Feb 2007 - ASLEF: protecting our family interests

01 June 2013

I OFTEN think that trade unions fail in one area: we don’t make enough of our successes. Part of the trouble is that by the time union negotiators – at local, branch, regional or national level – have come to an agreement, they are off on the next set of talks. So they don’t find the time to publicise what has been achieved. It’s understandable, because we’re all busy: but it is a failing.

Add to this the fact that the media are only interested in unions when we are threatening a strike or falling out with Labour, and our image is dour and negative. Well, I can’t speak for other unions, but ASLEF isn’t either of these things.

I am proud of our union’s achievements. At national level we have put freight on rail on the political agenda, we’ve raised the profile of corporate manslaughter laws, we are an authoritative voice on rail safety and we’re making cab conditions both an industrial and political issue. It’s a pretty impressive record for a small union – and I think it makes a convincing argument for specialised unions with specific memberships and concerns, especially at a time when others are forming mega-unions.

Our membership is growing and you will see on the centre pages how we are aiming to recruit other potential members. We’re doing it ‘ASLEF style’: that is, person to person, driver to driver. We don’t employ teams of organisers, and we don’t chase up people with hard-sell letters from headquarters. We don’t do ‘flash’: we do fact.

Other unions don’t seem to realise the special bond that unite our members. Train drivers are a family and ASLEF protects the family’s interests. I know there are other unions who would like to take us over, either individually or collectively, but they find it difficult to explain the advantages to us – basically because there aren’t any. We represent a tight group of professional specialist interests. We have nothing to gain from complicating life.

The fact is that other unions don’t want ASLEF members in order to improve drivers’ wages and conditions. They want to use our members’ industrial strength for their own ends. They see us as a strike-force for their other ambitions. It’s not something our members are going to fall for.

In fact, I’m even beginning to see a positive side to the rough period we have been through over the past three years. It has made us re-examine our whole organisation, and ourselves – and I think we have emerged from it stronger than ever. Now we can benefit from a new period of stability to introduce technology and improve our communications.

I hope that when I leave my position as your general secretary in five years’ time, we will be more efficient, united and informed than ever – and that we’ve learned how to blow our own trumpets to advertise these facts to our membership and to the wider society.

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