Rail workers ‘at war’ with the Government, union boss says

Rail workers are “at war” with the Government, a union boss has said, as Labour faced calls to commit to building HS2 in full.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said his members have been on strike for 16 months in a “Westminster-driven” dispute.

He accused the Government of wanting to send the rail industry into “managed decline”, as he led calls for renationalisation.

Mr Whelan’s comments came as he seconded a motion at Labour Party conference focused on critical infrastructure.

The motion said: “Conference reaffirms the Labour Party’s commitment to: a publicly owned railway; the delivery of infrastructure projects including HS2 in full in its original scope and Northern Powerhouse Rail; a rolling programme of electrification; making sure freight is part of the ongoing conversation about rail.”

Mr Sunak has promised to use £36 billion of savings from scrapping sections of HS2 to fund a raft of other transport schemes.

Mr Whelan told delegates in Liverpool: “Every year I seem to talk about renationalising our mail, renationalising our rail, renationalising our utilities and every year you do that (applaud) because it’s not only popular in this room, it’s popular on the doorstep.

“And we need that future, we need to protect our infrastructure, we need those good-quality green jobs in all those sectors.

“And I want to add my solidarity to every worker in the public and private sector that has fought against this pernicious Government in the last few years and fought for the future of their communities.”

He added: “My members have been out on strike for 16 months in a Westminster-driven dispute.

“We have a political dispute with a government that wants to send my industry into managed decline.

“It has no vision but it does want to keep the privateers there.

“We find ourselves in a unique situation – we’re at war with a government but the people we work for are making hundreds of millions of pounds and paying their shareholders, and that money is going to supply the railways in Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

“This isn’t xenophobic, but if there is money that we are spending on our railways then any surpluses, any profits, should come back for a greater good – whether it be the railways, housing or the NHS.”

Melissa Heywood, from Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), said: “When it comes to HS2, dithering and delay by the Prime Minister is a scandal.

“Our Labour Party knows that building HS2 is vital for Britain in the decades yet to come.

“HS2 is vital for jobs and businesses at local, regional and national levels.

“That is why the national policy forum document states that HS2 must be built in full and that means all the way to both Manchester and Leeds.”

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