We shall not be afraid to stand up for ourselves

2021-06-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick's Column: June 2021

We have completed our first virtual conference in 141 years and delegates showed fortitude, and patience, with the online format, and teething problems, and determination in questioning and making policy have the members' voice heard.

Personally, despite the efforts of the tech team, and all the work that the staff put in behind the scenes, I hope it is our last virtual conference. The passion, compassion, and empathy shown by the delegates was palpable - but seems greater in person. All the policy items were dealt with, but time ran out on some of the rule changes, which were not discussed, but can com back, as has happened with in-person conferences.

No matter how many times I have explained that it is the branches and members that make the policy of the union, there are still those who complain on social media when we carry it out. We remain, I believe, the only union that elects every position - with no appointments - and has such a democratic parliament as AAD. Our union ancestors gave us a great legacy - and strong foundation - on which we continue to build.

So I thank the branches that put forward the agenda items, and all the delegates who, once more, demonstrated what trade unions are about, and the values we share in common on a truly collective basis.

It is these collective values, strength and responsibility that we are going to need in future with a government playing games with our future on the Tube and the announcement of Great British Railways in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.

Let's deal with the bailout of Eurostar first. The fact that the government took no part in securing the future of the company, HS1, or our UK driver, is a matter of national shame. So much for encouraging passengers back? The lack of a truly long-term solution for TfL smacks of political game playing - to attack the recently elected Labour Mayor - and smacks of levelling down. Let's not forget the large level of poverty and unemployment in the capital; we should be driving all those with needs forward.

As for Great British Railways, what does a government bereft of ideas do? It takes policy out of the Labour Party manifesto, rebrands it as its own, but leaves out the good bits and goes light on detail, representation, green investment, and removes private risk.

The Prime Minister talks of greater private usage in the new model, whilst the paper talks of £1.5 billion of savings. Is that a euphemism for service reduction and job cuts? I believe so.

I welcome the wheels and steel coming together and the idea of long-term planning but not on this basis. The opportunity to nationalise, invest greenly, level up, and drive the railway - and the country - forward has been missed, as well as the change to decarbonise for the health and security of future generations.

We have two new NCRs - national railway concessions - already awarded, without competition, so how many more will we see just to keep the privateers in the industry? And how much will they be generating for the savings in the Williams paper, as they now bear no risk? Nobody can tell me why we need them! The paper does attack our wages and conditions, but spectacularly fails to mention the decades of flexibility and productivity given to keep the previous model afloat! No meaningful mention of the future of freight in any tangible way, either.

We need a sustainable railway, not a cash cow for third parties. I hope the references to devolution are real and not the devolution of cuts which we have seen in other areas, especially after a decade of cuts for those in all forms of local government. We shall not be afraid to stand up for ourselves and call out anything that impacts on safety.

What a world we live in when it is reported that the Prime Minister and his immediate family have had £27,000 worth of takeaways allegedly paid for by others in the last eight months when campaigns had to take place to feed hungry children outside term time and people are thanking the government for the food banks they have caused after their decade of power.

Finally, I have to report the passing of former sectional council member and Stratford branch stalwart Andy Ramsey who I had the privilege of working with when I was a young local representative. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. And I want to echo the best wishes of AAD to Ray Jackson, RMS chair, in relation to his recent stroke. Please stay safe...

Yours fraternally,

Mick Whelan, General Secretary