Friday, 9 March 2007

Rhetoric or reality?

There is, in logic, a fallacy known as the argumentum ad misericordiam: in English, it means an emotional appeal ignoring pertinent facts. It is this exact fallacy that Aslef, the train drivers’ trade union, relies upon in its recent criticism of First Great Western.

Aslef claims that the reusing of partly worn brake pads on First Great Western’s Class 180 trains is a reprehensible practice which is putting the public at risk. Yet, the organisation fails to produce one shred of evidence to back its claim; nowhere is proof provided to demonstrate that the reuse of brake pads reduces the effectiveness of a train's braking system. Instead, Aslef is relying on emotion. By using rhetoric like ‘putting lives in danger’ Aslef is cynically playing on public fears, which are especially heightened so soon after the Cumbria rail crash. But rhetoric is not a replacement for evidence, and Aslef’s comments should be readily dismissed.

If public safety isn’t at risk then what is Aslef’s real motive in raising this issue? The answer to that is simple: the unions never have, and never will, support a privatised or semi-privatised rail network. Their broad aim is for the rail industry to be returned to government control where they can wield more influence and power. It is, therefore, within Aslef’s interest to discredit the private sector at every given opportunity.

That, and that alone, is the real reason Aslef raised the issue and why it worked so hard to publicise it through the media.

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