19 Days Remaining

Monday 26th
posted by Morning Star in Features

MICK CARNEY speaks to the Star about Corbyn, music and halting railway privatisation

“JEREMY CORBYN and John McDonnell — they’re like our own Lennon and McCartney.” These are the words of a union official at the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) conference which began last weekend.

We are in Liverpool, so perhaps it’s not surprising to hear musical comparisons.

This is, after all, the city that gave the world the Beatles, Cilla Black, Frankie Goes to Hollywood — and also shadow chancellor John McDonnell, I say reminding them of the Hayes MP’s Merseyside roots.

“Can you believe we heard Jeremy Corbyn quoting [Percy] Shelley to masses at Glastonbury?” I ask as I tuck into what a TSSA official describes as “an Ian Lavery-type breakfast.”

We laugh as we compare this to the reception received by Theresa May who has been booed on recent public outings, including at Armed Forces Day in Liverpool over the weekend.

I am speaking to TSSA president Mick Carney who is musing about the challenges facing the trade union movement, however, like many on the left, he is in a buoyant mood following the general election.

“This is just a stepping stone,” he tells me enthusiastically as he shares Corbyn’s belief that Labour is now a government in waiting.

First elected to the union’s senior lay official post in 2013, Carney is now serving the third of what are two-year presidential terms.

Describing himself as “a lefty,” Carney has worked on the railways since leaving school at the age of 16.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time,” he tells me.

“But the main issue facing our union remains that of privatisation.”

Clearly a popular figure in the union, the London ticket clerk is known as being somewhat of a music aficionado.

As we joke about starting up a trade union version of BBC radio’s Desert Island Discs, I ask him for some recommendations of what to listen to.

“Stormzy, obviously. Well he’s political, but not my cup of tea,” he quips as we discuss Corbyn’s growing popularity among grime artists who famously established a “Grime for Corbyn” group during the recent general election campaign.

“Other than that, I’ve been listening to a lot of Italian cafe music and picked up an incredible Hungarian Communism CD in Budapest recently; it’s very uplifting,” he says and then tells me of his love for country music.

Carney explains that he tuned in to BBC’s Glastonbury coverage while he was writing his address to conference.

“I listened to Radiohead and in between the songs, you had the ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ song going on. At one point Thom Yorke came on and said: ‘Goodbye, Theresa May. Close the door on your way out,’ and the crowd just exploded. The zeitgeist has moved in our direction,” he tells me with a smile on his face.

Carney is a dedicated Labour Party member and the chair of his local Momentum branch in Bromley.

He describes a broad mix of people from 16-year-olds to those up to the age of 80 that attend the groups weekly meetings and quickly dismisses as nonsense the scare stories of infiltration by the “hard-left” conjured up by the right-wing media.

“These people aren’t entryists. These are people that are looking for a voice. They want something to change. But this isn’t just about Jeremy. This is about the policies and the vision.”

Carney is pleased that there has been a shift away from the “vice-like grip” on the party held by the right-wing Progress faction.

He talks about how the younger generation are engaging in politcal discussions and how Jeremy Corbyn has “caught the mood.”

“It would be unfair to Jeremy to say that he is just the right person at the right time. He has laid out a vision of hope. And don’t tell me that young people aren’t interested in politics. They’ve been written off for far too long.”

He explains how he spent and hour and a half discussing politics on the phone with a friend’s young son who is an apprentice mechanic.

“He started off the conversation thinking he was a Tory as he didn’t like the idea of people sitting around at home getting paid for doing nothing,” Carney says.

“By the end of our chat, I’d convinced him that the real problem is employers paying poverty wages and that most people who receive benefits are actually in work.

“At the end of the conversation he’d been convinced to vote Labour and made his dad take him to the polling station and vote Labour too.”

It is this patience and ability to listen that has served Carney well in the trade union movement. And he understand the challenges facing the TSSA as they meet for their annual conference. And naturally for a transport union, one of the biggest challenges remains the privatisation of Britain’s rail network.

“It’s the main issue facing our union,” Carney tells me. He explains that the TSSA has been calling for renationalisation of the railways to become Labour Party policy since 2004 and often found themselves in opposition with the parliamentary party.

He saw the “seeds of a change” under Miliband and said they were willing to listen, although feels he was perhaps afraid of standing up to people in his own party.

“But it was very clear that there was a shift when Jeremy came in, he was very pro-renationalisation of the railways.”

TSSA delegates have been strong supporters of Corbyn and the Labour Party and will discuss and debate many of the issues facing the movement over the course of the conference.

With Mick Carney as president and Manuel Cortes as general secretary, the union is well-positioned to deal with the challenges facing the movement. As one of Carney’s favourite musicians would say: “The times they are a changing.”


• Mick Carney is president of the TSSA. Steve Sweeney is a Morning Star reporter. You can contact him on Twitter on @SteveSweeney.