Building on our legacy

01 July 2014

I spoke last month about our positive conference, and the forward looking debates we had in Brighton, and how they have given us a truly sound basis on which to build. The foundation, and the strength, of any trade union is its membership and collective history. This has been brought home to me recently by a number of events that underline how far we have come and how much we owe those who went before us.

ASLEF was founded in 1880 out of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants because drivers felt they were not fully served by a multi-grade organisation; a brave decision when trade unionism was in its infancy and one that established our tradition as a member-led organisation, based on the dedication of lay representatives, and the protection, education, industrial and political aspirations that have brought us where we are today.

In the last few weeks I have attended numerous branches celebrating significant milestones – York 130 years, Doncaster 125 years, Paddington 130 years – and it’s humbling to think of the thousands of members and hundreds of branch secretaries and reps who have written a few pages in the living history of unity, support and solidarity that makes this union what it is.

If we are to build on that legacy in the face of a constant barrage of anti-union and anti-worker legislation we need to have a voice that shouts loud and clear and is not solely about the use of industrial muscle. We must be able to campaign and to do that we need a political fund. We fought for the right to have a political voice – it took until 1913 to achieve that – and although Mrs Thatcher sought to silence our voice we are still able, at the moment, to speak up for our members. We need a fund that allows us to campaign for the needs of our members and the needs of our industry. So let’s send a clear message – that we are a strong, campaigning union – by voting a resounding Yes in the forthcoming political fund ballot.

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