ASLEF delegates reject motion to disaffiliate from the Labour Party

Elliot Chappell
© Mark D Bailey/

ASLEF delegates have rejected a motion to disaffiliate from Labour by 74 votes to nine after general secretary Mick Whelan told the train drivers’ union that staying in the party is “the only game in town” for working people and their families.

Delegates at the conference in Bournemouth considered a motion to disaffiliate from Keir Starmer’s party this afternoon. Speaking before members voted, Whelan said: “We are ASLEF and we do not run away. We have a plan for the future of the railways, which we helped Andy McDonald put together.

“And no one else is going to do it. I was on a platform with Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram at our Invest in Rail launch on Wednesday and they have plans for public ownership of the railways, which is one of our key policies.

“We were involved in drafting the new plan for employment rights. What we have is a two-party system. The only game in town for working people, and their families, is if we stay with the party. We stay in the Labour Party and we support.”

Sources within the union movement told LabourList before the vote that the motion to cut ties with the party, after almost 120 years of affiliation, came from a broad coalition including those on the left and to the left of the party.

It also reportedly included those in Scotland either supportive of or sympathetic to the SNP; members who are not political and do not see why the union should be funding any political party; and those who are not progressive and support the Conservatives or UKIP/the Brexit Party.

Reacting to the vote today, Labour’s Louise Haigh described it as “fantastic news” that the members of the train drivers’ union had “overwhelmingly voted to re-affiliate” the party. She added: “As one of the unions that founded @UKLabour, they are a valued voice in our movement. Looking forward to continuing to work together in the interests of rail workers and passengers.”

LabourList understands that the Shadow Transport Secretary put in a lot of work to persuade delegates to vote to remain affiliated both behind the scenes and with public visits, such as to the Invest in Rail conference and other engagements.

If passed, the motion would have seen ASLEF become the second union to disaffiliate since Keir Starmer became leader. The Bakers’ union disaffiliated from the Labour Party in September, accusing the Labour leader of waging an “internal war”.

The vote today followed a similar at the conference for the firefighters’ union the FBU on Friday morning, during which delegates rejected a motion to disaffiliate from the Labour Party by a rough 75/25 split on a show of hands.

A spokesperson for the Labour leader said: “The trade unions are an essential pillar of the labour movement and a vital partner in our mission to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and form the next government for the working people of this country.

“We are delighted to have ASLEF with us as we build on our strong local election results and look forward to removing this Tory government.”

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