MEMBERS OF the Aslef rail workers union on the Heathrow Express have voted to take action against management bullying and low pay. This includes an overtime ban and several 24 hour strikes. The first strike was set for this Friday 3 October.
Heathrow Express was formed about six years ago and operates train services between London Paddinton and Heathrow Airport. From the outset BAA-the parent company-made a decision not to recruit staff from inside the rail industry.
Instead they have hired employees from sectors of industry that are traditionally low paid and poorly unionised. Despite this, activists in Aslef (which represents both drivers and conductor/dispatchers) have steadily built up a strong union base. The overwhelming majority of drivers are members.
Aslef have for a year now been trying to secure full recognition and bargaining rights. The company has strongly resisted this. Heathrow Express charges the highest fares of any train company in Britain with trains that often break down and usually have no toilet or air conditioning.
Staff at Heathrow Express work a typical 55-60 hours a week for some of the lowest rates of pay in the industry. Staff are bullied for falling sick and harassed for wearing their hair in 'inappropriate' styles.
The company has decided to fund and help set up the Hesa 'staff association' with a tiny number of right wingers in the workforce. Formed last month, Hesa hasn't held a single meeting, has held no elections for any positions and doesn't even have a membership!
The company is insisting on tying Aslef members to Hesa, who would then be able to veto and attack the union's proposals. Most people have not been conned by the association. Hesa has a pro-management stance. A recent 'newsletter' attacked Aslef's strong anti-war stance.
After an impasse lasting several months and with patience wearing thin, staff have now voted to take industrial action Since the outcome of the ballot there has been a real mood of excitement and optimism amongst staff.
Most employees now see industrial action as the only way for the staff to move forward against an aggressive management. The recent BA strikes have helped to give confidence to staff at Heathrow Express.
The senior management of Heathrow Express are currently receiving basic operational training in preparation for running a scab service on strike days. This further highlights the need for the rank and file grades of staff to remain disciplined and united for the struggle that lies ahead.