Here’s a slightly extended version of my story in today’s Sunday Times:
A group claiming itself as a “fully independent” voice for suffering Southern Rail users is linked to a hard-left organisation funded by the striking rail unions.
The Association of British Commuters (ABC) has received extensive media coverage and raised £25,000 from travellers for legal action against the government. In its fundraising appeal it claims to be “fully independent from all trades unions/ political parties.”
However, it places all blame for the strikes on the government and Southern, has never criticised the unions and unquestioningly echoes much of their language about the dispute. In a letter to the rail minister, Paul Maynard, it attacks Southern for “pushing industrial relationships to a breakdown” by “preventing staff from parking at stations, and preventing rest day working.”
ABC’s Twitter feed criticised ministers for “scapegoating” the strikers.
On 1 November ABC’s director and spokeswoman, Emily Yates, attended what she described on Twitter as an “RMT union rally… supporting [the] fight vs Southern Rail.” She had described herself as “looking forward” to the event.
The following week Yates shared a platform with an RMT organiser from Brighton, Gary Hassell, to demand “railways for people, not profit.” The ABC posted the RMT man’s speech on its YouTube channel and placed its logo on the video. On 15 December ABC organised a demonstration attended by Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport spokesman, who supports the strikes.
ABC’s only other director, Summer Dean, is a paid official photographer for the Labour Representation Committee, a long-standing hard-left group chaired by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and closely linked to Momentum.
LRC affiliates and funders include, or have included, the national headquarters of Aslef and the RMT, along with Aslef’s striking Three Bridges branch. Both unions have reserved seats on the LRC’s national executive committee.
Dean said: “Our only motivation is trying to sort this mess out.”