Threatened European Convention on Human Rights gave ASLEF victory

03 October 2014

ASLEF has condemned the Conservative Party’s pledge to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights if parliament failed to the secure right to veto its rulings.

The union relied on the convention in 2007 in its landmark case against the government over the right to determine our own membership. Without the convention, trade unions throughout Britain would not have the right to expel members who espouse racist or fascist views.

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said ‘our case in2007 highlights the importance of the European human rights framework. Without it the British courts would have forced us to keep a member whose views were incompatible with that of the union within our ranks.’

Mick added, ‘UK citizens and workers need Europe’s human and employment rights protections against a current Government in Westminster which seems set on eroding them.


Jay Lee was an active member of the BNP, standing as a candidate in Bexley local elections. He joined ASLEF in 2002. Shortly afterwards an officer sent the Executive Committee a report with evidence showing that Mr Lee was an activist in the BNP and had handed out anti-Islamic leaflets dressed as a priest. The report included an article written by Mr Lee for Spearhead (the BNP magazine) and a fax from Bexley Council for Racial Equality stating that Mr Lee had seriously harassed Anti-Nazi League activists.

The Executive Committee acted on this report by expelling Mr Lee. After various appeals, the UK tribunal system said that ASLEF were not complying with UK law by doing so.

It was at this point that ASLEF lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of freedom of assembly and association. The court found in ASLEF’s favour, deciding that just as a worker should be free to join or not join a union, so is a trade union equally free to choose its members. Where associations are set up by people who share common values, ideals and goals, it would run counter to the very effectiveness of the freedom at stake if they had no control over their membership.

Without ASLEF taking this case to the European Court and without the convention Jay Lee could still be within our ranks and all UK unions would have to accept any racist or fascist who applied. It is a victory ASLEF can be proud of and one that we must be grateful to the European Convention of Human Rights for delivering.

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