Rail action hushed

Nothing must be allowed to hold back the relentless drive to war, it seems. Opposition to an attack on Iraq must be undermined, weakened and marginalised - nipped in the bud before it has had a chance to really grow. That, it seems, is the thinking behind denials by the ministry of defence and Scottish train-operating company EWS that any such opposition has been demonstrated by railworkers north of the border. Last week both the Morning Star and The Guardian reported that two drivers, members of the Aslef rail union, had been threatened with disciplinary action by EWS after they refused to move trains carrying weapons and munitions to the Glen Douglas Nato depot. It was subsequently claimed that the delivery had to be diverted by road. But the reports also carried MOD denials that anything of the kind had occurred. Intrigued by the distinct lack of media interest in these events, I contacted the Aslef press officer, Andrew Murray, who also happens to be chair of the Stop the War Coalition, a member of the Communist Party of Britain and a journalist with the CPB's Morning Star. Comrade Murray was, for legal reasons, unable to comment on the Scottish workers' action, but did agree that the reports were "substantially" correct. Yet the ministry of defence and EWS claimed that no such action had taken place. A conversation with Sara Reed (MOD press office) confirmed statements attributed to the ministry in both papers: no drivers had refused to move the trains. She further commented that if the Morning Star and Guardian reports were true, why was it that the rest of the media were not hot on the trail? One explanation could be that they were leant on not to follow up the story - or to play it down. That would also explain why EWS also wants to brush the affair under the carpet. Another version of the story circulating in Aslef circles is that pending a strike ballot an unofficial overtime ban is in operation within the company. It was for this reason that both drivers refused to take out the train, I was told. Whatever the truth, it is clear that Blair does not want the idea of mass resistance to the war drive - particularly if it is led by the working class - to enter the consciousness of the growing numbers who are at the very least questioning his plans. Like us, the ruling class collectively remembers the magnificent action of London dockers who in 1920 refused to load the Jolly George and thus assist counterrevolutionary forces mounted against the Bolshevik revolution. Then, as now, there had been little sign that the working class would move into action against imperialism's plans, but the dockers' boycott caught the imagination of millions and suddenly the government was on the retreat. In that case too the action was initially interlinked with the dockers' own trade union grievances. Blair will do all in his power to avoid a recurrence. Should attempts to downplay or deny the existence of active opposition to the war fail, you can be sure that he would use every trick in the book to block it and stop it from spreading. Obstructing the common war effort would be portrayed as putting the lives of 'our' armed services and the ricin-threatened nation at risk. Striking trade unionists - whether railworkers or firefighters - would be depicted as the enemy within. We should not underestimate the potential effect of such a propaganda onslaught. In a wave of chauvinistic mass hysteria many a staunch pacifist or even anti-war militant would be transformed into an enthusiastic recruiting sergeant for the coming assault. That was certainly the case in the lead-up to World War I. The ruling class is skilled at using every incident to stoke up the 'right' atmosphere. In this sense the January 14 killing of a police officer by a terrorist suspect in Manchester has proved more than useful in ratcheting up war sentiments. The knife used to stab the policeman is, it seems, comparable to Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction', in that both are examples of what will repeatedly be used against us by such dangerous and ruthless men unless 'we' act speedily. It is in the interests of the working class to thwart the bellicose attempts to strengthen imperialism under US hegemony and pursue our own, working class agenda. That is why, far from denying the political nature of trade union claims - as Andy Gilchrist was, it seems, forced to do by the Fire Brigades Union national executive - workers need to link their own fight for higher wages and against government and employer attacks with opposition to the war. If the series of 24-hour FBU strikes, beginning on January 21, goes ahead, the torrent of abuse and unremitting propaganda directed against firefighters will resume with a vengeance. However much Gilchrist and co protest that theirs is purely an industrial dispute, they will be accused of sabotaging military preparations by forcing the government to divert troops onto the Green Goddesses once again. Any action by workers aimed at holding back an assault on Iraq is to be saluted. In the right circumstances apparently isolated individual actions can suddenly spark a mass movement out of nowhere. Ronnie Mejka