ASLEF says ‘We’ll talk to Tories’

11 September 2008

At this week’s TUC the biggest union in the country – Unite – said that it wasn’t prepared to talk to the Tories. ASLEF took a different line. General Secretary Keith Norman said he would talk to anyone if he thought it would improve the prospects and conditions of UK train drivers.


The differences emerged as it was revealed that several unions had already held discussions with Richard Balfe, who is the Conservatives ‘trade union envoy’. Last March Mr Balfe became the first elected politician to abandon Labour for the Tories. Up to that point he had been the longest-serving Labour member of the European Parliament.


Keith says that his willingness to discuss the future of rail and the conditions of train drivers with David Cameron’s representatives by no means indicates that he has resigned himself to Labour losing the next election. ‘It would be foolish to give up on an election that is two years away,’ he said. ‘There is plenty of time for Labour to change and recover. Being traditional Labour supporters doesn’t conflict with us talking to other parties.’


ASLEF is a very small donor to Labour, but a number of unions who make huge donations support the union’s position. The GMB, Unison, USDAW and the CWU have already met Mr Balfe. ‘Last time the Tories were in government we complained that they didn’t speak to us,’ Keith says. ‘It is hardly logical that we now refuse to speak to them!’


Keith confirmed that ASLEF had meetings with Boris Johnson’s advisors in the pipe-line. ‘If you don’t speak to people, you can hardly blame them for ignoring you. We’d speak to the devil incarnate if was for the benefit of our members,’ he said, before joking that it looks as if we might have to!


The only statement from the Cameron camp about rail at the moment is that they are ‘considering a feasibility study for high speed rail’. ‘Clearly if this is as far as their thinking has developed, they need our help,’ Keith declared.

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