Change signalled on the trains
DELEGATES TO the ASLEF train drivers' union conference met in Scarborough last week just as the Cullen report into the disaster at Ladbroke Grove in October 1999 was published. They demanded that the government renationalises the rail industry, endorsing a motion that called on "the Labour Party to honour its commitment to create a publicly owned, publicly accountable rail system".
ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix told the conference, "Our industry has been plunged into chaos by the actions of both Railtrack and the train operating companies, which ignored warnings from our drivers about the state of the track. "We have had massive support for the Take Back The Track campaign. But the problem is not just about Railtrack. We have a total objection to railway privatisation."
Later in the week delegates threw their support behind fellow rail workers in the RMT union in their campaign to restore guards' safety role and end the use of driver-only trains. The success of that campaign, which came after big votes by guards for strike action, shows the potential for the rail unions to regain the ground lost under privatisation.
Another sign of that was an overwhelming vote by ASLEF delegates for the return of national pay bargaining. The motion condemned the "vast differentials in rates of pay" and "huge differences in the terms and conditions for our members". A serious campaign for national terms and conditions would be a major challenge to privatisation and fragmentation of the industry.
Delegates know that means a confrontation with the New Labour government. It will also require more of the kind of rank and file initiatives which ensured strikes on London Underground earlier this year united members of both the RMT and ASLEF, and were successful.
The conference also voted to send a message of support to the protests in Genoa in July against the G8 meeting of the leaders of the world's richest countries.
"THERE WAS absolutely no warmth towards New Labour. The policies delegates passed were pretty much those of the Socialist Alliance." That is how Greg Tucker, a train driver, summed up the first day of the conference of the RMT rail union in Scarborough on Monday.
Just those few hours showed the gulf between rail union activists and the government from pensions, through student fees to rail renationalisation. And a debate on the European Union saw speeches supporting the recent protests in Gothenburg outside the EU summit.
Delegates also voted to continue "total opposition to government proposals on the so called public-private partnership" on the tube. Tube driver Oliver New argued that the fight on the tube is not over, despite the recent success in winning important concessions over safety from management through strikes. He said, "It's a good deal, but it's not what we want-what we want is to get rid of PPP."
Assistant general secretary Bob Crow said further industrial action now seemed the only way to head off tube privatisation. That should happen quickly and will mean confronting the anti-union laws head on.