Aslef rail union boss Mick Whelan: ‘I'm not a great fan of glorious defeats’
After months of strikes causing transport chaos across the south-east, Mick Whelan is fast becoming Britain’s most-hated union leader. But the stakes are so high he won’t be backing down, he says
‘Interesting times,” Aslef boss Mick Whelan says, with an understated smile. It’s 11am on Thursday, and he’s already had a session with his legal team. Earlier this week the train drivers’ union was on strike, bringing Southern rail – and a fair bit of the south-east – to a stop. On Wednesday night, Southern announced it would take Aslef to the supreme court to try to have upcoming strikes declared illegal. It’s both a complex and a simple battle over a proposal to extend DOO (Driver Operation Only) trains. Complex in the details (the fact that many companies have been operating DOO for more than a decade; the technology used; the laws being cited by Southern in the hope of outlawing the strikes) and simple in the principle – scrapping guards on large trains is unsafe for passengers, says Aslef, and puts drivers under extreme pressure.
Whelan’s office is poky, but packed with paraphernalia: vintage Aslef badges, pictures of coal-fuelled locomotives, biographies of Keir Hardie and Dennis Skinner, campaign leaflets. On the wall behind him is a huge black-and-white photograph of a 1971 demo to “Kill the Bill”. He swivels in his chair, looks up at it, and laughs. “Unfortunate way it’s worded,” he says. “That was about killing the employment bill, not the police. I’ve had people come in here and think I’m some kind of football thug.” In the corner of a room is a pile of official Chelsea football magazines.
Source: Guardian Transport