1982 Flexible Rostering Strike

By Martin Warrick

     General Secretary Ray Buckton

July 4th saw the 30th Anniversary of the start of the1982 strike to protect the 8 hour day which the British Railways Board wanted to replace with a flexible roster of 7-9 hours.
The Tories had come to power in 1979 with a promise to sort the unions out with the threat of unemployment and the introduction of anti union legislation which they indeed bought in the following year.
Wage restraints were the order of the day along with their dogmatic cuts in public spending, with the exception of their massive spending on a "nuclear deterrent".
As is the case today the poorer sections of society bore the brunt of Tory economic policy and the gap widened between rich and poor (remember the odious yuppie element).
The riots of last summer took place on the 30th Anniversary of the summer riots of 1981.
ASLEF’s 1981 pay claim was settled in August and was a 11% increase in two parts-8% and 3% - attached to the 3% was a commitment to productivity talks.
British Rail then reneged on this and refused to honour the 3% unless ASLEF agreed to flexible rosters regardless of talks.
Industrial action took place between the end of December 1981 and February 1982 which consisted of 48 hour stoppages, overtime and Sunday working ban (17 days of action).
The dispute ended when Lord McCarthy ruled in favour of ASLEF, stating that the productivity talks were separate and the 3% should be paid.
The National Union of Railwaymen (now known as the
National Union of Rail, Maritime and  Transport Workers R.M.T) had agreed to flexible rosters.
In the 1982 pay talks the BRB made it clear that they wanted flexible rosters of between 7-9 hours.
ASLEF was equally adamant in keeping the 8 hour day which we felt was sacrosanct, this stance was endorsed at 1982 Annual A
ssembly of Delegates.
On June 29th BR told General Secretary Ray Buckton that the rosters would be imposed from July 4th and after a offer to agree to pilot experimental rosters was rejected by BR strike action was called to commence on the 4th July against an onslaught from the right wing press, even more right wing at the time due to the Falklands Conflict.
Support for the strike was so solid that 97% of the members stayed out.
On the 11th July BR threatened to dismiss drivers if we failed to return to work by the 21st July. A deal was reached between the TUC and the BRB, without ASLEF present, to accept the flexible rosters and the TUC threatened to expel ASLEF from the TUC if it failed to agree.
The strike was called off on the 18th July.
In conclusion although we returned back to work defeated we had stood strong and in solidarity with each other and it is my opinion that there was a certain amount of jealousy amongst other unions at the power that we wielded for a union with so few Members.