How Labor Might Stop a War
Anti-War Train Drivers Refuse to Move Arms Freight
by Kevin Maguire
This article appeared in the Guardian (London) for Jan. 8, 2003. In view of its overriding significance we reprint it in full, for the information of our readers. British spelling and editorial style in the original has not been changed.
Train drivers yesterday refused to move a freight train carrying ammunition believed to be destined for British forces being deployed in the Gulf.
Railway managers cancelled the Ministry of Defence service after the crewmen, described as “conscientious objectors” by a supporter, said they opposed Tony Blair’s threat to attack Iraq.
The anti-war revolt is the first such industrial action by workers for decades. 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, yesterday attempted to persuade the drivers to move the disputed load by tomorrow.
Leaders of the Aslef rail union were pressed at a meeting with EWS executives to ask the drivers to relent. But the officials of a union opposed to any attack on Iraq are unlikely to comply.
The two drivers are understood to be the only pair at the Motherwell freight depot trained on the route of the West Highland Line.
An EWS spokesman declined to confirm the train had been halted, although he insisted no drivers had refused to take out the trains.
“We don’t discuss commercial issues,” he said.
“The point about the two drivers is untrue and we don’t discuss issues about meetings we have.”
Yet his claim was flatly contradicted by a well-placed rail industry source who supplied the Guardian with the train’s reference number.
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.
One solution under discussion yesterday between the MoD and EWS was to transport the shipment by road to avoid what rail managers hoped would be an isolated confrontation.
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.
Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition, said: “We fully support the action that has been taken to impede an unjust and aggressive war. We hope that other people around the country will be able to do likewise.”
The anti-war group is organising a second national demonstration in central London on Saturday February 15. Organisers claimed more than 400,000 people attended a protest in September.