July 2008 - Only active branches can deliver efficient trade unions

01 June 2013

I MIGHT sound as if I’m talking down my job – but it is a fact that trade unions are only efficient when they are well organised at local and branch level. If we didn’t have active and enthusiastic local reps and branch secretaries, ASLEF would be nothing.

I was thinking about this because of the clumsy attempts of some renegades who recently tried to set up another rail union because they had lost positions within their own. It struck me that these people know nothing about unions, or they would not bother. They gave each other titles like ‘general secretary’ and ‘organiser’ – but without activists all they have is titles. They pretend to be emperors – but I’m afraid they’re not wearing trousers! It’s an unpleasant image, I know …

Trade union organisation is based on its foundations. Quite rightly, this is where power lies and where democracy is based. The demands and aspirations of our members are reflected up the union structure, and acted upon by the national executive. The members tell the general secretary what to do, not the other way round. Unless there is this flow of information, I cannot do my job.

Let me give you an example, remarkable because it is infrequent. Last month we sent out a survey on train companies’ policies on trauma support, especially after a fatal incident. Normally most company councils send us a report in good time.

Last month it didn’t happen – we only had responses from Gatwick Express and Trans Pennine Express. It means we are less confident about what we should be seeking. I’m not seeking to criticise or to blame, and I know the period before our AAD is unusually hectic – but I think it does illustrate my point. Without our activists, we are a hollow organisation.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind freight members about the independent study into shift work and fatigue commissioned by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and backed by ASLEF. Later this month all freight drivers will be asked to complete a questionnaire and keep a diary on the issue. I hope you’ll all do it. The information will be vital in determining future shift patterns with the benefit of expert opinion – yours.

As it left the Annual Assembly of Delegates, the executive carried away a host of demands and ambitions to work on. But passing resolutions and giving the national leadership instructions is only the beginning. We will be successful only if those same delegates now work with other activists to involve the entire membership in support of the EC’s initiatives.

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