British rail workers refuse to move war cargo

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Thu Jan 9 05:55:20 MST 2003


Anti-war train drivers refuse to move arms freight
Kevin Maguire
Thursday January 9, 2003
The Guardian

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

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

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.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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