It's your vote - so use it wisely

2021-05-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick's Column: May 2021

In the past year we have done many things to ensure that democracy, and the voice of our members, is at the core of everything we do; and have adjusted everything from the meeting structures to electoral rule changes to facilitate the union and its activities.

The one thing we had to cancel last year was our annual conference, our annual assembly of delegates. We will rightfully restore AAD as a forum this year in a virtual format so that the issues that will guide future policy can be discussed. More importantly, 80 lay members from our 170-odd branches will get to scrutinise, criticise, or endorse what we have undertaken in the previous 12 months.

In all my time as your general secretary I have never sought or supported any motion to reduce accountability or scrutiny and look forward to the debates to come. In a year when so much has happened to our communities, and not just in our lives, but in the lives of our children and grandchildren, I am surprised that there are not more political and social items up for discussion but, maybe, that will happen at future AADs when the pandemic is over.

Each branch has the right to bring items forward every year on what we do, and what we should do; the power of change lies with the membership, via the branches, and I wish more would use it.

I saw a photograph on social media of a poster in Stratford that said ‘Cronyism is English for corruption’ and, given the many revelations about access and the giving of contracts to a favoured few, without proper scrutiny or due process, I believe a full public inquiry into all aspects of the handling of the pandemic needs to take place for the good of us all.

Despite this, we see Labour not doing well in the polls and it may be overly simplistic to put this down to the vaccination bounce. Maybe we have become a nation which believes ‘I’m alright, Jack, everyone else can fend for themselves’ but that is not the feedback I get when talking to people. We have key elections, both mayoral and council coming up in May, in London, and it is clear that the only person who has shown consistent concern for us, as workers and citizens, is Sadiq Khan, and the political football the government made of TfL is something of which to be ashamed.

The failure to deal adequately with the situation in Northern Ireland, and the mistruths spoken by the Prime Minister that threaten stability and human life, are not about pro- or anti- Brexit, but a political failing and his lack of care about a return to civil war cannot be accepted. This propensity for failing to tell the truth needs to be addressed via the ballot box and the pandemic should not let us forget that ten years of uncaring Tory rule and unnecessary austerity have left many communities on their knees and this great nation unable to deal with the pandemic without a massive death toll.

Telling people to clap the NHS whilst actively selling it off to your mates behind the scenes is endemic of the can’t and hypocrisy of this government. The Spanish Inquisition did not come up with cruelties such as the bedroom tax, and how universal credit was rolled out, or the treatment of the disabled and weakest in society. They will come with ready-made excuses post-pandemic to hide their callousness and future dogma unless we open our eyes and react now.

it is clear that the only person who has shown consistent concern for us, as workers and citizens, is Sadiq Khan, and the political football the government made of TfL is something of which to be ashamed

The richest Tory councils are attracting the greatest support from central government whilst those with the greatest need are being sidelined, ignored, and then blamed for choices forced upon them after a decade of cuts. It’s your vote. Use it wisely.

Rightly we have welcomed the high rate of vaccination but - and there is always a but - there is a long way to go. We want more trains, more capacity, and passengers returning to our industry, but it must be done in a safe and careful way. The pandemic is not over and, whilst we welcome a move to normal, we expect the appropriate protections to remain in place. We will see reductions in timetables, as it takes years for footfall to return, and there is a political will to reduce headcount and cost going forward, and no group will be immune to those attacks.

The future shape of the industry is unwritten and Williams will get pushed further and further back. Appointments have been made on rail reform and pensions at the DfT which I do not believe are about investment or promoting what we were told under the 1993 Railways Act. We must get ready to deal with the future on our terms in an effort to protect what we have. The end of the pandemic will signal the start of a harsh new economic reality but I am confident we can deal with the challenges ahead together.

Please stay safe.


Yours fraternally,

Mick Whelan, general secretary