Anti-monarchist union firebrand whose profile picture is evil Thunderbirds mastermind: Train strikes will have a devastating impact… but Mick Lynch seems to take an almost sadistic pleasure in the upheaval, writes ANDREW PIERCE
On his Facebook page, the militant railway union boss Mick Lynch has posted as his profile picture a photograph of The Hood, the terrorist and criminal mastermind in classic 1960s puppet TV series Thunderbirds.
It’s a curious choice. Fans of Thunderbirds will be aware that The Hood is feared as the world’s most dangerous man, whose main aim is the acquisition of wealth, ‘regardless of justice and ethics’.
As Lynch’s RMT union embarks on a series of strikes, which will amount to the worst industrial strife in Britain for 35 years, in support of an unrealistic 11.1 per cent pay rise, many commuters will view this as an extremely accurate description of its modus operandi.
The strikes involving 50,000 RMT staff, including train drivers who earn up to £60,000-a-year, will take place over three alternate days later this month to cause maximum disruption.
They will have a devastating impact on everything from businesses and schools to Test match cricket and music festivals such as Glastonbury. Rail freight could also be hit, resulting in empty shelves and petrol shortages.
Yet far from being apologetic, Lynch, 60, seems to take an almost sadistic pleasure in the upheaval the industrial action will cause.
Mick Lynch pictured during an address to a crowd in March this year. The hard-left RMT boss has said he has ‘no choice’ but to hold the summer to ransom amid further rail strikes
On his Facebook page, Mr Lynch’s profile picture is of The Hood, the terrorist and criminal mastermind in Thunderbirds
Intriguingly, one of the pictures on his Facebook page is a still from the Alan Partridge TV show in which Steve Coogan appears as an IRA sympathiser
Warning of the ‘biggest strike in modern history’ he said its effects would be felt ‘from the north of Scotland down to the tip of Cornwall, from Wick to Penzance’. He adds: ‘The unions have got to make a militant stand — and use the strike weapon wherever it’s appropriate.’
Lynch has certainly had plenty of experience of deploying the strike weapon. In the past three years, the RMT has balloted for strike action on no fewer than 204 occasions, even managing to clock up 49 strike votes in 2020 when Covid shut down much of the rail industry.
These figures underline the union’s reputation as the most militant in the country.
Despite RMT staff earning an average £46,000 a year, fat-cat Lynch is demanding pay is increased in line with the RPI (Retail Price Index), rather than the CPI (Consumer Price Inflation), the measure used by almost all of the public sector. This is a canny move, as the RPI currently stands at over 11 per cent, compared with the CPI at 9 per cent.
In May last year, in his first major interview after being elected as general secretary, Lynch could not have been clearer about his intentions. ‘At the moment we are warming up our members,’ he said. ‘We fully expect to be involved in industrial action on the railways this year.’
A strident republican, his anti-monarchist views might explain why the RMT threatened at one point to stage industrial action over the Platinum Jubilee weekend at Green Park Tube station, the closest to Buckingham Palace, and Euston railway station, one of the busiest in the country.
Commuters form large queues for buses outside Victoria Station during the morning rush hour following RMT strikes on Monday
Perhaps he came to the belated conclusion that such a move would prove a PR disaster — whatever the motivation, the planned strike was called off at the 11th hour.
An avowed admirer of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the RMT boss once declared ‘all I want from life is a bit of socialism’. Yet he enjoys a distinctly unproletarian salary package of £124,000.
In all, he’s earned £763,000 in salary and benefits since joining the RMT in 2015, a level of remuneration that means he can afford to live in a £950,000 terrace house in the leafy West London district of Ealing.
It’s all a far cry from his origins. His Irish Catholic parents Jack and Nellie came to London during the Blitz as teenagers, when it was still easier to find work in the bombed-out English capital than in Ireland, and Mick and his four siblings were born in ‘rented rooms that would now be called slums, the old tin bath and shared toilet with other families’.
Intriguingly, one of the pictures on his Facebook page is a still from the Alan Partridge TV show in which Steve Coogan appears as an IRA sympathiser, who belts out the Irish rebel song Come Out Ye Black And Tans.
After leaving school at 16 to become an electrician, Lynch moved into construction. But his work in the building trade came to an abrupt end when he was blacklisted because of his union activities, an illegal sanction that paid dividends for Lynch 20 years later when he received a large settlement in compensation.
Along the way, he married Mary, an NHS nurse, in 1993 and today they have three children.
He entered the railway industry when he got a job with the Channel Tunnel train operator Eurostar, swiftly working his way up the trade union ladder.
In 2019, he secured the top position at the RMT when he was named acting general secretary after his predecessor Mick Cash quit early through stress, accusing factions within the union of conducting a campaign of harassment.
By the autumn of 2020, Lynch had been worn down too, and gave up his role citing the ‘intolerable, toxic’ atmosphere in the union’s national executive committee (NEC).
In a letter to Michelle Rodgers, the then national president of the union, Lynch accused the NEC of being ‘overbearing, harassing and bullying towards myself… and generally making it impossible for the union to be managed properly, efficiently, or professionally’.
He added: ‘As I perceive it, this union is currently beset with seemingly intractable problems that have created an intolerable, toxic atmosphere which makes a good relationship between myself and the National Executive Committee impossible.’
But Lynch is nothing if not resilient and in May 2021 he was elected as the union’s new general secretary, this time on a permanent basis.
He inherited an organisation that had once been a long-standing supporter of the Labour Party but in 2004, with Tony Blair at the helm, the historic link between the country’s biggest railway workers’ union and New Labour was broken when it was expelled for backing hard-Left Socialist candidates at elections.
Under Lynch, however, the union is still giving tens of thousands of pounds to individual Labour MPs, including six members of party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s frontbench. Two of these have gone public with their support for a series of Tube strikes as recently as March. Labour’s Shadow Climate Change Minister Olivia Blake said: ‘Solidarity with RMT Union members taking strike action on the Tube this week, fighting to protect their pensions & jobs.’
And Shadow Minister for Future of Work, Imran Hussain, said: ‘Solidarity with RMT union members on strike today.’ While Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, who has taken £5,700 of the over £100,000 the RMT has given to Labour since 2017, has been more circumspect, the question remains: do these continuing links explain the silence from the Labour leadership over the strike?
Mick Lynch will be hoping so.
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