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Summer of resistance mounts as ASLEF train drivers at eight companies vote overwhelmingly to strike

ASLEF members to take action as more TSSA ballot results due to be announced

Members of the ASLEF train drivers’ union at eight train companies have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in a dispute over pay.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said:

Strikes are always the last resort,. ‘We don’t want to inconvenience passengers – our friends and families use public transport, too – and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike but we’ve been forced into this position by the companies driven by the government.

Many of our members – who were, you will remember, the men and women who moved key workers and goods around the country during the pandemic – have not had a pay rise since 2019.

With inflation running at north of 10% that means those drivers have had a real terms pay cut over the last three years. We want an increase in line with the cost of living – we want to be able to buy, in 2022, what we could buy in 2021.

It’s not unreasonable to ask your employer to make sure you’re not worse off for three years in a row.  Especially as the train companies are doing very nicely, thank you, out of Britain’s railways – with handsome profits, dividends for shareholders, and big salaries for managers – and train drivers don’t want to work longer for less.

Driving a train is a professional, technical and safety-critical job. Training takes a year and drivers can be responsible for the lives of up to 1,300 people on any given journey.

Wages are not driving inflation and the government is part of the problem

Whelan added:

We don’t think we’re special; we believe no worker in this country should put up with pay cuts year after year just because this government has allowed inflation to rise. Whatever happened to the Tory wish for good, well-paid, jobs? Obviously that’s only for the CEOs, not for the workers doing the job.

And, don’t forget, if a train driver doesn’t get a cost of living increase, it won’t mean that a nurse, or care worker, or cleaner will get one. This isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about setting one worker against another.

Wage rises aren’t exacerbating inflation, anyway. Excess profiteering is. The government isn’t asking companies to cut profits or dividend payments to help manage inflation. Wages are chasing prices, not putting them up.

It’s not too late for the companies – or the government – to resolve this situation. We’re happy to talk to anyone to do a deal and make sure Britain’s railways aren’t disrupted. The government is restricting what the operators can offer, but then refusing to get involved in negotiation. They seem to have no interest in finding a resolution.

The train drivers were asked two questions:

  • are you prepared to take part in industrial action short of a strike?
  • are you prepared to take part in industrial action consisting of a strike?

Votes at each company ran as follows:

Arriva Rail London:

Yes: 637 [98.9%]
No: 7 [1.1%]
Turnout: 92.5%

Chiltern Railways:

Yes: 217 [92.3%]
No: 18 [7.7%]
Turnout: 86.4%

Great Western:

Yes: 1,049 [86.1%]
No: 170 [13.9%]
Turnout: 86.3%


Yes: 323 [88.5%]
No: 42 [11.5%]
Turnout: 89.0%

Northern Trains:

Yes: 1,562 [95.2%]
No: 78 [4.8%]
Turnout: 88.5%


Yes: 741 [91.6%]
No: 68  [8.4%]
Turnout: 86.2 %

TransPennine Express:

Yes: 426 [94.2%]

No:  26 [5.8%]

Turnout: 84.8%

West Midlands Trains:

Yes: 636 [89.6%]
No: 74 [10.4%]
Turnout: 83.5%

Claims by companies and the government that money for a pay rise is not available is simply untrue. Before the pandemic, operators were paying out investor dividends of £262 million. Even during the lockdown, shareholders received payouts of £38 million – and with passenger numbers now almost back to pre-pandemic levels, companies are again eyeing massive payouts.

Between March 2020 and March 2021 train operators were paid ‘management fees’ of more than £132 million. The rolling stock companies that buy locomotives and carriages to lease to operators pocketed £3 billion in 2020/21 – a 5% increase on 2019/20 and double the amount paid in 2015/16. One company, Eversholt, paid a £46.5 million dividend in 2020. Another, Porterbrook, paid out £80 million.

In the list of highest earning public sector officials (senior civil servants and senior officials in departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies), nine out of the top ten are from the transport industry and eight of those are in rail. Top of the list is Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd, who earns £620,000, with Andrew Haines, CEO of Network Rail, next on £585,000.

The summer has seen the labour movement rise in resistance across different industries to the Establishment’s assault on living standards and on low-paid workers, With meaningful opposition entirely absence on Labour’s front benches, organised workers are the country’s only hope of better.

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  1. The turnout figures and the NO votes are equally impressive. It is very doubtful whether even in the good old days of mass meetings there was anything like this degree of virtual unanimity behind serious industrial action. The Tory anti-Union laws are coming back to bite them by giving strikers mandates that nobody can challenge-not even the Daily Mail or The Guardian.
    Workers United can never be defeated!

    1. Mick Lynch is the General Secretary of the RMT. Both Micks are impressive.

  2. This is superb. ASLEF have a well run campaign, a convincing democratic mandate and evidence to justify the righteousness of their claim. As bevan said, impossible for the Mail etc to deny. They also have a spokesperson the public like and can relate to. They will win.

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