UK Train Drivers Refuse To Haul War Freight

UK Train Drivers Refuse to Haul War Freight
[Industrial Worker, March 2003]

On January 8, Scottish train drivers refused to move a freight train carrying ammunition headed for British forces being deployed in the Gulf. EWS rail managers cancelled the train after workers said they opposed the government's threat to attack Iraq. The anti-war revolt is the first such industrial action by British workers since dockers struck in 1973 rather than load British-made arms destined for Chile's military dictatorship.

Two Motherwell-based drivers refusedto operate the train between the Glasgow area and the Glen Douglas base on Scotland's west coast, Europe's largest NATO weapons store. Embarrassed rail officials tried to cover up the incident while unsuccessfully leaning on union officials to persuade workers to move the munitions. The ammunition was ultimately moved by truck.

At a meeting of their union branch, train drivers approved a statement beginning: "This Motherwell branch is totally opposed to any conflict with Iraq and the USA's seemingly headlong rush into war. We also applaud the ASLEF leadership's stance in opposing the conflict. We are also proud of the EWS members at our branch who have intimated that they have grave reservations if required as part of their duties to drive Ministry of Defense trains at this time".

The statement noted that workers at other depots could also be asked to move munitions. "We have no doubt that many of these drivers will have similar sentiments to ourselves." It concluded "that we, as trade union and individually, take every opportunity to oppose this conflict."

Meanwhile, unionists expressed outrage at a new report from business leaders in the UK's Institute of Directors which concluded that a successful war against Iraq would be good for the economy. "In economic terms, a short war is better than no war, or no regime change, because of the removal of uncertainty," the report said.

John Edmonds, general secretary of the giant GMB union, termed the report "an obscenity. For the IoD to argue that we should go to war as a means of stablizing the economy is disgusting. It shows the distorted sense of priorities that occupy some of Britain's boardrooms."

"Once people start saying: 'Oh, economically it would be much better if we had a quick war,' we are on the road to perdition."