RMT AGM says: no to the oppression of the Uyghur people!

By Daniel Randall, RMT AGM delegate (personal capacity)

The recent Annual General Meeting of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers (RMT) took a strong stance in opposition to China’s oppression of the Uyghurs. The motion it passed overwhelmingly, submitted by my branch, RMT Bakerloo, described the oppression as “one of the worst human rights abuses ongoing in the world today”, and noted the class element of the oppression via the policy of forced labour. The motion situated support for Uyghur human rights in the tradition of workers’ action against injustice, and cited “Scottish factory workers who refused to repair jet engines for Pinochet’s regime, and dockers who have refused to load ships transporting munitions to Saudi Arabia.”

In moving the motion, I stressed that, as transport workers in a globally-interconnected economy, our labour could be used to transport goods produced by forced Uyghur labour. I called for RMT to investigate these global supply chains, via our sister unions in the International Transport workers’ Federation (ITF), and explore how workers’ action could disrupt them. As I stated at the conference, “unionised labour should never allow itself to be used to turn the wheels of oppression.”

Crucially, the motion also took a strong stance against inter-imperialist rivalry, militarist posturing, and anti-Chinese racism. The motion stated: “This union wholly rejects ‘Cold War’ posturing from Western governments towards China. We look to solidarity between peoples, and most centrally between working classes and labour movements, as the mechanism for winning greater rights and freedom, not the hypocritical posturing of rival states. We oppose Sinophobia and other forms of racism and bigotry. We affirm our solidarity with the working class of China.” The workers’ movement does not need to line up behind either big power bloc, or any faction of any ruling class, but must advance its own perspective of international solidarity with workers and oppressed peoples.

The conference also debated a motion, submitted by the union’s Paddington No. 1 branch, proposing that the union endorse the “No Cold War” campaign, and organise a delegation to China to meet with the official, state-run trade unions. I spoke against this motion, arguing that the No Cold War campaign has platformed apologism for the Chinese state and denials of its oppressions of the Uyghurs, and that any union delegation to China that met with state-run bodies would be an exercising in whitewashing (or, perhaps, “red-washing”) the regime. The conference ultimately rejected the motion.

I look forward to working within my union to build more active support for the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign.


Support the Rights of the Uyghur People

Motion proposed by Bakerloo Line Branch and passed by the RMT AGM 2021

This union notes that the Uyghurs and other majority-Muslim peoples in East Turkestan/Xinjiang face intense surveillance; curbs on political, cultural and religious freedoms; forced contraception and sterilisation; and hundreds of thousands have been interned in concentration camps. This repression, which is clearly verifiable in the Chinese state’s own documentation, represents one of the worst human rights abuses ongoing in the world today1.

This union further notes that this repression is also a workers’ rights issue, as Western companies — including Nike, Apple, and Zara — profit from cheap, intensely exploited labour in China, including forced Uyghur labour.

This union believes that the labour movement at its best has always stood for freedom and equality, and in solidarity with those suffering oppression and injustice. In particular we honour the tradition of Scottish factory workers who refused to repair jet engines for Pinochet’s regime, and dockers who have refused to load ships transporting munitions to Saudi Arabia and seek to emulate their spirit of international working-class solidarity.

This union wholly rejects Cold War’ posturing from Western governments towards China. We look to solidarity between peoples, and most centrally between working classes and labour movements, as the mechanism for winning greater rights and freedom, not the hypocritical posturing of rival states. We oppose Sinophobia and other formers of racism and bigotry. We affirm our solidarity with the working class of China.

This union notes that our Bakerloo branch and London Transport Regional Council have supported demonstrations organised by the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign, a labour-movement-based campaign supported by the PCS union at national level, and numerous local union branches including Barnet NEU, Barnet Unison, and Camden Unison.

This union therefore resolves to oppose the repression of the Uyghur people and support their right to freedom and self-determination. We further resolve to support the Uyghur Solidarity Campaign. and promote their material and activity to our branches, Regional Councils, and members. We further resolve to raise the issue within the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and discuss with our ITF sister unions how transport workers can use our power to challenge supply chains based on forced labour.

1. See, for example, the leaked Chinese state documents reported on and published here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/16/world/asia/china-xinjiang-documents.html

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