Aslef members on strike at Waterloo. Photo: Paul Mattsson
Aslef members on strike at Waterloo. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Ryan Aldred, Socialist Party national committee

Train drivers, members of Aslef, are taking industrial action again, as the Tories show their determination not to listen to workers or sense!

The dispute, ongoing since June 2022, has seen 14 days of nationwide strike action, followed by rolling strikes, staggered across the different Train Operating Companies (TOCs).

The latest in a rolling stock of transport secretaries, Mark Harper, has refused to even speak with the union since December 2022. All workers want is a decent pay offer without having to accept a bonfire of terms and conditions.

Meanwhile, rail users have a raw deal of their own. Britain already has the highest train fares in Europe, but that hasn’t stopped bosses putting them up a further 4.9% this year! At a time when people have already been hammered by the effects of inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, these fare hikes feel like a squeeze too far.

But at least the railways are operating smoothly, right? Wrong! Since 2018, five rail operators have already effectively been taken back into a form of public ownership. It is abundantly clear that privatised rail doesn’t work.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said of the railways back in July 2022: “The answer is going to lie in regulating the market, changing the market, rather than simply taking things into public ownership.”

More recently, Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, said Labour would renationalise rail within its first term of government.

The last Labour government failed to deliver rail renationalisation, despite Tony Blair promising it before being elected. And Starmer already has a record of U-turns and backtracking, before even taking office!

The rail industry could be brought into public ownership immediately, with compensation only where there is proven need – and with fares frozen and rail unions’ terms met in full. Aslef, which is a Labour-affiliated union, should be demanding Labour takes this stance. And be prepared to back candidates who do support its members and policies, even if that means backing candidates independently of Labour.

By introducing genuine working-class democratic control and management of a renationalised rail industry, investment could be planned to increase capacity and improve services. That is what the Socialist Party fights for, as part of a wider socialist planned economy.

  • Aslef members will strike across different TOCs on 5,6 and 8 April. In addition, there will be an overtime ban from 4-6 and 8-9 April. Aslef drivers on London Underground will strike for 24 hours on 8 April and 4 May