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(en) Catalist #8 - Boil-in-the-bag drivers

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 30 Oct 2003 09:05:03 +0100 (CET)

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The recent train drivers union (ASLEF) leadership election was a shock to
many rail union activists. It had been thought that the current leader, Mick
Rix would walk it, so he hardly bothered to
campaign. Shaun Brady was seen as a right-wing
Neanderthal no-hoper who had only managed to gain
the support of a handful of branches compared with Rix,
who had the backing of over 80 branches. While Rix sat
on his backside, Brady got out and about with his populist
arguments, ranging from anti-political-correctness to
opposition to asylum seekers.
To many, the real shock was not that Rix got defeated,
but that so many drivers ignored their branches and
voted for the likes of Brady. This can be partly explained
by the fact that, like many unions, ASLEF is moribund
and isolated from the workplace, even at branch
level. Also, there is the fact of the nature of ASLEF as a craft
union, which means it has always sought to preserve
and further the sectarian interests of drivers, often
with little regard for other rail workers. This elitism
within ASLEF is merely a reflection of those drivers
who see themselves as a skilled group, above other
rail workers.
The hierarchical mindset means some drivers are
willing to take action to defend and preserve their
own immediate interests, while showing little interest
in the problems and struggles of other rail workers.
As new technology has effectively de-skilled the craft
status of drivers, this conservatism has become even
more entrenched, as they have sought to preserve
their status in a changing world. Hence, we have the
situation where many drivers have opposed the idea
that guards can become drivers, on the grounds that
they had only had to undergo a short training course. Not
only did they pour cold water on these so-called "boil-in-
the-bag drivers" (ready in twenty minutes), they were
also openly hostile to the idea of women becoming drivers.
It is precisely this conservatism that Brady's
campaign of putting drivers' economic interests first and
ridding the union of "trendy" lefty politics, appealed to.
Here at Catalyst, we have argued that reactionary ideas
should be challenged and defeated. It was the failure of
Rix to challenge and
overcome such reactionism that led to his downfall.
ASLEF's sectionalism stands in the way of building a
workplace organisation aimed at uniting all workers
in opposition to the attacks of a boss class currently in
full cry. Craft unionism and the elitism that
underpins it has been a thorn in trade unionism's side
for centuries; it is high time it was pulled out and
discarded, and ASLEF along with it.

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