They sold their souls for a mess of pottage

2024-02-01 -
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick Whelan's column: February 2024

Colleagues, we entered the new year announcing action across the train operating companies whose hands have been tied by the Tory government at Westminster. It is the bad faith shown by those companies in negotiations last year - and the determination of the Tories to turn this into a political dispute, rather than to allow individual TOCs to negotiate with us in the traditional way, using free collective bargaining - that caused us to have to take industrial action in furtherance of our pay and conditions protection. This should not have happened, ad does not need to happen, but has been forced upon us.

Let us not forget the other bad actors in the process: the companies themselves who sold their mercenary souls for a mess of pottage, happy to crap on their drivers, and other grades, to keep their snouts in the trough.

We cannot forget that it is coming up for five years - half a decade - for many drivers without a pay rise. We have serially entered talks only to be treated with utter contempt and deceit and yet we still remain open to getting back around the table to resolve the dispute. Crass ostrich-type behaviour by those in government - in Downing Street and the Department for Transport - who haven o role in our wages or collective bargaining are at the root of all the problems this industry has. Messrs Harper and Merriman, by their absence and behaviour, are not fit for office and cannot be considered in any form to be likely to seek a resolution to the mess that they inherited and then compounded and made worse.

We cannot sit still and do nothing whilst those who won't meet us snipe from the side lines and the massive mandates you serially deliver show that the solidarity and unity of purpose of all our members at the companies in volved demands that we take action for our futures and principles.

They, of course, are running scared. They thought they could burn you out through apathy an  the worst trade union laws in Europe - but failed. Their fear of working people standing up for themselves in a so-called civilised 21st century democracy led them to introduce, at the end of last year, authoritarian forced labour legislation through Minimum Service Levels. We will see which companies choose to do this because it is their choice - even the OLD companies do not have to do it because, under the 1993 legislation, they are meant to be separated from government control.

And no one has been able to tell us how, in a safety-critical industry, this can be done safely. There will be no voluntary agreements on this pernicious indenture and, of course, their real intention is to get the union into court for fines or damages - so we will tread carefully. If they do not understand by now your solidarity they soon will - and those who go forward with such legislation are likely only to generate additional strife.

Collective will, strength, unity and solidarity have taken us this far and will, I know, take us to the point where we will prevail; but faith and trust in the railway industry will take far longer to come back - if ever - if forced labour happens. The guidance on what we must do has been written and can be found on our website and in the links on the circulars.

Thanks for all you do and all you are going to do. Please be safe.

Yours in solidarity,

Mick Whelan
General Secretary