Sept 2007 - Verbal Agreement - not worth the paper it's written on

01 June 2013

The recent signing of the memorandum of understanding between ASLEF and UNITE (see page 4) seems to have triggered something of a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party amongst our sister railway trade unions!

In a word, the memorandum is about solidarity - but this is a concept that needs to be defined in an organised way. It grieves me that the word is paraded so often that it’s in danger of losing its colour and its meaning. The minute books of conferences, the speeches of orators and the diaries of politicians are littered with wind-bag expressions of ‘solidarity’ – which often mean nothing more than an attempt to get a round of applause. We felt it was necessary to spell out what it will mean in practical terms concerning our relations with Unite.

So – we wrote it down.

From the reaction of one of our sister unions, you’d have thought it was a capital offence to be in possession of a pen! For reasons I find difficult to fathom, some March Hares in the RMT interpreted our agreement as an attempt by Unite to recruit its members!

Firstly, it isn’t. And secondly, there is nothing preventing the RMT formalising its relations with Unite in the same way we have.

Our memorandum binds us not to seek to recruit each other’s members; defines how we would identify spheres of influence should this help improve union bargaining or industrial organisation; agrees to protect local bargaining units and, where there is no clear or agreed sphere of influence, ensure in partnership that we establish the most effective organisation. As it says, this is ‘a framework for resolving questions of membership, representation and recognition’.

The Dodos might ask why we want a relationship with Unite at all. What about because Unite is the largest union in the UK, it respects our position as an independent craft union – and we both represent members in the rail industry, are members of the TUC and affiliates to the Labour Party? The fact is that we’ve got a relationship whether we like it or not – so we might as well define it.

Those who would grin like Cheshire Cats at the demise of our union are trying to cause trouble by pretending this is a step on the road to merge with Unite. It’s nonsense – but for the benefit of the cynics we even included a paragraph reminding everyone that ASLEF members will decide the future of this union– and no one else.

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