Stay strong and united and we will prevail

2022-08-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick Whelan's Column: August 2022

Thank you! Although I am not surprised. An average of over 92% ‘Yes’ votes to strike action on an average 88% return is stunning – with more to come. The proclaimed purpose of the Tories’ trade union legislation is so that businesses can know the impact of any action. Strange, then, that I was asked on television what it meant! I said, ‘Sadly, no trains running’.

We are getting the inevitable legal challenges on petty things but, rather than drag the process through the courts, which could take ages, we are simply re-balloting to get bigger and stronger mandates. The companies and the government do not understand concepts such as solidarity and unity. They are struggling to comprehend what is happening this summer, what happens when workers stand together, and what they have unleashed. We have teachers, lecturers, barristers, postal workers, council workers, and people working in telecoms being balloted with more in the pipeline. Maybe the message on the cost of living crisis – and all workers deserving an increase – will get through?

We have been on numerous television and radio programmes, and in many newspapers, making our case and have given evidence to the Transport Select Committee – none of which seems to have deterred the government from the path it has chosen. There has been massive positive feedback from what I clearly called the government’s ‘scab charter’. Making the point that, in industries like ours, such things are never forgotten. Only scab companies can use scab labour and the long-term damage to industrial relations after such actions can be catastrophic.

The question of minimum service levels came up and it was made quite clear that it was both unworkable and only likely to lengthen any strife. We do not like to strike but have been pushed into it. The other point we made was that our action is legitimate, as the private companies we work for have free collective bargaining, although the fact that they have chosen to enter into contracts with the government to keep their private snouts in the public trough has, it seems, negated that. We also pointed out that this government wishes to reduce the caps on the pay of directors and chief executives whilst capping the pay of workers and constraining the free market for labour in this country.

Some lies are coming home to roost. Mr P&O Shapps not only has allowed the government to sign contracts with that despicable company but brought in legislation to try and break us that was illegal and he condemned. Then, after weeks of denying the government’s role in restricting pay, he finally admitted it on television. I almost wish the King of the Ponzi scheme had won the Tory leadership election as we are now used to Tory Prime Ministers whose relationship with the truth is non-existent. Nice to see him talking about net zero for aviation; where is electrification and decarbonisation of our railways?

The other lie that is being nailed is that pay rises are fuelling inflation. That is not true. Government policy – they have been in power for twelve years now – and profiteering by companies are what’s driving inflation. Look at pay rise data and then look at company profits that have risen by 73% as RPI approaches 11% and the situation becomes more critical. All the Tory leadership candidates running on a platform of public sector – and other – cuts will only make the situation worse.

In this country we continue to cut timetables and maintain high fares while Ireland has cut train and bus fares, Germany has the nine euro ticket for short and medium journeys, and Spain has made all rail travel free for a month. France has also limited short haul air travel where there is a rail alternative and, across Europe, we are seeing sleeper and overnight services coming back. Luxembourg already has free public transport. So let’s nail another lie: public transport delivers for the economy and does not have to make a profit; it should be affordable and give value to the passenger and the taxpayer.

The train operating companies made hundreds of millions during the pandemic and are scheduled to make more post-pandemic whilst you have not had a pay rise. I come from the philosophy that the employers pay us, not the Monty Python sketch where we pay them for the privilege of working.

Stay strong, stay united, and we will prevail.

Please be safe...

Yours in solidarity

Mick Whelan

General Secretary