Emerging from Hammersmith Crown Court perched on the shoulders of delighted RMT colleagues Steve Hedley and David O'Hare, London Underground worker, and union official Mark Harding looked slightly awkward as he was cast into the unwanted role of being an icon of success in the worker's struggle. I am not an RMT member, nor have I ever driven a tube train. I am a proud member of ASLEF, though for me it is clear to see that this was not just a cynical attempt to break a strike by dishonourable means, it was a flagrant attack on every trade union member in the land. Had Mark have been convicted and imprisoned, I am certain that the massed media would have been hysterical in it's trumpeting of a union thug being caged, yet the news of his standing up to what is tantamount to state sponsored police bullying, submitting himself willingly to the due legal process, and emerging with his reputation and innocence intact has barely been mentioned by news networks. Mark Harding is not a union thug. He is a victim of an over zealous police service guilty of doing the political bidding of a feckless, incompetent and disconnected elite, whose only avenue of defence now seems to be hiding behind the apparatus of the state.
Mark Harding has endured months of frustration and uncertainty, having been arrested by the Metropolitan Police under Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 as amended by Schedules 7 and 17 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Simply put, this is one of the most restrictive and virulent of the anti-trade union laws. Harding was taken to a police station, questioned and detained for 13 hours before being placed under bail conditions that prevented him from working, as well as from exercising his rights as a member of a legitimate and registered trade union involved in an industrial dispute that was wholly within the law.
What was Mark Harding's crime? What had he done that prompted the police to act in such a robust manner? Mark, as a committed and dedicated defender of worker's rights had tried to persuade another member of staff from crossing the picket line. He hadn't been violent, or abusive, and the staff member concerned had successfully reported for work without incident. That's it. That is all that transpired. Yet the staff member allegedly decided, after a considerable period of time had elapsed, that he felt distressed and threatened, and made a complaint to the police, no doubt after consulting an increasingly hawkish London Underground management. Clearly, the police have a responsibility to investigate any complaint, but a cursory chat with the parties involved should really have yielded a calming chat, and a warning of the dangers of wasting police time. Instead, an innocent man and his family have had to endure the stress of being prosecuted by the state for an offence amounting essentially to defending his job, and the safety of the travelling public.
This is an episode of shame, illustration and irony. Shame on the part of the Metropolitan Police Service for allowing themselves to be politicised and organised against ordinary working people yet again. There is strong suggestion that senior figures within the Met were complicit in blacklisting, and other equally reprehensible acts, and whilst I certainly cannot cite supporting evidence to back up these allegations, it is easy to interpret a pattern of sympathy with management and government ideologies on the part of those tasked with policing without fear or favour. It's an episode of illustration, because this whole ridiculous episode shows clearly, the attitude of government and big business towards trade unions and ordinary working people. Politicians of both major parties have routinely shown their complete disdain for unions. Tony Blair boasted that British labour laws are the most restrictive in the western world, a position he adopted out of bravado. Compare that with recent sabre rattling by the Conservatives who out of a fear of the power of politically aware, organised workers, now hypocritically demand that unions only be permitted to strike if the necessary ballot have at least a 50% turnout underlines the sad truth that organised workers have very few friends in Westminster. Several MPs can only dream of inspiring a 50% turnout in their constituencies. Some of the new Police & Crime Commissioners were elected into jobs paying £80,000 of public money per year on turnouts not even close to 10%, yet they sun themselves in the afterglow of so called democratic legitimacy. The London mayor Boris Johnson, a long standing supporter of efforts to neuter democratic trade unionism was elected on a turnout of around 38% . I'm certain that he and his chums will proclaim him to be a man of honour whilst I await his resignation with breath baited.
The media, with the BBC acting particularly shamefully, given their charter commitment to balance, only serve to reinforce this. The unspoken agenda appears to be aimed exclusively at diverting the anger of the people away from the parallel moral vacuums that are professional politicians and their corporate sponsors in banking and big business, and onto those daring to carry a union card whilst fighting for a better tomorrow. If this were not the case, the BBC at least would pay as much attention to unions and industrial relations as it does to stocks, shares and takeovers, and the fact that Mark Harding was a victim of this feckless government, became an opponent of this feckless government, and ultimately emerged victorious in the ensuing battle needlessly instigated by this government should have been headlines on all channels and in all papers.
The final point was that this whole farce is an episode of irony. It's ironic because the exhaustive legal carnival that parked itself on the respective lawns of Mark Harding and the RMT cost an extortionate amount of public money in a time when those instigating it spend their days lecturing the poor and the disabled about national debt. The biggest irony of all is that the original dispute spawning the government sponsored witch hunt of Mark Harding was born from an operational landgrab masquerading as a response to an austerity that is almost as counterproductive as the approach of the London Underground management he and his fellow union members continue to oppose in the public interest.