Commuters' scourge gets first-class job with Branson

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The Independent Online
LEW ADAMS, once one of the rail industry's most militant trade unionists, has taken a top post with a deeply unpopular train company.

Regarded as public enemy number one for many years by London's commuters, Mr Adams has joined Richard Branson's much-maligned Virgin Trains.

Mr Adams, who was ousted from his pounds 61,000 a year job as general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef by a leading light in Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, will be helping the Virgin group to train its drivers.

It is highly unusual for a union general secretary to join "the other side" in such a spectacular fashion, but unprecedented for such a senior official to become an employee of a privatised company.

Noticeably, Mr Adams recently refused to join the chorus of abuse heaped on the head of Mr Branson for the late arrival of yet another of the company's services. That train arrived more than an hour behind schedule in Blackpool, full of irate journalists and seething government ministers heading for the Labour Party conference. Mr Adams ventured that the delay was all the fault of Railtrack.

Yesterday, Virgin Trains declined to reveal what Mr Adams, 59, would be paid as a senior consultant and refused to comment on one industry estimate that the job carried a salary of between pounds 30,000 and pounds 35,000.

Ironically, the former union leader was a bitter opponent of the privatisation process that allowed Mr Branson to buy into the industry.

Later, and more pragmatically, Mr Adams proposed that the union set up a joint venture with Virgin to train new entrants to the industry. That proved an unpopular move with activists - they regarded it as a "sell- out" - and it almost certainly contributed to his defeat in the leadership elections.

He will now oversee the training of about 200 drivers who will operate new engines being introduced on all Virgin routes over the next three and a half years.

In his days as a shop steward, Mr Adams was known for his extreme left- wing views and even in recent months has identified himself as a standard bearer for Old Labour.

In an interview with Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Adams said he saw his new job as a "further contribution" to the railway industry. "I have been in it since I was 15. I entered the industry on my birthday. I have been making a contribution to the railway and my first priority has always been safety."

Virgin said Mr Adams had driven every train on the network, understood the safety aspect of the industry and was an acknowledged railway expert. A spokesman said he had "virtually written the book on driver training procedures".

The company said Mr Adams would not be involved in any industrial relations matters or with negotiations with trade unions. However, Virgin plans to offer its training facilities to other train companies and Mr Adams might be involved in negotiating terms for training their staff, the spokesman said.

Brian Barratt, managing director of Virgin, said: "We see an opportunity to do the very best for our staff in terms of preparing them for driving trains faster than anybody has driven trains before in this country, and to make sure our customers understand they are in the safest possible hands. Lew is going to be part of that."

Dave Rix, the new hard-left leader of Aslef, will not take over until the new year, but Mr Adams retired early from the union at the end of the Labour Party conference.

Mr Branson marked the occasion by naming one of his engines "Lew Adams - the Black Prince". That was a name used by the Daily Mail to refer to his persona as a 70s strike leader.

Mr Adams said yesterday that losing his union post had been a "traumatic experience", but he rejected any criticism about his decision to join Virgin: "Anybody that knows Lew Adams will know that I have never once compromised the position of my trade union. If the left have a problem with that, that's their problem not mine."

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