It’s a reception the RMT general secretary has surely gotten used to. As far as union officials go, Lynch’s media performances at the height of the rail dispute this summer could be described as tour de force. Even-tempered, concise and direct, “Mick mania” took off, particularly among very online young people – including one fancam soundtracked by Billie Eilish’s “My Boy”. “Let me tell you,” tweeted Huck commissioning editor Ben Smoke, “the Mick Lynch thirst in the gay group chats today is very real.”
It’s not hard to see why the youth appeal is real. Under-40s have been living the majority of their adult life, it seems, in a state of perma-crisis: stagnating wages, a dysfunctional housing market, and the jeopardy of economic collapse never far off the bingo card.
So when Mick Lynch stands up and says “we refuse to be poor anymore”, it gets a response. Because for many, it’s less feeling the pinch, and more a bracing financial chokehold.
“He’s a big part of the reason this movement has taken off,” says Ronan Burtenshaw, the national campaign co-ordinator of Enough Is Enough, a movement Lynch has had a hand in building. “He’s recognisable. He’s reasonable. He appeals to common sense.”
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the rail strike the RMT co-ordinated over the summer has a quirk. One Opinium poll at the time showed 45 percent of the public to be supportive of the industrial action, with only 37 percent opposed. Approval ratings on this scale, Burtenshaw says, are “unheard of”.
“For so many people to support a strike that massively inconveniences them – it’s the first time in my life I’ve seen that, and I’ve been a trade unionist since I was 16.”
Enough Is Enough is an organisation borne of that sentiment. According to Burtenshaw, it is conceived out of, and funded by, the trade union movement, including the RMT, but is separate from it. It also has roots in community campaign groups, like Fans Supporting Foodbanks and ACORN Tenants Union.
This, he says, is part of the reason for its wider appeal, one that saw the website crash on its first day due to the amount of people signing up. That, along with the fact that many people who never expected to find themselves in financial difficulty are now facing the squeeze.
“They’re young people,” Burtenshaw says. “They’re small business owners. They’re people who maybe aren’t always fans of trade unions but feel the demands we’re making are reasonable.”
The question is: What exactly is Enough Is Enough demanding?
Five things, Taj Ali, a young activist from Luton, tells me. A real pay rise in line with inflation, slashed energy bills, an end to food poverty, decent affordable housing for all and taxing the rich. “Basically, the message is: We’re broke and we need the government to do better.”
It’s a simple message, slickly delivered. Enough Is Enough boasts a well-oiled social media operation, harnessing the profile of members like Zarah Sultana MP, a regular rally speaker, who posts about the campaign to her 400,000 TikTok followers.
But, Ali says, the reach goes beyond the kinds of people who normally show up at events like these. “It’s usually people on higher incomes who can afford the time,” he explains. “That feels as if it’s changing.”
“We’ve always had a cost of living crisis in Luton,” he explains. “It’s extremely diverse here, but it’s where the English Defence League started. These rallies are seeing people come out from different communities, because most are struggling in some way.” In this, Ali points to a problem that has besieged such movements in the past: that too often, it’s middle class, urban and white. The demographics are widening, he says. More people of colour, as well as the “white working class” – people who aren’t activists, but who feel they have skin in the game.
Ali and I speak the day after the mini-budget, which saw the Chancellor announce the biggest package of tax cuts in 50 years, including abolishing the top rate of 45 percent. The pound has taken a nosedive, and interest rates look set to rise in response. The demands of Enough Is Enough, I suggest, don’t look close to being met.
“That’s why raising awareness like this is so important,” Ali says. “It’s building towards October 1st.” That’s the date that Enough Is Enough is leading a National Day of Action, including protests in coordination with planned strikes from the RMT and CWU.
The hope is that it will put pressure on the government to do more to help in what will be, for many, a harrowing winter. If EIE’s membership – reportedly over 700,000 – can be mobilised, the turnout could be significant.
“It doesn’t just feel like a left-wing rally. The sheer numbers of people there would indicate to me that it goes beyond that usual demographic,” says Laura Dickinson, a voluntary organiser for the campaign based in the north of England. “The government and the opposition don’t seem to have the answers to this crisis, so people are turning elsewhere.”
If energy bills were the catalyst for this movement, then, I put to Dickinson, the government have taken some steps to address it, borrowing record amounts in doing so. But, Dickinson stresses, the £2,500 cap isn’t enough. “We need to revert to pre-April levels, instead of using taxpayers’ money to bail out energy companies who are making record profits.” These companies, says Dickinson, will be the focus of the protests on Saturday.
But is there a risk, I ask Burtenshaw, that having such a wide set of demands dilutes the message? “That’s always a danger of that,” he admits. “But there are limits to single issue campaigns in a society that is as broken as Britain. If you’re fighting for a five percent wage increase, only for rent to go up by 15 percent, you’re filling a bucket with a hole in it. So you have to have a broad approach.”
Does that broad approach include Labour? As the rally in Liverpool takes place, the party conference is in full swing just down the road. The latest YouGov poll gives Keir Starmer’s party a 33 point lead, the party’s highest since at least the invention of the iPhone.
“The solutions to our problems can’t be found in Westminster,” says Burtenshaw, though he expresses frustration at the Labour leadership’s reticence to show up and support workers on picket lines. It’s a sentiment shared by many members of the trade union movement, who say the Labour leader isn’t doing enough to show solidarity with workers. (Starmer, for his part, has argued that the best thing for workers would be a Labour government).
Enough is Enough may not be affiliated with the Labour Party, but it does have some heavy hitters onboard. As well as Sultana, Manchester mayor and former Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham is a supporter. The August rally he spoke at in his city saw over 2,000 people attend, including local business owners, and, Burtenshaw says, people who say they voted Conservative in 2019, or aren’t political at all.
“I remember the Lancashire dinner lady who showed up at the Manchester rally, who said that she didn’t get into the job of being a dinner lady to starve kids,” he says. “But they show up, they don’t have tokens, and she can’t feed them, so she has to turn them away and humiliate them in front of their whole class.”
On Burtenshaw’s part, he isn’t naive to the challenges movements like this face. In an age where transience in politics is the norm – remember Change UK? – it can be difficult for campaign groups to maintain relevance and sway with the broad coalition that Enough Is Enough claim to attract. But he’s emphatic: “When you hear stories like that, of a dinner lady crying because she can’t feed kids in the sixth richest economy in the world, you think, why not try and build a movement like this?
“Why not try and empower people to make a change? Why not?”