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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 08:15 GMT
Union boss regrets sack threat
By Ben Davies
BBC News Online politics staff

The new leader of one of Britain's top trade unions said he regrets sending a letter to staff in which he threatened to sack them if they went on strike.

In an interview with BBC News Online, Aslef general secretary Shaun Brady said his threat was a mistake.

The letter came about as result of a widely publicised dispute at the train drivers' union headquarters following his surprise victory over left-winger Mick Rix.

He was elected in July but it was not until October that he took over from Rix.

In his letter, which was sent out at the end of December, Brady also threatened to de-recognise the GMB union which represents Aslef employees at their north London headquarters.

Drawing a line?

When we met in Hampstead, Brady, a former train driver, initially refused to acknowledge that the dispute he had been involved in had been particularly fractious or surprising.

Shaun Brady
Mr Brady took over at Aslef in October
Instead he seemed keen to draw a line under an episode that has clearly been deeply unpleasant for all concerned.

But later he conceded: "It was awful ... think how he [Rix] would have treated me knowing I'd taken his house, his job, his lifestyle, his ego, everything: the leader of the left, the awkward squad leader.

"That's past, this is the future. We've shut that door and this trade union now goes on."

He insists that the dispute is going to be resolved - but it has taken the intervention of TUC general secretary Brendan Barber to get to that point.

Undermined?

One of Brady's problems seems to have been that although he won a popular vote of the Aslef membership, there were - possibly still are - plenty of people at the union's Hampstead headquarters who supported Rix.

Some were clearly happy to try to undermine their man's successor.

Although Brady says that some were "using the press against me" he adds that these people are now gone.

And he denies that Aslef's ruling committee is dominated by Rix's people.

"No. The executive committee are lay membership - eight of them selected from all political spheres, eight districts."

Angry man

He adds: "We are now working together and regardless of our politics we have one thing that binds us together - we're here to work for the membership of my trade union and that is one binding factor with all of us.

"We're in to do the best job we can for 17,000 members of ASLEF."

"It's not been easy. But I don't look stressed now do I?

"You've got to remember that when you've been elected general secretary you still have a general secretary in place.

"You may be the general secretary elect but you do not take that position up until October so I had four or five months of dealing with a very angry man who looked on me in a sort of bad way.

Mick Rix
Rix left his job in October
"I'd just beaten him in an election that he didn't think he could lose, technically he's unemployed, I've made him homeless so naturally he's not going to be a very happy person, he's not going to be pleased to see me around.

"So naturally there was an amount of tension. So naturally he's going to be angry.

"But it doesn't make a very nice environment for me to be here with him here with this emotion ... it wasn't something that I enjoyed."

Brady is widely thought to have been chosen because there was irritation among the membership of Aslef with Rix's confrontational style.

Rix was firmly identified with the resurgence of a kind of trade unionism action that was thought to have been quelled by Thatcher-era legislation.

Brady meanwhile is described in some quarters as a Blairite.

Supporting Labour's leader

Whatever the truth of that, it is clear he is very keen to adopt a different style with both the government and with rail company management.

He says, for example that if he has a dispute with the government he will talk in private to ministers, not conduct a campaign through the media.

"I have a very simple political agenda.

"I'm a member of the Labour Party, I support the leader of that Labour Party, whoever it is, and I will do everything I can to use, if I have power, to influence for the betterment of the members I represent.

"That is what I believe my power's there to do. It is not there for self-gratification. It is there solely to represent the members of my union."

Asking nicely?

One of his goals is for the railway industry to better represent wider society with more women and members of the ethnic minorities.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher legislated against unions
"How are we going to do it? We're going to ask them nicely to do it for us, that's how we're going to do it.

"We're going to be ever so polite to them. We're going to say 'would you please be reflective of our community?' and they'll say 'yes'."

And if they don't?

"We'll ask them nicely again. And we'll keep asking them until they say 'yes' to us."

Compromise?

Brady says he will not talk against his union's policy of renationalisation of the railways.

But it is clear he would settle for the compromise situation that South Eastern Trains is now in having been taken off a private company and given to the Strategic Rail Authority.

"The chink in the armour for privatisation is the return of the South Eastern to a nationalised position," says Brady.

"I would like to see these private companies operating as non-profit operating companies so all they'd get was wages and expenses and then the money's that made is then reinvested back in the railways."

Asked if he believes his membership would accept that, Brady acknowledges it is necessary sometimes to look for compromise.

'No ego'

Brady says that his 24 years as a trade union activist, the years driving trains will all inform his time as Aslef's boss.

"There's no ego about it I don't feel I'm the big man now, I just feel exactly how I was prior to that.

"I am a train driver who is in a position to help my own kind, my own class."

And that letter?

"Yes I would like to have not put that letter out - that's what I'd have liked to have changed because I regret doing it now.

"I didn't actually like doing what I did, so if I could change one thing I would have changed that.

"Sometimes you look back in life and think 'I could have done it another way'."




SEE ALSO:
Leftwinger Rix loses Aslef post
17 Jul 03  |  Politics
Golden age for rail, says Crow
28 Mar 02  |  Politics
Rix: 'Scum' will profit from Tube
08 Sep 02  |  Politics
Modernisers 'killing' Labour
20 May 03  |  Politics
Union staff will vote on strikes
18 Dec 03  |  London
Rail authority takes on franchise
08 Nov 03  |  England


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