The RMT union boss Mick Lynch is currently dominating TV screens and social media, making mincemeat out of politicians and broadcast interviewers alike. Hapless Tory MPs that attempted to recite pre-rehearsed cliches and dodgy statistics have been gunned down by the mature, considered and, yes, gruffly charming manner of Lynch.
In a previous life, I had the unenviable job of being the Sun’s industrial correspondent, when such jobs existed. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s when unions were important red-top fodder for the very simple reason that, no matter how militant the organisation, their members read the tabloids even if they disagreed with the politics. As a result, union leaders (with a couple of notable exceptions) would talk to me realising that even if the paper was against them, their message stood a chance of getting through. Later, after leaving the paper, I freelanced and spent a few years doing media training. In both lines of work, I dearly wished I had dealt with more like Mick Lynch.
There were always those who, like Lynch, had come up through the ranks having ‘worked on the tools’, doing the jobs of the people they would go on to represent. But they often lacked the calm composure needed to deal with awkward questions and would bluster or say the wrong thing. In contrast, those who were career union leaders were often too smooth, too polished and cleverly evasive in a way that made you think you had got a good interview only to look at your notes later and realised they had not said anything of interest.
Mick Lynch is not a normal union leader in that he is, well, normal. It’s as if he has taken the best bits of previous examples of the job and moulded them into a finished article – the working-classness of a Ron Todd, the temperament of Bill Jordan, the passion of Rodney Bickerstaffe and the wit and wisdom of another rail union leader, Jimmy Knapp, one of the nicest I ever dealt with.