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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Rix relishing union resurgence

As the man who represents the interests of the UK's train drivers it's fair to say ASLEF boss Mick Rix has a reputation as something of a hard-liner.

But when we met earlier in the summer he tried to play down the prospect of a great clash between the unions and government over the private public partnership (PPP) on London Underground.

At times, to be quite honest, they're very immature, and they're very selfish and all they're interested in is themselves

Mick Rix on the CBI
He said it would be just one of many issues on the horizon - though he did later go on to brand those he said were set to make money out of PPP as the "scum of the earth".

In person Rix comes across as affable. He has a ready laugh and is not beyond poking fun at himself and others in the union movement.

We met at ASLEF's headquarters in the leafy, well heeled, north London suburb of Hampstead.

It's not often one gets to meet an interviewee's pet dog - especially one that's named Che (Guevara) Keir (Hardy) - a rather handsome golden retriever who appeared intermittently throughout the time we talked.


Rix is clearly enjoying himself. He talks of a renewed confidence in the union movement since Labour came to power.

But he is also conscious that people will perceive union demands as too greedy.

Che Guevara
Rix has dogged respect for Che
At one point, responding to the suggestion that since 1997 there is a greater sense of expectation in trade unions, he jokes: "We're like Oliver aren't we? Always asking for more."

He is quick to add that he doesn't think there is anything wrong with getting the best possible deal for his members - although the memory of having "no influence whatsoever" when the Conservative Party held power for 18 years seems never far from the front of his mind.

Credit for cash

He welcomes the investment now being put into transport and says the government deserves credit for putting in cash.

"We are talking about quite a few million jobs here that are protected for the long-term and that's not only good for those who are seeking work and its good for the regeneration of the economy which will keep this country as a major economic powerhouse for the next 10 or 15 years.

Open in new window : Trade unions guide
The big unions at TUC 2002

"All praise to the government at the end of the day for actually trying to do those things but there are certain things that as we've said they could do better."

By that he means the way in which the railways are owned and funded as well as the need for some pretty fundamental infrastructure changes, he says.

Rix says that though he recognises the government has delivered a lot it could deliver "a hell of a lot more", which means in part reform of the UK's employment laws.

Selfish business?

It clearly angers him that such calls, which he says are motivated by his desire for a successful economy, are resisted by the likes of employers' organisations, such as the CBI, and big business.

"At times, to be quite honest, they're very immature, and they're very selfish and all they're interested in is themselves.

Whenever [Tony Blair] does feel the chance to say perhaps it's time to have a conversation apparently my members are on strike

Mick Rix
"They're not interested in the economy and they're not interested in the fabric of the nation and the government has got some big hurdles to get over at the end of the day and we as trade unions if we show a collective, united approach on these issues I believe the government will give way over the next few years and introduce those rights," he says.

He seems to believe that when it came to issues like PPP, the likes of the CBI were consulted more than the unions.

That prompts the question as to whether he has access to the prime minister.

It turns out that there hasn't been any beer and sandwiches for Rix at Number 10.

Hallo Tony

"I've had conversations very, very briefly - we say hello if we see each other but I wouldn't say that we know each other well.

"From what I understand that whenever he does feel the chance to say 'perhaps it's time to have a conversation' apparently my members are on strike which I think is a bit unfortunate," he adds with a wry smile.

"You ask me what I would say to Tony [about the PPP]. Well I would say 'you are going to make as big a bloody mess as the Tories did over privatisation of the railways and do you want to be responsible for that?' because I believe it is a major issue in London which can detract on Labour at the end of the day."

Margaret Thatcher
Rix blames the Thatcherite right for public attitudes to strikes
The dilemma for Rix and for other union leaders involved in representing workers in public services like transport is that when they strike it is hugely unpopular among the public.

Rix says such opposition to strike action is a "by-product of the selfishness encouraged by the Thatcherite right-wing" and he insists that most people would be genuinely supportive once they understood the reasons behind a dispute - "even if they are going to be inconvenienced".

Paramount to that explanation is concern over safety, he says - especially in the wake of a series of tragic train crashes on the national network.

Rix says the last thing he wants to do is find himself saying "I told you so" in the wake of a n accident on the Tube.

And he bitterly resents the cash he says will be made by accountants and management consultants as part of the PPP - money he believes should be going towards improvements.

"The silly, stupid situation is that the government has got itself hitched to delivering something which has cost 100m just for the consultants costs alone and that is before a penny is spent on actually modernising the Tube," he said.

"So if anybody thinks the Tube is going to be modified to an acceptable standard and all the money that is going to be pumped into there is going to go into modernising the tube then think again.

"It's going to line companies' pockets, it's going to line directors' pockets, it's going to line shareholders' pockets, lawyers and consultants - all the scum of the earth that's involved in all these preparations.

"They are going to make a mass of money out of what I believe will be Londoners' misery at the end of the day and I don't think that's good government."

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Union voices



See also:

28 Mar 02 | Politics
11 Jan 02 | Politics
09 Aug 02 | Politics
11 Jan 02 | Politics
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