We are fighting for a safe and successful year
Mick Whelan's Column: January 2024
Colleagues, as shown by our solid and successful action across the whole country there is no waning in solidarity, or strength of unity, right across our trade union. This is further underpinned by the last round of ballot renewals that, once again, humble me and the executive committee in the resounding turnouts and mandates for strike action and action short of a strike.
The spreading of industrial action across several days was to show how we can vary our responses in many different ways - to offset the impact of the draconian forced labour laws being forced through the House of Commons and the House of Lords as I write. We have, along with unions representing millions of fellow workers right across the UK, been at the recall TUC where, unanimously, we all voted to use every avenue to fight this piece of pernicious legislation in every way - and to support any worker hurt or impacted by it.
ASLEF and the BMA are likely to be in the vanguard of the government indenture process - the difference is that, in our safety-critical sector, there are no voluntary processes in place. At this point no consultation has taken place with any train operating company for its implementation and not one figure in the railway industry has been able to tell us how it can be done safely in an inter-operable railway when they do not know what form of action we are going to take, or where we will take it.
ASLEF is, as it always has been, and always will be, about its members - your wishes, your aspirations, and your future
There is a vast amount of work going on behind the scenes to give guidance to each of you - we are here, first and foremost, to protect you, and that is what we do every day of the year - for the safe operation of industrial action and it is with the lawyers and others as we speak.
Do not forget the intention of this legislation was never to run a safe service but to get trade unions into court - fining us for de minimis errors and bankrupting us through damages in the higher courts. We cannot tell you, directly, not to obey a work notice as it will be seen as inducement with the associated court costs, fines and damages.
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has put forward three tests for the legislation:
(i) it cannot increase strife, although it will, and the government’s own consultation says it will!
(ii) you cannot run a better service on strike days than on non-strike days - have they travelled on Avanti, for example?
(iii) is safety, and we know that it will be inherently unsafe.
When they can’t beat you they change the rules, but, within 100 days of a Labour government being elected - and a general election might not be far off - this utterly unworkable, and ruthlessly authoritarian, legislation will be gone.
Not everything we do is through the prism of Westminster and the Tory government-induced strikes. We have done 14 pay deals in other nations (TfL and ScotRail) and regions and sectors in the past year. ASLEF officers and reps have successfully been dealing with the future of freight with no compulsory redundancies, done deals in open access, and at Eurostar. Across the union, your branch secretaries, local reps, company councils, and officers are doing the day job on grievances, disciplines, welfare and health & safety. Campaigns on better cabs, travel, driving age, and investment are ongoing.
Special thanks to the executive committee, and the assistant general secretary, in what has been one of the longest, and most trying, periods of difficulty in our history.
ASLEF is, as it always has been, and always will be, about its members - your wishes, your aspirations, and your future. Have a great Christmas and we will continue to fight for that safe and prosperous New Year. Thank you for all you do, have done, and are going to do.
And please be safe…
Yours in solidarity,