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Missing the last train

If you want an example of how not to organise at work, look no further than ASLEF, the train drivers' union.

In Cat8, we reported on the election of Shaun Brady as leader – since then he has threatened to sack staff working at ASLEF head office and replace them with non-union labour. Why? Because they had voted to strike over bullying by none other than Brady himself. It is all part of the bitter ASLEF turf war between the “left” faction led by ex-leader Brian Rix and Brady's “right” faction (actually orchestrated by Adams).

Typically, the socialist left will urge the trade union movement to rally together to oust the odious Brady. However, a change of leadership will do little to stem ASLEF's steady decline and rightwards drift. During his supposed ‘left' term, Rix pursued the usual sectional drivers' interests to the detriment of other railworkers and was quite happy cosy up to management. After all, he signed up to an EEPTU deal with Railfreight that at a stroke derecognised the majority of the non-driver RMT workforce. It took strike action by RMT members to win back union recognition.

The root cause of ASLEF's problems lies not in its “right-wing” leadership, but in its fundamental craft elitism that divorces it from the rest of the workforce. All workers must work together and present a united front against management. A campaign aimed at breaking down divisions between workers, with open meetings through which with a common aims and demands can be developed, would be far more constructive than wasting energy on “left” wing leaders who, once elected, quickly abandon their pretend principles. This openness must also extend to the casual contract labour that now represents a large minority of rail workers, who are invariably on low pay and poor conditions that potentially risk the health and safety of all rail workers.

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