As strikes by train guards in the RMT union against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation” continue, the role of drivers, most of whom are in the Aslef union, is thrown into sharper and sharper relief.
On MerseyRail, activists have organised magnificent solidarity which has led to Aslef drivers refusing en masse to refuse to cross RMT picket lines. On other companies the picture is less positive.
Off The Rails, a platform for rank-and-file rail workers hosted by Workers’ Liberty, recently published an “open letter to fellow Aslef drivers”, calling on drivers to refuse to cross picket lines.
The letter has been viewed over 2,500 times on the Workers’ Liberty website and reached around 8,000 people on Facebook.
Spreading this solidarity could be crucial to winning the anti-DOO strikes.
An open letter to fellow Aslef drivers: which side are we on?
I am writing to you, as a fellow Aslef driver, because I want to persuade you that we need to change how we approach the current RMT disputes over DOO/DCO.
We may, most of us, be in a separate union, but I believe that our interests in this matter are bound up with those of the guards.
I am addressing this letter to the majority of drivers, who know that DOO is unsafe, is bad news for drivers and the public, and who do not want to see their colleagues’ jobs devalued or wiped out.
What this situation needs is for us to stop crossing picket lines.
What are the common arguments?
1. “It’s not our fight”
Both RMT and Aslef as organisations are against DOO/DCO. If there’s a fight against the practice, it’s our fight too. When we cross picket lines, come into work and drive trains around with scab “guards” on the back, we are undermining that fight.
2. “When Aslef calls me out on strike, I’ll strike”
Aslef may never call us out on strike. We could find ourselves in a situation where it is too late.
3. “RMT have triggered these disputes too soon”
Aslef drivers are entitled to their opinions about RMT’s tactics and strategy. But solidarity is not conditional on agreeing with every aspect of another union’s approach. Solidarity is a trade-union principle.
4. “Aslef’s advice is to work as normal.”
Which advice? The union issues advice to all its members on their rights if asked to respect a picket line by members of another union. It’s on a page in the Aslef diary headed “Picket Lines”. It’s in there every year. It says: “It has long been the tradition in Aslef to respect picket lines whether they are our own or those of fellow trade unionists.” This is a core value of the union to which we all signed up and pay subs. So which advice do you prefer? You can choose according to your conscience as others will choose according to theirs, but let there be no doubt that it is a choice.
5. “I’m worried I’ll be disciplined”
No Aslef member has been disciplined anywhere in the country for refusing to cross a picket line in any of these disputes.
We have a choice. On strike days, we can do one of two things: turn back at the picket line or cross and report for duty, working trains with scabs (some of whom are being paid handsome bonuses for their dirty work) and undermining our fellow workers the guards and the fight against DOO. That is the inescapable reality.
The fundamental question is: which side are we on?
Merseyrail: spread the solidarity!
On Merseyrail, nearly 100% of Aslef drivers have respected RMT picket lines. We need to make this the rule rather than the exception.
Trade unionists there have worked hard to build up a culture of solidarity in the depots, persuading Aslef drivers that, even though the fight against DOO wasn’t formally an Aslef dispute, all workers had a shared interest in winning it.
Merseyrail drivers have put that assessment into action by refusing to cross picket lines. As noted elsewhere in this leaflet, no driver has been disciplined for this.
We need to spread the solidarity.
• This is an abridged version of the letter to Aslef drivers. A full version can be found here