Nov 2009 - ASLEF is more than just a building

01 June 2013

WHEN I went to the Ladbroke Road memorial ceremony last month it brought home to me once again what a tight and close family the railways makes us.


Richard Westlake’s article in this edition talks about receiving 256 cards of support after his accident at Royal Oak. We remember the whole union concern for Iain Black after Grayrigg. But these are only the tip of an iceberg of fraternal concern. There is evidence of it every day. I know there are regular contributions from branches to appeals for drivers down on their luck that never get a mention.


We have so many things in common that bring us together. Certainly being members of a single union helps; but there is the common language we use, the jargon of our profession that we all understand.


There’s the fact that we all instantly know and sympathise with incidents on the line. We understand as no one else can the challenges and the joys of driving trains.


The idea of what makes our union has been on my mind since last year’s conference gave the executive committee the authority to sell our head office building at Arkwright Road. Would we be losing some of our ASLEF traditions and heritage?


I remember coming up that hill many years ago to my first meeting in Hampstead. I’d just become Cardiff’s branch secretary after Gwyn Hyde died suddenly. I met Ray Buckton in the general secretary’s office and he gave me all the advice and help I needed at that time.


Now I walk in those doors every day, and I have to say I still feel a sense of pride and pleasure in the old place.


But ASLEF is not a three story building in a leafy north London suburb. Our heritage is not in a stately home on the hill. Arkwright Road has served us well over the years and many of us will retain fond memories of debates, education sessions or executive sessions in its rooms.


But it is not ASLEF. Our real heritage and traditions are on the track and in the cab. That is what bonds us: a single profession, a common understanding.


Our current head office is a tool that has served us well. I believe it is time now to upgrade that tool, and while we might, as with steam, feel a continuing affection, our union has never been one to deny or resist progress and change.

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