British Train Drivers take action against war
Two Motherwell (Scotland) train drivers refused to move a freight train carrying ammunition believed to be destined for British forces being deployed in the Gulf. This militant and courageous stand was reminiscent of the actions against General Pinochet back in the 1970s and the Jolly George incident in 1920. Railway managers cancelled the Ministry of Defence (MoD) service after the crewmen, described as "conscientious objectors" by a supporter, said they opposed Tony Blair's threat to attack Iraq.
The two Motherwell-based drivers declined to operate the train between the Glasgow area and the Glen Douglas base on Scotland's west coast, Europe's largest Nato weapons store.
English Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS), which transports munitions for the MoD as well as commercial goods, attempted to persuade the drivers to move the disputed load. However Defence Chiefs cancelled the train, deciding instead to shift the munitions by road, saying they thought the train had some 'technical' problems!
Leaders of the Aslef rail union were pressed at a meeting with EWS executives to ask the drivers to relent and stop their unofficial action. But the officials of a union opposed to any attack on Iraq refused to comply.
The two drivers are the only pair at the Motherwell freight depot trained on the route of the West Highland Line. However, a total of fifteen drivers at the Motherwell depot stated they would also be prepared to take action on the issue if confronted.
"We don't discuss commercial issues," an EWS spokesman said. "The point about the two drivers is untrue and we don't discuss issues about meetings we have."
The MoD later said it had been informed by EWS that mechanical problems, caused by the cold winter weather, had resulted in the train's cancellation!
Dockers went on strike rather than load British-made arms on to ships destined for Chile after the assassination of leftwing leader Salvador Allende in 1973. In 1920 stevedores on London's East India Docks refused to move guns on to the Jolly George, a ship chartered to take weapons to anti-Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution.
Trade unions supporting workers who refuse to handle weapons could risk legal action and possible fines for contempt of court. Under the Tory anti-union legislation, political strikes are outlawed.
In the House of Commons, an early-day motion was tabled by John McDonnell on behalf of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, applauding "the courageous and principled action by the two Motherwell-based train drivers who have decided not to operate a freight train carrying ammunition destined for deployment in a war against Iraq…"
The Campaign Group are also calling for an emergency recall of the Labour Party Conference to discuss what it termed the government’s "declaration of war" on the firefighters "at the same time as it is poised for a war on Iraq."
January 22, 2003
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