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EDITIONS
Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Prescott quits rail union
John Prescott
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has resigned from the union he joined as a teenager because he says it is trying to dictate how he should vote in Parliament.

His decision comes after the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted on Tuesday to cut its funding to several Labour MPs, including Mr Prescott, and instead help a new campaign group of left-wingers.


This is indeed a personal and very sad day for me

John Prescott
Mr Prescott is the government's most prominent trade union supporter and his move will be seen as symbolic of a growing gap between the Labour leadership and some unions.

RMT leader Bob Crow denied he was trying to dictate to MPs but argued working people were under-represented in Parliament.

Mr Crow has said the union will only pay MPs who swear an oath agreeing with its aims, including the re-nationalisation of the railways.

But Mr Prescott said he was not prepared to be subjected to such a "loyalty test" which was totally unacceptable.

Cook weighs in

Mr Prescott's stance was backed by Commons leader Robin Cook who told MPs he was "not to be bought" despite being another RMT-sponsored MP.

"Whilst I will welcome support in fighting elections from anybody who broadly supports Labour's values and wishes to work for a Labour victory, I'm not to be bought for any particular agenda."

Earlier he told the House: "I've long valued a long relationship with the RMT which over many years has been very useful to both of us as a source of dialogue and information."

To shouts of "and money", Mr Cook added: "I can certainly say to you that my constituency has to fight elections and I suspect yours does too.

"Everything I have received has been openly declared and openly registered and the House is well aware of that."

Like Mr Prescoot, Mr Cook has refused to sign up to policy demands from the RMT's leadership.

'Sad day'

In a statement, Mr Prescott said: "As a long-standing MP and trade unionist it is unacceptable that my trade union, the RMT, should dictate how a Member of Parliament should vote."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT
Bob Crow: Working people are under-represented
Mr Prescott, who joined the National Union of Seamen as a 17-year-old before it merged with into the RMT, said his resignation from the union was a "personal and very sad day for me".

Taking the "loyalty test" would go against his duty to his constituents, Labour Party rules and break parliamentary privilege, he argued.

"The endorsement of this policy by the RMT conference on such a fundamental principle leaves me feeling that I have no alternative but to resign my membership of the RMT," he continued.

Disenchantment

Mr Prescott said he was "convinced" this kind of policy would undermine the historic and important relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party.

He added: "I have always championed the rights of working people by choice and conviction but never by coercion."

Mr Prescott has faced criticism for renting a flat in Clapham, south London, from the RMT at lower than market rates.

The union told BBC News Online the arrangements over the flat, which Mr Prescott has tried to buy from the RMT, was a "commercial relationship" and would not be affected by his resignation.

Earlier this week, the RMT agreed overwhelmingly to make a hefty cut in its financial contribution to Labour, from 110,000 down to 20,000 - the biggest proportionate reduction so far by any union.

At the root of the unions' disenchantment is the Labour government's refusal to halt the privatisation of public services.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Prescott's resignation was a matter for him.

Back to Labour roots

"What we are trying to do is having a campaign group of MPs and we are asking them to campaign on our proposals and policies," said Mr Crow.

"John Prescott is not being dictated to. We are not asking him to vote on nay of these issues at all, whatsoever.

"It is a matter for John Prescott how he votes. He is elected by his constituency at the end of the day.

"But I do have to say we set the Labour Party up 102 years ago to gain influence for railway workers in Parliament.

"It is no different what we are doing now to what we did 102 years ago."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Jones
"John Prescott is by far the government's most prominent trade unionist"
RMT general secretary Bob Crowe:
"We have not tried to dictate policy to John Prescott"
See also:

26 Jun 02 | UK Politics
27 Mar 02 | Business
26 Mar 02 | UK Politics
07 Sep 01 | UK Politics
25 Mar 02 | UK Politics
21 Jun 01 | UK Politics
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