It’s official, in my humble opinion: Mick Lynch has done more for working people in the past couple of days than Keir Starmer has done in more than two years as leader of the Labour Party.
You know, the actual Labour Party, meant to represent working people, who are currently being subjected to spiralling inflation, exploding energy bills and real-term wage cuts – the clue’s in the name, Keir.
Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, has swept the floor with politicians and broadcast journalists alike as he defends this week’s strike action by rail workers – and explains, with saint-like levels of patience, why it is necessary.
As far as the media round is concerned; he came, he saw, he conquered. Cue a slew of celebratory memes, with Mick Lynch cast in the role of Chuck Norris, and videos of him “bodying” Tories. His Wikipedia entry was altered to read: “He holds the record for most arses handed out during his media appearances on 21 June 2022.”
Actor Hugh Laurie tweeted: “I don’t know enough about the rail dispute. I only observe that RMT’s Mick Lynch cleaned up every single media picador who tried their luck today.”
A stolid, unflappable presence, Lynch just isn’t phased by “nonsense”, like Tory MP Jonathan Gullis’s attempt to make out that the RMT and strikers don’t care about veterans, or that they should be apologising to doctors and nurses. You can smell the desperation, and in a way, I do feel for Gullis, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, because it all seems so transparent to me.
Quick! Bring out our beloved NHS (where nurses are forced to use food banks, but don’t mention that bit) and the brave armed forces! That’ll get Joe Public up in arms against people who have the temerity to use their bargaining power after negotiations failed in a raging tornado of a cost of living crisis!
Mick Lynch doesn’t rise to any of it. He manages to make it quite obvious that his tolerance for bull**** is low, but he’s only going to get excited when he really has to. He delivers his points with clarity and enough passion to become a socialist pin-up, but without being accused of hysteria or being, you know, too revolutionary. It also helps that – in my view – he’s on the right side of the argument.
Next to Lynch, Keir Starmer looks every inch the cardboard man. Grey and insipid, he seems more concerned about what the Tories might say than actually standing up for working people – those he’s supposed to serve.
He’s the politician whose leadership manifesto, the 10 pledge platform upon which he stood for election, included “strengthen workers rights and trade unions”.
If anyone’s in need of a refresher, it reads: “Work shoulder to shoulder with trade unions to stand up for working people, tackle insecure work and low pay. Repeal the Trade Union Act. Oppose Tory attacks on the right to take industrial action and the weakening of workplace rights.”
Funny, then, that he’s refused to openly back the rail strikes and banned his frontbench from the picket lines.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
Mick Lynch’s refusal to apologise for doing his job – fighting for the fair remuneration that rail staff deserve, that every worker deserves, while Starmer essentially neglects his – is a stark reminder of the deep and abiding disappointment the last couple of years have been under his leadership.
It seems to me that since Starmer first started to show that he has no intention of fulfilling the promises he made in order to be elected by the party membership, pulped the Corbyn project – and abandoned the common sense, left-wing principles that might just make this country work for more people than a handful of wealthy elites – hope has been in dangerously short supply.
Analysis of Google search data shows that searches for “join union” exploded 184 per cent in the UK as of 22 June. This is the highest level in over a year, according to recruitment experts Workello. That means workers are looking after their rights, and backing themselves. The message seems to be: if we don’t, no one’s going to do it for us – not this government, and clearly not the current Labour leadership.
Mick Lynch is fast becoming a national treasure. The iconic moment when he went up against Labour frontbencher Baroness Chapman, and told her “I don’t even know who you are” was social media gold. Maybe it’s because we’ve been so unbelievably starved of a dynamic, left-wing Labour for the past couple of years, but to me, Lynch feels like an ice cold draught of water hitting the parched throats of people lost in a desert.