The rail service is operated by Heathrow Express (HEX), which employs some 230 workers and carries 14,000 passengers a day. HEX has refused to recognize the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), to which 104 workers belong. Company officials say that their staff association provides adequate consultation and representation.
Pickets at Paddington station here enthusiastically explained their fight to Militant reporters, but said they could not be named because of a company gag rule. Individual ASLEF membership has grown, said one picket. Over the last two years union branch meetings have got bigger. Drivers, conductors, ticket office and station workers have joined the union and we expect an increase.
Another worker said, We dont want consultation. We want an independent union to be recognized so that we can push for better pay and conditions. The unionists explained that they are paid substantially less than workers at other train operators, and there is no overtime pay and public holidays worked are paid at flat rate.
The company deliberately hires staff from poorly paid and poorly unionized sectors, including many women, said a picket. But the fact that HEX employs every sex, race, and religion has not come between us; it has strengthened our sense of unity.
In the ballot preparing the stoppage, 60 percent of ASLEF members voted for action, from a 73 percent turnout. Workers noted that the strike had had an impact: passenger numbers were down and managers were helping operate the trains. Company chairman Vernon Murphy was seen loading passenger suitcases onto rail cars, said strikers, and non-striking workers were given presentation baskets of chocolates.
One worker said, For the service to rely on the managers is already a small victory. Another said, They treat the workers like idiots with no self respect or dignity. We want union recognition, decent pay, and reasonable hoursnot fancy chocolates. Their actions make us more determined than ever.
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