Day Two of ASLEF annual conference

15 May 2012

The ASLEF annual conference (AAD) is taking place this week in the Liner Hotel in Liverpool. Among items discussed today were driver training at Arriva Trains Wales, pensions, the environment, time-table changes – and the Middle East. It also heard from Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror and Paul Kenny of the GMB union.


ASLEF members working for Arriva Trains Wales are to be balloted for industrial action for introducing a fast track scheme for managers to ‘equip’ them for driving. The issue has been live since last December but ATW has now identified three people they wish to train in a course so reduced that they would only take the train a mile or so!

Mick Whelan said, ‘There is no driver training course in the country that has not been agreed with ASLEF, for sound professional reasons. Once we allow them to dictate to us in this area, we could see the doors open to truncated courses that will effectively de-skill our grade.’

He also identified health and safety issues. ‘If a manager is assessing someone who doesn’t come up to standard, they take over the train. They will not be equipped to do so.’


This year’s AAD reaffirmed the fact that pensions are a right and not a benefit, and resolved that anyone changing a scheme to the detriment of ASLEF members will automatically lead to a dispute. The West Brompton branch reports that the TFL Pension Fund Trustees has refused to increase pensions for post-1989 retired members in line with the September 2011 RPI (inflation) which was 5.6%.


The union is committed to developing an ASLEF environmental policy that can be used to assist the industry to become increasingly pollution-free. While one of the attractions of rail is that it is environmentally friendly compared with shipping, aviation and road, our industry still consumes massive amounts of fuel – which in turn produces millions of tonnes of CO2 gasses. ‘It is not enough to be top of the environmental second division,’ was the message from this year’s conference. ‘We want to develop ideas that will make us the premier union for environmental care.’

The union accepts that progress has been made by some train operators. We are seeing lighter trains, regenerative braking systems and economical driving methods. There may be other reasons from management for these positive moves than enlightenment (such as the price of oil) but whatever the motivation, they are to be welcomed.

The study should involve branches, company councils and members to get details about energy saving driving techniques - and schemes to share these savings with ASLEF members. The timetable for the report would be at least in time to report back to next year’s union conference (AAD).


The union is also to press Network Rail to bring forward the major timetable change forward from December to September. This is because the December timetable changes make it impossible for drivers to plan leave over the Christmas period, and can result in leave days being lost.


Kevin strolled up to the rostrum, looked around the hall and said ASLEF was a major union, even if small in size. ‘There is a phrase ‘small is beautiful’,’ Kevin said. ‘But looking around the room I think ‘small is powerful’ might be better!’

He saw us through the seven ASLEF GS’s he had known with great humour and considerable insight before analysing the media’s considerable hostility to unions who, as employers themselves, sided with employers. In fact, he said, if the phrase ‘the Big Society’ had not been stolen, it applies absolutely to trade unions. ‘You define it,’ Kevin said.

Kevin spoke about the shame he sometimes felt about his own profession and the depths to which it had fallen in the case of Milly Dowler. ’But the breaking of Murdoch can only be good for working people,’ he said. ‘And making this Tory government a one-term government would be just as good!’


Professor Manual Hassassian, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, told delegates that there can be no military solution to the problems of the Middle East. He said that the religious dimension of the conflict ‘scares me to death ‘, saying that the failure of the mainstream to clinch an agreement contributes to the growth of both extreme Jews and Hamas.

But equally the Israeli continual creation of more settlements and the state policy of ‘land grab’ cannot be sustained. ‘There is pressure on the Palestinians to recognise not the state of Israel, which we do – but to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. We accept a state, but a Jewish state is a racist state. This we cannot accept. One and a half million Palestinians live there. They are Israelis. If we accept a Jewish state, what happens to them? And it means the denial of the right of return of those Palestinians who have left.’

The acceptance of a Jewish state was not applied to Egypt, Jordan or the UN, he argued. And their security depends on their acceptance of a separate Palestinian state. It cannot be achieved by annexation of land and the isolation of Jerusalem. He called for a boycott of all goods from occupied territories.

The Ambassador warned that the imposition of Western democracy onto the Arab world would never work, because of its contradictions with Islamic culture. ‘In Sharia law there is consultation: but not your concept of democracy: the idea of voting and then nothing for five years is ludicrous to us. These ideas cannot be forced upon us. Our concept of the state is enmeshed with religion. ‘

He was scathing about the US’s unquestioning backing for anything the Israelis came up with and the passive stance of the UK, which he said could create a balance in negotiations – if it chose. He also argued that the furore about the nuclear threat of Iran was encouraged, because it allowed negotiations on Palestinian independence to be put on the back burner. ‘Iran is as important to our security as for theirs,’ the Ambassador insisted.

He also spoke of Palestinian culture, which was under threat as Jewish names were given to streets and other places in occupied territories. ‘Our culture is being stolen,’ he said. ‘That is why we argued to be recognised by UNESCO.’

He called on his Israeli colleagues to ‘make concessions now, while you are strong. Because a time will come when you are not the top dogs, and then concessions are meaningless.’

He concluded, ‘No one wants to wipe a nation out of the world. We have to exist, to live side by side with the Israelis. But we need justice and liberty. You owe it to us to help us to find solutions.’


The TUC President Paul Kenny told this year’s annual conference he once wanted to be one of us. ‘I went for a job on the Underground when I was young. I fancied being a train driver, but it turned out in the tests that I was colour blind – which I suppose is a drawback for a train driver. So apart from that, I might have been delegate here!’

He went on to say, ‘I am unashamedly proud to be a trade unionists. I don’t pretend to my neighbours I am in industrial relations or tell people down the pub I’m in problem solving.

‘Which one of you has had a gaffer come up to you to say they have been worried about you? ‘You’re not getting enough wages, holiday or pensions.’ It doesn’t happen. We got nothing without working for it.

Paul praised ASLEF as ‘an incredibly important and critical union’ that brings key knowledge about the railways. ‘You are the people we rely on, and you have moved into the forefront of our campaigns, like the TUC’s campaign for proper railways. You are our experts.’

Paul spoke of the lack of basic logic the government demonstrates. ‘They want to get cars off the road – so they hike up the cost of fares. They say they want a greener country, so they take money out of the railways – the only industry that can deliver it!’

He argues that people are tired of the austerity argument and are coming to see that there are alternatives. ‘If you want to get the county working, you don’t increase unemployment.’

Government minister Eric Pickles says we all have to work harder and get rid of regulations that will help employers take on more and more people. ‘What is he on? No employment rights mean you can sack people, not employ them.’

To fight back, we need people to be in strong trade unions, he said. But, ‘Don’t just be a trade unionist. Be a proud trade unionist. Be proud of a movement that is about right and wrong, about decency and social justice.'

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