A man accused of sexual harassment deposed the left-winger Mick Rix as leader of the rail network's most powerful union yesterday.
The shock result at Aslef, the train drivers' union, is the first defeat for one of the labour movement's "awkward squad", who combine industrial militancy with vocal opposition to New Labour.
During the union election campaign Shaun Brady, who was asked to leave a course run by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) after complaints from female activists, argued that Mr Rix was using his position to launch political crusades rather than further the interests of members.
The allegations against Mr Brady stem from 1995, when he was accused of "making sexual innuendos, sexist and chauvinistic remarks and crude gestures to the female members" on the course.
The defeated general secretary, a former member of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, was a prominent opponent of the war in Iraq and a supporter of a range of radical causes.
Despite delight at the defeat of Mr Rix, Downing Street will be reluctant to show overt support for Mr Brady. The new general secretary of the 15,500-strong Aslef is also the subject of an inquiry by the RMT rail union over accusations that he made a "derogatory and racist remark" to a black railwayman at Waterloo station in London.
There is little love lost between the new leader of Aslef and Bob Crow, the hard-left general secretary of the RMT union. It is understood the two men came to blows after separate allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Brady.
The election victor, who will take over in October, said that he had been cleared of all the allegations by his union and by the TUC. He said: "I'm going to take the union back to the membership. My union's democratic process has spoken, and I'm going to listen."
The new Aslef leader, a driver with South West Trains, defeated Mr Rix by 4,500 votes to 3,200. Five years ago, Mr Rix was a surprise victor against the previous general secretary, Lew Adams. Mr Adams, now a member of the Strategic Rail Authority, has been a prominent support of Mr Brady.
Mr Brady, 41, is a long-serving railwayman, having joined British Rail in 1980.
Mr Rix addressed Aslef staff at the union's head office in Hampstead, north London, on Wednesday following the ballot result and was given a loud round of applause.
The former Aslef leader was born in Leeds, and joined the railway industry straight from school at the age of 17. He was a train driver before becoming an Aslef official.
Mr Rix moved to London after his election victory and was later elected to the general council of the TUC.
He said yesterday: "I have been proud to serve Aslef members as their general secretary for the last five years and I wish them and the union every success for the future. I hope that the same advances can be made in the next five years as have been made in the last few years."
Colleagues said that train drivers had enjoyed annual average pay rises of 6 per cent under Mr Rix's leadership and had seen their working week cut to 35 hours.
Despite his radical politics the left-winger had argued strongly that Aslef should remain affiliated to the Labour Party.
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