Kieran Crowe reports on the growing campaign to defend a tube worker - arrested on a picket line, held for thirteen hours, then charged under the Serious Organised Crime Act
Last night, around a hundred people gathered in a small Camden pub to meeting called by the RMT union at incredibly short notice. They were to show their support for Mark Harding, a longstanding RMT activist, representative and local branch secretary who is subject to one of the most outrageous and politicised anti-union prosecutions in recent years.
As part of last week’s major strike action by the RMT and TSSA transport workers’ unions on London Underground (LU), who were striking as a result of Tory Mayor Boris Johnson’s reversal of his pledge to keep ticket offices open, Mark had been delegated by his members to take part in an official picket at Hammersmith station.
While on this picket line, a person who was going into work made the accusation that Mark had called him a ‘scab’ and ‘intimidated’ him, prompting the British Transport Police (BTP) to arrest Mark on a public order offence.
Other witnesses have stated that the BTP took no action of any kind while people on the picket line received considerable verbal abuse. Mark spent thirteen hours in a police cell, during which time the charge against him was increased to a breach of trade union law under the Serious Organised Crime Act!
The initial bail conditions against Mark, which basically banned him from all his official trade union duties, were so restrictive that it was not clear – until they were reduced just before the actual meeting – if he would be able to attend his own support meeting, or even if accessing union communications was itself a bail breach!
Many people came from both the striking unions RMT and TSSA, as well the other union that represents LU drivers Aslef and many others including the public sector unions PCS and Unison. It is a testament to the sheer number of people that Mark (very popular both as a rep and a person!) has given help and advice to over the years that there was such a big turnout. It also shows, as Mark himself noted on the night, that this case is not simply about him, but an attempt to criminalise and intimidate the whole labour movement: the unions are still fighting for a thousand LU jobs.
The RMT will producing campaign material to defend Mark this week, which will be available on the RMT website, including petitions and motions for union branches. It is crucial that trade unionists get behind the defence of Mark and continue to support the fight for jobs and services on LU.
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