In the aftermath of the pension dispute some rank-and-file train driver members of ASLEF at Nottingham attempted to call the leadership to account over their undemocratic actions in settling the dispute against the clearly stated wishes of the membership.
This primarily consisted of seeking written explanation from the EC. With hindsight this was never going to be enough, they ignored our last letter for example. When they deigned to respond the answers we received included this timeless excuse for bureaucratic abuse of power: “In the middle of protracted and difficult negotiations it is not always possible to formally refer back to members and decisions can be and are taken in the full knowledge that they will be unpopular”.
Note the use of the euphemism ‘unpopular’ which does cover for the more honest but incriminating phrase, not what the majority of members want. No particulars of the “protracted and difficult negotiations” are given no definite reason is given for the supposed deadline the negotiators were working to.
So, lesson learnt; in addition to the letters we should have immediately appealed against the EC decision to the AAD. Unfortunately by the time we realised this we were outside the time limit. If some of the more senior lay reps had played any part in the calling to account they might have been able to guide us on this but most of them have been completely silent; indeed the one who has had something to say still supports the right of the EC to make decisions without those decisions being in agreement with what the membership wants! I guess that’s why he couldn’t get a seconder for the person he nominated to be our EC member (somebody who acted undemocratically too).
We understand the difficulties and pressures that negotiating teams can come under. That is why we insist on having the safeguard of consulting the members. They do not face those pressures and their input guards against pressures that can lead negotiators to make bad decisions.
If we learn only one thing from this dispute it has to be that to maintain any credibility in calling ourselves a member-led union we must ensure that, however difficult and protracted the negotiations may be, there has to be an understanding by all concerned that before a final decision is made, the members must have a say.