Mar 2005 - Traditional values

01 June 2013

The more things change the more they stay the same. Or so it seems.

This year, as we celebrate our 125th anniversary, we naturally draw lessons from past experiences. As our reproduction of the special 1924 strike issue of the Locomotive Journal shows, our problems seem to have a remarkably long shelf life.

We face again a bewildering array of railway companies, locked together by a web of overlapping directorships - and standing behind them the big banks that provide the capital and own the train leasing companies. Our predecessors thought that rail nationalisation would end the anarchy of private rail ownership. It did for two generations but now we - and our successors - face the more complex task of dismantling a new form of private rail ownership underpinned by the huge and uncontrolled movement of transnational capital and buttressed by a network of European Union rules that serve to drive public ownership to the margins of legality.

Drivers continue to suffer abuse stirred up by what the men of 1924 described as 'capitalist press poison'. Like all public servants train drivers are portrayed as angels one minute and devils the next. This magical transformation is achieved simply by standing up for our rights. As both London Underground and Central Trains drivers have discovered recently.

It is revealing that eight decades ago the fascist threat was considered significant enough to be ranked alongside compulsory arbitration as a threat to drivers' lives and livelihood.

We now have a measure of legal protection for our attempts to keep our own ranks unsullied by fascists but the wider political threat remains. And while compulsory arbitration in the old dictatorial manner is not an immediate threat all trade unions are still trussed up by an array of anti-union laws that Thatcher imposed in the wake of her wartime election victories and the defeat of the miners.

Scabbing on strike action is completely foreign to the ASLEF tradition but we continue to face a range of problems that undermine industrial unity. These range from the pitiful plans of misfits and malcontents through to more serious, if mercifully local, attempts to weaken the near hundred per cent membership ASLEF has achieved among train drivers.

Our position on this is as clear today as it was in the early decades of the last century. We are in favour of unity. That is a unity forged in the common struggle against the employers, unjust laws and monopoly media - for better wages, shorter hours, safer conditions and a decent retirement. Unity is the product of a shared purpose and mutual trust built up in practical cooperation. It cannot be reduced to a simple organisational formula but must respect the real traditions and settled views of all involved.

Keith Norman 
Acting General Secretary

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