Rail dispute is a political problem, not of our making

2023-11-01 -
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Colleagues, the government’s war against the railway, and its forgotten key workers, continues. We had the Chuckle Brothers’ farce of the Prime Minister’s ‘Will it? Won’t it?’ (HS2) go to London Euston when he had, a week before, recorded a video with the decision already made! The ultimate in deceit and deflection and then he announces a scaled-down project that, if you actually read the small print, may never, ever happen as it’s subject to private investment.

That was followed by a raft of false announcements of what they claimed they were going to do with the saved money - which was just another falsehood as the money allocated to HS2 cannot be allocated to anything else. The first raft of announcements included things that had already been built and roads that do not exist and, after repeated challenges, the Prime Minister and others eventually admitted that the Network North document was ‘flawed’ and only ‘examples’ of what they could do.

Alongside all this, Where’s Wally? Mr Harper? Does he exist? I have seen him on the telly, but where was he when these decisions - and announcements - were being made? As ever, and as his colleagues in the cabinet have been complaining, he has been missing in action. It really is time that Mr Harper stepped up to the mark…

Another raft of amendments was subsequently sneaked out by this government without any fanfare, with the word ‘could’ craftily added to virtually every item and, again, subject to the ‘business case’ so may never even reach the drawing board. What we want to know is what will the net impact be of the reduced capacity to those northern hubs, deterred economic growth, trains running at lower speeds on the West Coast main line, and an additional 500,000 lorry journeys?

Let’s not forget that 1,300 hours of legislative time have been spent on four HS2 related Bills over nine sessions in Parliament over the last decade. To overturn all this in a speech to the Tory Party conference, rather than properly, to tell MPs, hardly represents democracy in action from those who have overseen the project since 2009! Let’s not forget that this is all against a background of the success of Battersea Power Station and the excellent performance of the Elizabeth Line which is over-subscribed, on estimates, by 140,000 people a day and will pay for itself in less than a generation.

but you have shown - by your strength, unity, solidarity and resolve - that we will not roll over but will fight

More redundancies at Network Rail in two key areas further demonstrate that we are in mismanaged decline with 269 highly-skilled people going as, apparently, there will be less demand for renewals in the next five years across CP7. This includes areas such as ballast cleaning - so I am not sure that we are going to have a safer railway. 

In our recent industrial action - which, to the apparent surprise of the Tories and TOCs, though not to me - was stunningly supported by all of you, right across the regions and our nations, we ran a Where’s Wally? campaign which really resonated with press and public, whose support we retain despite the politics of envy rhetoric from the employers and the government, and with colleagues of the Transport Secretary who think he’s failing to do his job.

Those employers are making hundreds of millions of pounds, and paying big dividends to their shareholders, but will not pay you properly for the job you do. And the government wants to take away all your terms and conditions for, in effect, a massive pay cut - just to give their mates, the privateers, even more profit! We will never forget the bad actors that operate in bad faith to keep their private snouts in the public trough and happily signed up to break our collective bargaining processes and serially operated in all talks deceitfully and despicably.

As always, we remain open to realistic and honourable talks, but you have shown - by your strength, unity, solidarity and resolve - that we will not roll over but will fight for the terms and conditions we have paid for through flexibility and productivity. The employers are supposed to pay us - we are not here to subsidise them.

On a happier note, I am really pleased to see that the Tube has adopted the policy, that we have advocated for years, on defibrillators at all stations.

Finally, my thanks to all representatives who continue to do the day to day business with all undertakings at all levels for our members despite the distraction and spite we are seeing in some companies. Let’s not forget we only have a Westminster problem - a political problem, not of our making -  and, as always, thanks to each and every one of you for what you do and what you are going to do. Be safe…


Yours in solidarity,

Mick Whelan

General Secretary