August 2007 - An issue of loyalty

01 June 2013

This edition includes an account of the events of 25 years ago when the union became involved in a massive dispute over flexible rostering. I will not go into the details of the events because they are outlined elsewhere (on pages 10 and 11). My concern in this column is to register the great pride I feel when I think of the ASLEF members who showed steadfast courage and unflinching loyalty to the union – even when their jobs, their livelihoods and their futures were at stake.

This month also marks another famous symbol of our history – the Festival of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, where our District 8 always organise a high-profile ASLEF presence. The crime of the pioneer trade unionists of the Dorset village was to take an oath of loyalty to themselves and to their ideals.

That is why they were transported. The authorities, the ruling class of the age, treated the six men - James Brine, James Hammett, George and James Loveless, James Loveless and Thomas and John Standfield - as the most dangerous criminals. The employers went to these lengths because they were desperate to prevent working class loyalty and solidarity. It was vital to their interests that loyalty to a union was stamped out. We should take our cue from them – and recognise that for working men and women it is equally imperative that trade union solidarity should be strengthened.

I know we all find clichés rather embarrassing: and we sometimes think of the phrase ‘Unity is Strength’ as a parrot-cry. But it is repeated often not because it is an unimaginative formula – but because it expresses in an easy way something fundamentally true.

I confess that I fail to understand why there are an estimated 2,000 train drivers who are not part of ASLEF: they reap the benefits of our negotiations, they enjoy the efforts we – and our predecessors - have made for them over decades: but they are unwilling to join us.

Too often, however, when there are problems at work, these very people come scampering to our reps seeking help. Even though they have played no part in ASLEF, have avoided paying our subs and even sport badges proclaiming their disloyalty, they expect the union to come like a knight in shining armour, mounted on a white charger to come to their aid.

We won’t. This is not because we are heartless or unfeeling. It is because loyalty is not dispensed like aspirins. It is won - like respect.

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