IGNITING THE FLAME OF UNITY

THE HISTORY OF THE

 BRIGHTON BRANCH OF A.S.L.E.F.

 

Click on the icon above for

the Brighton Motive Power Depots

Click on the icon above for

the Sussex Motive Power Depots & ASLEF Branches


 

 

 THE BRAVE NEW WORLD

 

BRANCH SECRETARIES

 

Tony Brace 2007 - 2009

(Footplate Seniority, 03.01.2000)

& Mark Johnson 2010 -

 (Footplate Seniority 01.03.1999)

 

 

 A BRAVE NEW WORLD

 

Above the 10th anniversary of the Brighton Thameslink depot designed by Branch Chairman Ivan Wilson

 

 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

DECEMBER 2008

 

SLEEP WALKING TO TRAGEDY

Paul Overington a train driver working for Southern in Brighton, has written a moving and disturbing account of a tragic death at his depot. It is an emotive piece of writing and some of his conclusions may not be universally shared. However Paul’s honesty and commitment alone made it impossible not to print ….

On 15 October this year I experienced the saddest day of my driving career when I attended the funeral of a colleague who took his own life at just 34 years of age.

To say the funeral was moving doesn’t even begin to tell the story. It was heartbreaking to hear such great tributes from a congregation of over 600 about this highly talented athlete and loving father to a six year old girl.

He followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and was thrilled to bits when he passed out as a driver at Brighton.

His parents even filmed him emerging from Warrior Square tunnel on his maiden trip when he was seen punching the air and shouting, ‘This is for you, Granddad!’

To say I am incensed at this terrible loss is an understatement. How can a young man in his prime make this awful decision? And how was it that nobody saw there was a problem?

What stuck in my mind were the numerous comments made about the sleep depravation that Luke had experienced ever since he became a Driver on Southern. I’m sure this is a familiar tale around the entire network.

Imagine how we felt when one of his sisters said, ‘I hope you can sleep now, Luke.’ Tear-jerking wasn’t the word.

We have drivers at Brighton who need to make their way to work from far afield to book on.

This can put an extra three hours on their day. The problem is that they can’t move nearer to their home depot

because of an agreement we have that says they ‘have to be at their allotted depot for three years before applying to move to a depot nearer to their home’.

The answer we get from management - and ASLEF - when we challenge this unfair practise is, ‘They knew this when they applied for the job.’

When a driver has to revert to sleeping in the quiet room this should set alarm bells ringing and alert management that they ought to investigate accordingly.

Well, Southern and ASLEF, this is not acceptable to us. Instead of campaigning about free travel and other conditions like that, our union should start tackling the real issues that are affecting our members and their lives. Fatigue is a real and serious issue at a lot of depots around the country.

I am aware this is a product of privatisation. You have to agree with the ‘old school’ when they talk about ‘The good old BR days.’

It is very sad that Luke couldn’t talk to anyone. I would love to know how far the ‘chain of care’ was taken. Or was it just a case of following procedures and, therefore, meeting the obligations?

It is a sad fact that we have managers who cannot be approached and this is a huge failing on the Southern’s part when it appoints managers from within the driving grade.

Don’t get me wrong. I accept that some are very good at their job and genuinely show concern for their drivers. But equally I am afraid to say that when everything is running smoothly, there is no problem.

But when you ask for assistance, a different approach comes to the forefront.

If a driver is interviewed by an incompetent or poor manager, the result can be to put fear into the driver’s mind. Why? Because the conversations always go back to the questions, ‘Are you fit to drive trains?’ and ‘How long do you see yourself being unfit?’

I even know of a case where a driver who was certified sick by his doctor was ordered to attend a company medical two weeks later. Perhaps they didn’t believe him. Who knows?

Southern, please don’t insult me by saying this is not the case, because I am a local rep and have heard this on numerous occasions from our members.

I have seen grown men and women with a genuine fear of losing their licence because they will not be able to meet their obligations to drive trains due to ill-health.

Neither is this a recent problem. I can remember in 2001 a driver was given 12 weeks notice for an alleged safety of the line incident. He was only reinstated after the intervention of our union and a resolution from our ASLEF branch telling South Central this would not be acceptable to our members.

This man was reduced to a nervous wreck all the time that he was waiting for his hearing - and, Southern, you know that things haven’t changed. Too often it is a case of, ‘Come and tell me your problems. If I like them you’ll be alright. If I don’t, I’m sure we can find you alternative work. Maybe.’

The whole chain of care structure needs to be addressed. Perhaps one way forward would be to appoint specialised managers to deal with problems of this nature.

In the interim, R.I.P Luke Veness, Brighton Driver, aged 34 years. Seniority date 23/10/06

 

 

John Herriott at Brighton station on 06.12.2008

John Herriott served as a member on the Brighton Cross Country L.D.C.

 

 

THE CLOSURE OF

THE BRIGHTON ARRIVA CROSS COUNTRY DEPOT

ON SATURDAY13th DECEMBER 2008

 

 

Dave Neish

Worked the 09:33 Birmingham New Steet - Brighton, on the last day of the Cross Country Service

Dave is photographed with his family, just after his arrival at Brighton station.

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

FEBRUARY 2009

EXTRACTS FROM THE ARRIVA CROSS COUNTRY COMPANY COUNCIL REPORTS

The CrossCountry franchise commenced a little over a year ago - on 11 November 2007. The interim period has been one of considerable activity for the Drivers’ Company Council as the re-franchising brought together 430 former Virgin CrossCountry Drivers with 102 former Central Trains Drivers. The salary gap between them was over £7,000.

In the summer of 2007, as soon as the DfT announced that Arriva had been awarded the franchise, the Company Council, along with our full-time officer Colin Smith, made it clear to the company that we needed to begin discussions on harmonisation as soon as possible. At the same time we needed to ensure that acceptable arrangements were put in place to deal with the closure of Brighton CrossCountry Traincrew depot, something that had been determined by the DfT franchise re-mapping.

Brighton depot closed on 13 Dec last year, and all the drivers at the depot were given two options. They could either transfer to other CrossCountry depots with a relocation package, or opt to take an enhanced severance package. Roughly half have opted to remain in CrossCountry, four have opted to leave the industry, and the remaining drivers have ransferred to FCC at Brighton. We should offer special thanks to Mick Whelan, the District 6 Officer, to the FCC Company Council, and to the Local Reps at Brighton FCC for their help in making those jobs available, and at the right time. We wish the former Brighton drivers all the best at their new depots.

 

Andy Gregg 

Brighton Virgin Depot L.D.C. representative 

 

 BRIGHTON SPECIAL BRANCH MEETING 2009


 A.S.L.E.F. GENERAL SECRETARY KEITH NORMAN

 

  Left - Right: Ivan Wilson (Branch Chairman), John Waters, Ian Osborne, Dave Lace, Dave Penny, Bob Attwood, Brian Hall, Dave Swaffield, Mick Whelan, Barry Brown, Bart-Jones, Simon Weller, Perry Garland, Paul Heerey, 

Mick Spencer, Kathy Wilson, Keith Norman, Sarah Stinton, Chris Newton, John Osborne, Dave Neish, 

Trevor Fielding, Dave Eaton, Andy Butchers, Ralph Stobbart, & Spike Jones.

 

 A.S.L.E.F. Retirement Certificates 

A.S.L.E.F. Long Service Badges 

Left Tony Brace Branch Secretary & Keith Norman G.S. 

 

 

  LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

AUGUST 2009

 

THANKS FROM MARATHON MAN

I would like to thank all branches who responded and supported me in my recent appeal for sponsorship.

I ran the London Marathon on the 26 April in 3 hours 48 mins in aid of the Martlets Hospice in Hove, East Sussex.

Thanks to your generosity I raised £5,322. This was gratefully received by the hospice and will go some way to help with the sterling work they do to enable the terminally ill to die with dignity.

Once again a big thank you

Mark Johnson - Driver -

FCC Brighton

 

 

Rachel Johnson (nee Bowles) & Steve Brooke, just before the departure of 1M50, 1418 Brighton - B'ham New Street on the last day of operation. This train normally ran through to Manchester but not that day!

With the closure of the Brighton depot Rachel transfered to Bristol Cross Country

 

 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

AUGUST 2009

WHAT ASLEF REALLY MEANS

My name is Paul Fish and I am currently employed as a driver by FCC at Brighton. Prior to this I was a driver for Cross Country Trains, also based at Brighton (where I was also proud to perform the role of LLC rep for eight years) before being made redundant, and before that I was a driver and trainman at Brighton for BR and Connex SC (ah, such days!) since coming onto the railway in 1992. I am also a single parent with a 14-year-old daughter.

In February this year I was diagnosed as suffering from pancreatic cancer. I am 45 years old and last April I was told that the NHS considers my cancer to be incurable.

Since going off sick in March I have been receiving SSP – as a relatively new employee of FCC who was still on probation, I was not entitled to any company sick pay – but the ‘savings’ provided by my redundancy money from Cross Country meant that I am not entitled to any other mean-tested state benefits – which turns out to be most of them.

On the other hand, I have received a payment from the ASLEF EC’s Hardship Fund and, at the end of last week, a payment resulting from a nation-wide appeal to ASLEF branches for help. It is in connection with this that I write now.

I want to take this opportunity to say how genuinely and deeply moved I have been by the kindness and generosity shown by the membership. The money that has been donated will make a genuine difference in the weeks and months to come, helping to provide (as it will) some measure of security for the loved ones that I must leave behind, and offering me the solace of at least some kind of peace of mind as I enter what are projected to be the last few months of my life. And it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of peace of mind when faced with a situation like the one I find myself in now.

I guess we’ve all been in situations in the past, sitting in a branch meeting, when an appeal has been read out and hands have been raised in support and then we probably don’t think too much (if at all) about what happens after that, as far as the individuals involved in the appeal are concerned. Let me assure you that the help you give means an enormous amount to the individuals concerned, and is hugely appreciated.

And perhaps it’s the least that we could and should expect from one of the last great trade unions. The fact is that ASLEF has been there for me and my family – and for that I cannot thank you all enough.

Keep up the good work!

PAUL J. FISH- Brighton

 

 


 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL 

JUNE 2010

 

Thanks ASLEF, and goodbye

 

As I have left the railway quite unexpectedly, I’d like to say my goodbyes to my colleagues. I have no regrets about coming to the UK from the Netherlands to drive trains but it is time to start a new adventure – in this case, a course in restoring classic cars.

Thanks to everybody who made my May Days and Tolpuddles so enjoyable, to all the friends I made at work, to Roy Luxford and John Doyle for their support and especially to Kevin Eade.

I wish you all the best for the future.

 

Carine Visser,

ex-driver Brighton

 

 Tollpuddle  2010

 

 Left ~ Right; Simon Weller A.S.L.E.F. National Organiser (Brighton Branch), Graham Morris A.S.L.E.F. District No. 1 Secretary (London Bridge Branch) & Marz Colombini (Waterloo & Nine Elms Branch) A.S.L.E.F. Excutive Committee District No. 1.

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL 

DECEMBER 2010

PAUL FISH


A VERY BRAVE MAN

 

It is with deep regret that I have to announce the passing of Brighton Driver Paul Fish losing his battle against cancer. Paul was 45.

Paul started his railway career as a Trainman at Brighton in 1992 before becoming a Driver working for Connex South Central.

When Virgin Cross Country opened a Brighton depot in 2000, Paul transferred and was elected as Local Level Rep - a position he held until the depot closed in 2008.

Paul then started working for First Capital Connect. He was just starting to get his road learning underway when he was diagnosed with his illness.

Paul leaves behind a daughter Molly, 15 and son Amos, 10.

At a very moving and well-attended funeral on 9 October a poemwas read out that he had written himself for the occasion, praising his two children. It demonstrated what a deeply thoughtful person Paul was.

Paul’s former colleagues Cross Country came fromas far as Bristol and Bournemouth to join ASLEF officers from District 1 to pay their respects to a dedicated, thoughtful and very brave man indeed.

Ivan Wilson

ASLEF

Brighton Branch

Chairman

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL 

DECEMBER 2010

Freddie Goff

AN INSPIRATIONAL CARD

It is with great sadness that I have to inform ASLEF of the passing of retired Brighton Driver Freddie Goff on 28 September 2010 at the age of 81.

Fred entered the footplate grade at the age of 15 on 22 May 1944 at Newhaven, where he worked up through the grades from Cleaner to Fireman and Engineman. When he was made redundant with the closure of Newhaven Loco depot on the 9 September 1963, Fred transferred to Brighton Loco/Mixed Traction depots. He stayed at Brighton until he retired on 10 February 1994 after completing almost

50 years (all bar a few weeks) of dedicated railway service.

Fred spent many a night sitting in Brighton mess-room waiting to book on duty or for his first train home. This was due to Fred not having any means of transport so he would catch the first/last train to and from Newhaven. It didn’t take him long to get a card school going – known to by many as ‘Goff’s Gamble. Many of our grades became victims of his various card games!

Fred took on the role of Branch Secretary of Brighton No1 Branch in 1970. It was a position he retained until he decided to stand down a decade later, making him the longest serving Secretary the branch has ever had.

During the mid 1980’s Fred carried out the prestige role of ‘Royal Train Driver’ for the Brighton Area. He carried it out with great honour and dignity working the Royal Trains between London Victoria and Tattenham Corner on Epsom Derby days among others.

He was the last Brighton driver to hold this position.

Fred will always be remembered as a truly great ‘footplate character’, a loyal and proud ASLEF member with a great sense of humour.

His one-liners put a smile on many a face regardless of the situation they were in.

Fred’s funeral was held at the Downs Crematorium in Brighton on 11 October.  brought together many of his former footplate colleagues, past and present, to pay their respects to a fellow driver of whom they all had great memories.

Paul Edwards

LDC Secretary

Brighton

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL 

JANUARY 2011

 

 

A welcome visit, a deserved badge

 

 On behalf of the Brighton branch I’d like to thank everyone at Arkwright Road for making us so welcome when we visited the union’s head office last November.

Dave Bennett led us on an informative tour of the building, the EC interrupted their meeting to welcome us and General Secretary Keith Norman made the day even more special by finding time to present a 50 year medallion to branch member Bro John Osborne.

National Organiser Simon Weller, also a Brighton branch member, said, ‘John is a former local representative of long standing who guided Brighton depot through the sectorisation of the 1980s and privatisation of the 1990s and 2000s. He’s a railwayman through and through, and his legacy continues as his son works as a driver with First Capital Connect.’

Perhaps I should also mention the exceptional hospitality laid on at the local hostelry!

Thanks for a great day.

Mark Johnson, Secretary, Brighton Branch

 

 

Brighton Branch Visiting A.S.L.E.F.'s Head Office 11th November 2011

 

Front row Left ~ Right: Steve Chatfield, Dave Eaton, John Osborne, Carrine Visser, Paul Edwards.

Second Row Spike Jones & Ivan Wilson.

Back Row Mark Johnson & Paul Heerey

 

A.A.D. 2011

Ivan Wilson from Brighton was chosen by delegates at Swansea to chair this year’s conference – and it was, he says, ‘a great privilege’.

‘The two proudest days of my life have been the one when I got my key, having passed out as a driver: and the other is the first day of this conference when such trust was placed in me.

‘Although I’ve been our branch chair for ten years this was very different. I know all the drivers at Brighton, for one thing. But strangely, and I don’t know why, it wasn’t alarming. It was rewarding and enriching. It’s a fulfilling role. ‘Perhaps it was because I had to concentrate completely for a week, something I suppose

every train drivers learns to do. And I felt more involved in the debates, maybe because, facing them, I could see all the faces, reflecting how they were feeling.

‘Peter Dodgson chaired my first conference and I never forgot the example of his calm and precise manner.’ Ivan, who joined BR at Waterloo in 1984, transferred to Brighton six years later and became an ASLEF rep the year he passed as a driver.

‘I’ve always had a great interest in the union’s history,’ he says. ‘ Now, in a small way, I have become apart of it.'

Extracted from

The Loco Journal

July 2011

 Ivan gets to be the man with the gavel!

 

 

 Left~Right: Alan Donnely (E.C. President) Ivan Wilson (Chair) & Keith Norman (G.S.)

 Brighton delegate Ivan Wilson chairs the 2011 A.A.D. becoming the second ASLEF delgate from Brighton Branch(es) to chair A.A.D.

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

 AUGUST 2011

Brighton makes history at the Railway Club 

 Back row Left - Right: John White, Maurice Hunter, Ivan Wilson, Mick Hawkins, Simon Weller, 

Paul Edwards, Marz Colombini & Spike Jones

Jackie Sanders (Littlehampton Branch), Bob Attwood & Bill MacKenzie

 

 

 The draft design of the120th anniversary badge designed by Mark Johnson. 

 

On Tuesday 17th May Brighton ASLEF Branch held its first Drivers reunion at the Brighton Railway Club. This reunion was also open to any ASLEF members connected to other Depots that operated in Sussex in the Central Division of the Southern Region.

The idea behind the Reunion came from the Brighton branch website “Brighton Motive Power Depots” which aims to record the history of members since the Branch opened in 1891.

An enjoyable day took place with over 150 retired and active Drivers in attendance. Some had travelled from as far away as Edinburgh and Penzance! Many retired members renewed friendships with members they had not seen since retiring as long as 20 years ago.

Marz Colombini, EC Member District No1 and National Organiser Simon Weller (Brighton Branch member) were also present. Simon Weller presented 40 year membership badges to Retired Drivers Bob “Jetlag” Atwood and Maurice “Dougal” Hunter and 50 year membership Medallions to retired Drivers Mick Hawkins, Bill “Spike” Jones, Bill Mackenzie, John “Chalky” White and Jack Sanders.

Both Mick Hawkins and Bill Mackenzie having served as L.D.C. representatives of ASLEF Brighton Branch over many years .

I would like to thank the Railway Club for providing the Buffet and for making the afternoon and evening pass all too quickly

Ivan Wilson

ASLEF

Brighton Branch

Chairman

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

 JANUARY 2012

Low hall, high standards

THROUGH the medium of the Journal I would like to say a few words about the RMS weekend forum at Scalby, Yorkshire from 11 November to 13 November. It was totally worth every minute spent there. The venue was superb, the organisation was great and the company was second to none.

To spend the weekend with a gang of true united trade union brothers and dedicated socialists whose purpose in life is to make our world a better place is not only a pleasure, but a privilege. I really look forward to being invited to attend next year. The speeches and debates with our EC President, an LGBT representative , the TUC

Regional Secretary for Yorkshire and Humber, Doncaster Central MP, Chief Whip for the Labour Party and EC member Tosh McDonald were not only interesting but also very informative.

The RMS Forum and the work of the RMS Committee is all funded in-house, so they have set up the 500 Club to help with finances.

Please support this worthwhile section of your union by joining the 500 Club. There are members at the age of 93 marching the streets campaigning and electioneering on your behalf - so please get behind them and keep them going.

Spike Jones

Retired Member

Brighton

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

 MAY 2012

 

Brighton recognition for three 

leading lights 

 

At the Brighton Branch meeting, presentations of long service badges were made by our Branch Chair Steven Chatfield to David Eaton (10 years), Paul Horan (25 years) and Simon Weller (now the union's National Organiser) also 25 years' membership.

On behalf of all our branch members, I would loke to congratulate them on their awards and thank them for all the hard work they do for the Brighton Branch.

Mark Johnson, Secretary, Brighton Branch 

 A decade of membership for Dave Eaton

 

 It's a change of role National Organiser Simon Weller as he is presented with an award - his 25 year badge

Paul Horan Receives his 25 year badge.

  

All presentations made by Branch Chairman Steve Chattfield 

 

 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

MAY 2012

A.S.L.E.F.'s Branch Secretary Course 2012

 

 

 

Back Row 3rd from the Right

Sean Roberts Branch Vice Chairman

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

JULY 2012

ASLEF in Brighton took the opportunity of the May branch reunion to present a gift to former Branch Chair Ivan Wilson. National Organiser Simon Weller made the

presentation in recognition of Ivan’s service to the branch and his long standing efforts as a LLC representative. We all wish him well with his move to Scotland.

Our loss is their gain.

 

Steve Chatfield,

Chairman,

Brighton Branch

 

  

  

Right

 the inscription on the decanter

and below front fearuring the Branch's banner 

 

 

 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

JULY 2012


Safety Steve Qualifies!


The Branch offers its congratulations to Brighton Branch Chairman, and First Capital Connect Health and Safety Rep Steven Chatfield who has completed a year-long Health and Safety Level 3 qualification at Downs College at Newhaven.


Mark Johnson, Secretary,

Brighton Branch

 

Rob Reddan Collection

Dave Lace at the T.U.C. Rally in London, on the 20th October 2012 

 

 

The witch is dead but the spell remains

Anon. graffiti artist 2013

 

 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

APRIL 2013

STEVE CHATFIELD COLLECTION 

Brother Tony Farmer was presented with his 35-year badge by executive committee member Marz Colombini at the Brighton branch’s ordinary meeting on 21 February, reports branch secretary Mark Johnson

 

 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

MAY 2013

 

Brighton Branch Meeting - 21st March 2013

 

Sister Zoi Kakouris received her 20-year badge last month from the chairman of her Brighton branch, Brother Steve Chatfield,

reports Mark Johnson

(Brighton branch)

STEVE CHATFIELD COLLECTION

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

JUNE 2013

 STEVE CHATFIELD COLLECTION

Brighton Branch chairman Steve Chatfield presented Brother Paul Evans with his 20-year badge at the branch’s April meeting

 

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

JULY 2013

The third Sussex Motive Power Depots reunion was held at the railway club, Brighton, on 7 May. I would like to thank all those who attended for making this an enjoyable event. We are encouraged by the growing numbers of attendees, of members both retired and active, and a good number who returned having moved away from the area.

We were delighted to welcome the General Secretary, Mick Whelan, who presented a 50 year medallion to Bro. John Mould of Eastbourne branch.

Encouraged by the continued success, we have confirmed the date for the 2014 reunion as Tuesday 6 May. Put it in your diary!

Steve Chatfield

Branch Chair

Brighton

 


 LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL

SEPTEMBER 2014


Looking through someone else’s eyes


Back in April, Leigh Gibbins, from Blind Veterans UK, formerly St Dunstan’s, got in contact asking if I would be prepared to give a talk regarding the history of Brighton’s railways. He said he enjoyed visiting my website Brighton Motive Power Depots, a history of ASLEF in Sussex, and that the charity he worked for were doing a theme week on Planes, Trains & Automobiles for their residents, some of whom have totally lost their vision. (St Dunstan’s was founded in 1915, as a convalescent home and training centre for ex-servicemen who lost their sight on active service, and moved to Ovingdeen near Brighton in 1938). 

On 11 July Ivan Wilson, who had kindly travelled down from Scotland for the event, Mick Hawkins and I, all former L.D.C. reps at Brighton, went to the Blind Veterans’ centre to give our first public speech on this subject. We were joined by Tim Wood, whose book, Southern Electric Driver, tells of life on the last of the old slam door trains on Southern region. We started at 7pm, and didn’t finish until gone 10pm. The veterans seemed very interested and asked lots of questions about life on the footplate, the railway in general, our trade and our union.

Paul Edwards

Brighton Branch 

Ivan Wilson, chair of Polmadie branch, with the big screen 

 

ARMISTICE DAY 

11th November 2014

Chirs Newton Collection

Left - Right Tony Brace (Ass Branch Secretary), Anthony Williams, 

& Dave Devonport (Vice Chairman). 

 


Click on the icon to reed about the story behind the badge 

 http://thebrightonbranchofaslef.yolasite.com/dead-men-tell-no-tales.php

 

LOCOMOTIVE JOURNAL 

DECEMBER 2014


 “I, I WILL BE KING AND YOU, YOU WILL BE QUEEN WE CAN BE HEROES, JUST FOR ONE DAY”


National organiser SIMON WELLER joined british Rail in 1987. Here he reflects on the changes he’s seen, and some of the inspirational characters he’s met, in a life on the footplate as a train driver and trade union activist.

Why do some members become ASLEF activists or politically active in any form? This was a question I was asked recently and, in many cases, it is hard to say. But, for me, it was an accident, nothing planned, no great design; just a sense of ‘that’s not right.’

It also has to be said at the outset that there was a great deal of encouragement from a particular member: Dave Griffiths, who made it his business to ensure that the young upstarts at Aberystwyth were encouraged ‘to get involved’ and have their say as well as ‘have a go’ as branch officers. there was also Mick Richards, another ASLEF man through and through, who showed me how to handle a train. A tale in itself...

TRACTION TRAINEE AT WATERLOO

My entry into the footplate grade was nothing unusual–i was at a bit of a loss for a job after my initial choice fell apart (light engineering was not such a great career choice in the mid-1980s as the recession bit deep) – so I stumbled into a job as a traction trainee at Waterloo at the giddy pay rate of £72.40 a week. ‘this will do for a couple of months,’ I thought...it was not a bad job (although drivers would always say it would get better, one day) and a decision to move as a driver’s assistant from Waterloo to the small depot at Aberystwyth was one of my better ones. Although basing a career move on memories, as a child, of enjoyable family holidays in the area is possibly not the most mature approach to a career move.

It was a very unusual depot at the end of a branch line that seemed to move back in time as it progressed to the Welsh coast. unusual and retro to the extent that there were still steam engines on the narrow gauge line out of Aberystwyth operated by British Rail until 1988. their sell off precipitated the depot’s closure in 1989: perhaps the first taste of rail privatisation. there were some great ASLEF stalwarts at Aber amongst the establishment of ten drivers, who provided an incomparable education for a 19- year-old like me. the fact that Aberystwyth was a holiday destination, university campus and had a nurses’ training hospital also had certain appeal for a young second man about town.

TRADE UNION YOUTH CAMP

But let’s fast forward nearly 28 years, leaving behind the misty-eyed nostalgia, and return to the original question. Why, when you’ve got the job, do some people become activists and where do they come from? For me, it was the encouragement of Dave Griffiths, who suggested I attend a trade union youth camp, very common things back in the day. In many ways, this event shaped my political outlook and trade union activism. It was a ten day youth camp for young trade unionists from around the world, held in the german Democratic Republic (East Germany, as was) to see ‘socialism in action.’ it is at this point that one of life’s lessons was learnt. never trust a country with Democratic in its name for they are usually anything but (of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, etc).

Seeing the destructive effect of an authoritarian stalinist state up close, through the eyes and the experiences of citizens from the GDR, some of whom became lifelong friends, changed my perception of authority. it was not something to defer to but something to be challenged – wherever it lay.

The disconnect between what was preached in East Germany and what was actually happening made me more determined to effect change at home. Those experiences gave direction and conviction to my approach to ASLEF.

A FRIEND’S FLAT IN BERLIN

As I write this, sat in a friend’s flat in Berlin, it is the weekend celebrating the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down, an event I ridiculously missed by two hours back in 1989 (although I may have one of the last stamped exit visas from that particular day) but it serves to draw a neat parallel.

The last 25 years have been tumultuous for ASLEF – preparation for privatisation, and privatisation itself, changing the fundamental nature of the railway here in Britain. the imposition of new bargaining machinery in an attempt to break the union’s hold on negotiations and a total shift in the footplate grade’s demographic could have meant the end of what was, in many ways, an old fashioned, traditional, craft union.

it was not the end because we used the changes to create a seismic shift away from the culture of the past with huge improvements in salary from £11,500 then to an average now of £44,000; from one rest day every eight weeks to the four day week we enjoy now; and the abandonment of an unfair and non-guaranteed bonus system to clean salaries.

We now had a bargaining machinery led by lay reps who knew their areas, who took ownership of the drivers’ charter, and responsibility for their actions. the industry’s attempt to localise the nature of negotiation allowed the reps, as part of an overall strategy, to control overtime. And we used that control as a lever to create new jobs and improve long-term conditions across the whole of our profession.

NEXT GENERATiON OF DRIVERS

In addition, despite the nature of the railway changing following accidents, reorganisations and outside ideological interference, we have fought ferociously to defend our members and the security of our employment.

Although there were what could politely be described as adventures, distractions and disagreements along the way, there was always clear direction in the form of the ASLEF charter and commitment from the reps at all levels to ensure the creation and defence of good jobs for the next generation of train drivers.

however, what of the next generation of ASLEF activists, where are they coming from? With the demise of the driver’s assistant the supply of young workers joining the railway in their teens is no more and neither, fortunately, are the politics of the Cold War. so how do we react to the generational change within our membership that has quietly occured over the last 25 years?

SPACE TO MAKE MISTAKES

I think we still need to take a leaf out of Dave Griffiths’ and Mick Richards’ book and give encouragement and support to those who show an interest. They may not be kids straight out of school nowadays but the next generation still need the support and space to make their mistakes and learn their lessons through doing – none of us has a monopoly on what is right or wrong.

We all still have huge battles ahead, particularly as the wider politics of the day become increasingly unequal, small minded and spiteful. The broad political understanding of the past has given way to a narrow economic orthodoxy that is short term and unfair in its nature.

We might be seeing ever more people tricked into voting against their own interests at the next general election but we must ensure that whoever is representing ASLEF members 25 years hence does so from a position of strength. We must all give consideration to who will be standing in our shoes in the future – the graveyards are full of indispensable men – and we all need to be preparing and encouraging the next generation of ASLEF men and women.

 

 

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the Sussex Motive Power Depots & ASLEF Branches

 

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