ASLEF and the fight for political independence

The news that ASLEF will remain affiliated to the Labour Party is disappointing but not unexpected. Supporters of disaffiliation knew that it was going to be a difficult task extricating ASLEF from this abusive relationship.

The General Secretary Mick Whelan (who is regarded by all as a decent and principled man) sits at the head of a union alongside elements of a bureaucracy that are considered to have a vested interest in the Labour Party.

The disaffiliation motion this year was an academic affair due to the nature of ASLEF’s conference procedures which prescribes that any motion to disaffiliate must be in the form of a rule change. However, the rule change motion submitted to conference also indicated where supporters thought the future of the union should lie in the form of two additional clauses in the rule book.

These additional clauses would have prevented ASLEF from affiliating to any political party, therefore giving it political freedom to support other parties that were willing to support their policies and aims and would have also prevented ASLEF from supporting right wing parties because of this independence.

Supporters of the rule changes could see the bureaucratic machine work from the start to thwart the democratic process with leaked press releases to mainstream media and pointed articles in its union publications. It also seemed that Labour politicians were crawling over themselves to give ASLEF support for its policies in the run up to conference.

Some commented that they had seen more Labour support over the last six months than they’ve seen in their lifetime but of course it is all for show. With the dust settling from the conference, the trade union bureaucrats will slot back into their bureaucratic roles happy that they have kept the workers down – at least for the moment.

The Labour party will revert to type and do nothing more for ASLEF except smile when it takes its money and rub the tummies of the bureaucrats and tell them how good they are.

Political independence would have been the first step in recognising where ASLEF sat in the industrial and political landscape. Political independence is recognising that the politics of Great Britain has changed, and that the Labour Party has become so detached from the working class that it is no longer a reliable advocate.

Support for the Labour Party in many areas of the country has ebbed away and they are going to struggle electorally even though we have got the most inept and corrupt tory government we’ve had in decades. It recognises that ASLEF must garner support from all sympathetic parties and candidates if it is going to survive its uncertain industrial future and achieve its policies and aims in areas where Labour is absent.

It was also recognised that ASLEF is haemorrhaging members from the political fund (over 3,800 from a membership of just over 21,000 to date). Political independence would have been a good platform from which a campaign to retain the political fund could have been launched showing the membership the benefits of such a policy and reconnecting politically with the membership.

This was the first salvo in a debate that will become more important in ASLEF’s future as the industrial conflict unfolds in the fight to retain the pay, pensions and terms and conditions of its members. The Labour Party will revert to form and condemn ASLEF’s strikes as they have started to do with the RMT’s strikes and will continue to align itself firmly behind establishment.

This alongside the real threat to the existence of the political fund will hopefully show the grassroots members the folly of remaining affiliated to a party that does not have its interests at heart.