of doing that is by getting rid of these essential workers.
The biggest political issue is of course the question of the union’s re-affiliation to the Labour Party. We intend to have a special general meeting about it and I am looking forward to hearing our members’ views on that subject.
SA: What is your personal view about re-affiliation?
SH: My personal view is that we should get in there and support Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and the lefts in the Labour Party. They have been very good to our union over the years, supported us and supported the working class struggle generally.
It is alright standing on the sidelines shouting ‘Jeremy Corbyn’, but we need to be on the pitch and in the Constituency Labour Parties doing our best to ensure that Jeremy, who was elected leader by an overwhelming majority of the members, can carry out his policies and that the left of the party have a say.
We must make sure that he is not sabotaged by people who have joined the party for reasons that, I believe, are centred round their own self-interest.
SA: What do you think about the policy of renationalising the railways?
SH: I think it is a step in the right direction, but I think it is too cautious. If we are going to wait until the franchises come up one by one before taking them back, it is going to take forever to do that. When privatisation occurred, no one was compensated and the privatisers made a huge profit out of the railway. So I don’t see why they should be compensated now. I think the railways should be immediately nationalised without compensation.
SA: You mentioned earlier about a problem in Wales. What’s going on there?
SH: Yes, what they are trying to do in Wales is to privatise part of the infrastructure which is currently under the control of Network Rail. The proposal is that a private company would run the infrastructure and the train operating at the same time.
It is a retrograde step and the Welsh Assembly should come out forcefully again this. It is clearly against the national policy which is for renationalisation. It is a backward step even from where we are at the moment where infrastructure is under Network Rail, which is a public body. So if the leadership of the Welsh Labour Party insist on coming out against the national leadership, they need to be told in no uncertain terms to revere the policy.
SA: On a different matter, Venezuela has been under attack from the US, the European Union and so on. Do you have a view on that?
SH: My personal view is this: I believe my union has always officially backed solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution. I am not saying the Venezuelan government is perfect by any means. I think they haven’t pushed socialist policies far enough, but they are a major advance on the kleptocracy that were in power before.
That same kleptocracy, backed by the CIA and American money, have destabilised Venezuela and have attempted to do so throughout the Chavez years. Whenever poor people in Venezuela have benefited, there has been an outcry from this kleptocracy, these hugely rich people and sections of the middle class, who have now resorted to terrorism and killing members of the police and army and ordinary people who oppose them.
So my position is this: you have to stand with a progressive regime that has got socialist tendencies against the forces of imperialism and capitalism. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Venezuela against this attempted coup.
SA: Thank you very much Steve.