The Labour movement is at the crossroads. The pro-business policies of
the Blair government have led to widespread disillusionment, as witnessed in recent
The bosses are engaged in an offensive against wages and conditions
across the board. Under all kinds of threats, they are busily attempting to get workers to
engage in a race to the bottom. No worker is safe.
With Wall Street’s bubble threatening to burst, and overproduction raising its head in
different sectors, the world economy teeters on the edge of a new slump. The shadow of the
Thirties hangs over every worker in Britain.Rail workers are no exception.
Unfortunately, the TUC is blind to these developments, preferring to bury its head in
social partnership and class collaboration.
Never has a fighting union leadership been more needed. But a fighting leadership needs
a fighting programme offering a clear alternative, around which to mobilise the
This pamphlet is written by active RMT and ASLEF members who support the ideas and
programme outlined in the magazine Socialist Appeal. This provides a clear class analysis
of events and a programme that can take the struggle forward at each stage.
The ideas put forward in this pamphlet can unite the rank and file of the rail unions
and transform them into fighting organisations that can defend our jobs and services and
assist the whole Labour movement in the struggle for the socialist transformation of
If you agree with the views in this pamphlet and would like to receive other Socialist
Appeal publications, or attend Socialist Appeal meetings organised in your locality, or
discuss these ideas further, contact:
Socialist Appeal Publications,
PO Box 2626,
London N1 7SQ
For more than twenty years rail workers have faced huge changes: on top of
privatisation, has come flexibility and the restructuring of our terms and conditions.
Along with the rest of the British workerforce, we have faced a barrage of attacks which
has swept through British industry. We are experiencing increased work loads, stress
levels and a general tightening of the screw.
For over 20 years, especially under the Tories, big business has unleashed a
"counter-revolution" on the shop floor. Rail workers have experienced the
adverse effects of this employers’ offensive. Ever since the introduction of
"flexible rostering" and driver only operation in the early part of the 1980s,
we have had our backs to the wall with constant restructuring. Under privatisation – and
the return to the profit motive – this process has only accelerated.We have faced
continual pressure to "modernise" and become more "flexible".
A new vocabulary and philosophy has been invented – Human Resource Management – to
persuade us to accept changes in working practices. It is a new language for
"productivity" deals, which did so much to drive standards down in the past. For
workers, this new squeeze on costs has had drastic consequences on jobs, conditions and
pay. The rail bosses are currently attempting to further undermine the role and
responsibility of the guard, with a view to eliminating this grade altogether. It is the
latest attempt to undermine our jobs, terms and conditions. Only through industrial action
– strikes and the threat of strike action – as well as the public outcry over the disaster
at Ladbrooke Grove, have the employers paused in their attack. But our union leadership
must not drag its feet. It is now essential that the leadership take up the gauntlet
thrown down by the employers and immediately ballot for action to defeat this proposal
The bosses are never satisfied. They are engaged in a constant struggle to reduce
"costs" and push up profit margins – at our expense. They want more for less.
Under privatisation, profit is king. The worker is merely a "cost" on a balance
sheet, which must be reduced at every opportunity. The same goes for maintenance. The
number of broken rails has increased by 21% and an independent report by consultants
Booz-Allen Hamilton found that Railtrack had actually let the overall quality of the
network fall below the standard inherited from British Rail. Passenger complaints have
reached record levels, while Railtrack’s profits have continued to rise year on year.
The recent suggestion made by Railtrack’s chief Gerald Corbett that unlike in the past,
the company was no longer in the business of maximising profits, was met with ridicule in
the City. "We have moved completely off the profit agenda and the share-holder
agenda", he said. But a leading City
analyst straightened him out: "The shareholders will kill him if he comes out with
this rubbish. His primary concern is to look after the assets of his shareholders."
(The Observer, 2/4/2000.)
Rail workers have faced a butchering of jobs ever since Beeching, with the closure of
yards and lines, and further "rationalisation" leading to more cuts and
de-manning. Since nationalisation of the industry in 1948, staff declined from 648,000 to
under 200,000 in 1980, and even fewer than 100,000 today. Closures and restructuring have
had devastating results on the industry – with false promises of jam tomorrow. With the
decimation of British industry under the Tories, and especially the massive closures of
the coal and steel industries, many rail depots and yards were forced to close.
Marshalling yards were axed left, right and centre, and rail jobs were lost in droves.
Our members have been pressured to accept, with the full compliance of right-wing union
leaders like Green and Weighell in the 60s and 70s, "reorganisation" and
"restructuring", with the promise of big rewards in the future. Older workers
were persuaded to sell their jobs and grades with bribes, enhanced bonuses and redundancy
payments. Some sections gained some crumbs, but the bulk of rail workers have little to
show for their sacrifices.
In the past, trains were staffed by a driver, an assistant driver, a guard, and
possibly a conductor. Previously, InterCity trains had two drivers, to provide adequate
safety cover. They were used as a ‘second pair of eyes’ on all trains travelling more than
100mph. Now there is only one driver. The position of the assistant driver was abolished
as part of the restructuring by Great Western in 1998, in line with other companies. Now
the train operating companies want to remove the guard.
New technology has played its part in reducing jobs. The new generation of signalling
centres eradicated the older signal boxes. The three centres on the East coast mainline
have replaced 52 manual signal boxes. Such modernisation is welcome – but only if jobs are
guaranteed through redeployment or retraining, with no loss of pay. New technology can
make things more efficient, and lighten the burden of work, if used properly. It could
assist in introducing a 35 hour week, which must be on a full-time basis, no job losses
and no cuts in pay.
Even under British Rail, the industry was constantly starved of investment, due to
government stringent cash limits. From 1985 to 1993 the UK invested (per head of
population) 60% less than Germany and 25% less than France.
The crisis of British capitalism has had a devastating effect on our infrastructure,
especially on the railways. Today, the private rail companies receive more subsidies than
BR when it was under public ownership! It seems big business and the City must be
satisfied at all costs.
Privatisation of the railways has been a complete disaster. It was a means by which the
Tories gave their big business friends rich pickings. It was also introduced in an attempt
to the break the power of the rail unions.
The network was split up into 100 companies, all seeking their pound of flesh.
Railtrack, which took over all track, signalling and stations, made a packet out of
asset-stripping the valuable land once owned by BR. How is it possible to plan the rail
system under privatisation and the "free
market"? It is a contradiction in terms. On BBC’s Newsnight, Gwyneth Dunwoody,
chair of the Commons Transport Committee revealed after the Paddington disaster that the
Train Operating Companies "never spoke to each other". How can you hope to run a
railway with different companies bidding to run their trains over one and the same track?
Inevitably each will try to drive down costs to compete and maintain profits – at our
expense. Yet this is not only a question of money. The fragmentation of the rail network,
the other element of privatisation, is also to blame. There can be no more graphic example
of the anarchy that is the free market. Nor could there be any more tragic consequences
than in Southall and Paddington.
Traditionally, rail workers have been amongst the lowest paid, heavily reliant on
overtime to earn a reasonable wage. This has been the product of decades of right-wing
domination of the NUR prior to the 1980s, which was based on close
"co-operation" with BR management. Although there have been some advances,
notably over drivers’ pay, wage levels are still lagging behind. Overtime and rest-day
working have become a plague. Without the co-operation of staff working rest days and
overtime, the management would find it impossible to maintain existing services.
This is nothing more than enforced labour to earn a living wage. Leaving aside the
dislocation of our social and family life, as well as the effect on health caused by
working excessive hours, tens of thousands of extra jobs could be created by reducing the
working week. This would be a great step forward for all concerned. But the curse of long
hours will never be eradicated as long as we have low pay endemic throughout the industry.
The idea of a minimum living wage of £300 take home for our members is long overdue.
We should not be dependent on overtime to make ends meet. In fact, a decent wage and the
reduction of overtime would serve to generate new jobs. This is linked to the demand for a
35 hour week – on our union agenda for over 20 years! – which must now be given key
Decent wages must never again be tied to "productivity deals". Ourconditions
have been eroded enough! The only means of achieving our goals is through well-prepared
industrial action. Our brothers and sisters on Connex have shown what is possible. With a
successful ballot for strike action over pay, the company conceded to the union’s demands
without a fight. Other companies have been forced to back down over reorganisation in face
of strike action, with better deals negotiated as a result. In 1997 industrial action by
our members over proposed changes to the rule book resulted in a victory, as all the
operating companies capitulated one after another. It is clear: militant action achieves
With national agreements effectively scrapped by privatisation, the companies have
sought to divide us with different wage levels and conditions. In effect, there has been
an attempt to enforce new terms and conditions throughout the industry. Now more than
ever, we need to pursue a co-ordinated claim throughout the industry to harmonise wages
and conditions across the train operating companies, tied to the best agreement as a
base-line and backed by industrial action. The growing determination of our members to
fight is indicated by the high level of successful strike ballots – probably higher than
in any other sector. Unfortunately, this determination has not always been transformed by
the union leadership into action and a successful conclusion. Despite the legal
restrictions, this must become the basis for national action. It is clear the companies
act in unison; then so must the rail unions.
*No redundancies or selling of jobs
* For full-time jobs. No to agency labour
* 35 hour week for all rail workers, without loss of pay
* A minimum take-home wage of £300 a week
* 100% pensionable pay
* Retirement at 55, with full pension rights
* No compulsory overtime or "rest day" working
* Introduction of new technology under the control of the unions
*Restoration of National Agreements, including P.T. & R.
* Restoration of "priv" tickets
The Tories brought in a whole swathe of anti-union legislation to undermine our power.
It was a gauntlet thrown down to the trade union movement. With determined leadership
these laws could have been swept away or rendered obsolete. Unfortunately, the TUC policy
of "non-compliance" was watered down to "reluctant acquiescence".
Mesmerised by the idea of "New Realism", the TUC leaders allowed the Tories to
walk all over them.
Disgracefully, they stood by while the funds of the NUM were sequestrated. They were
impotent in the face of this onslaught. The heroic Liverpool dockers were scandalously
left to fight alone as the TGWU leaders refused to break the laws in defence of their own
Unlike under the Heath government, where their anti-union laws resulted in the
imprisonment of five dockers in 1972, Thatcher used the law to seize the funds of the
union. This hit the trade union bureaucracy where it hurt!
Their material privileges were at risk. As a result, they refused to break the
anti-union laws. Many right-wing leaders in fact used the laws to police their own
The union is not the offices, the cars, or the funds, but the membership. The unions
were born under illegal conditions. The trade union pioneers were prepared to risk
imprisonment and deportation to fight for their rights. Without their sacrifice, there
would be no trade union movement today. How far removed are the present majority of union
leaders from these traditions!
We cannot allow these class laws to hinder our ability to fight. Obviously, where we
can operate under the law successfully, then we should do so. But when there are key
issues that we need to fight on and are prevented from doing so, we must be prepared to
break the anti-union laws and appeal for support across the Labour movement.
Whether the bosses take legal action against us or not cannot be determined in advance.
In the Post Office workers have been repeatedly forced into taking unofficial, illegal
action yet the employers have not been able to use the law to destroy the union. However,
we must prepare for a possible attack. Our recent experience, where the Train Operating
Companies went to court to block our strike action is a warning. They are prepared to use
everything against the union.
Of course, we cannot enter into an illegal battle lightly. At the same time, we cannot
allow these unjust class laws to prevent us from representing the membership. We must
campaign amongst the rank and file to prepare them for taking action, even to the point of
breaking the law. If the issue is important enough, and the feeling is strong enough, the
union can challenge the bosses and their laws. Such an issue could have been the
privatisation of the railways, or rail safety, or the sell off of the tube.
Our unions must take the lead in campaigning throughout the movement for the repeal of
these laws, and for action to defeat them. Bill Morris of the T&G told the 1999 TUC
"our job is unfinished as long as one of these anti-union laws remain." These
words must be turned into action. The weight of the entire movement must be thrown behind
the defence of any union attacked for defying these laws in the interests of their
members. Our unity is our strength.
Clearly, a move to seize the assets of the union should be prepared for, with plans to
hide our funds, and obstruct the actions of a sequestrator.
Under these circumstances, an all-out call for action is the only course. A national
strike of union members would bring the country to a standstill very rapidly. The laws
would not be worth the paper they are printed on.
This would force the government to intervene to resolve the situation, just as Heath
had to order the release of the five jailed dockers in 1972 when the TUC threatened a
*An injury to one is an injury to all
* Fight for the right to strike
* Oppose all Tory anti-trade union laws
* Labour must immediately repeal all these laws
Just a week or so before the Paddington disaster, John Prescott warned the private rail
companies that they were still "on probation." That period of probation is truly
at an end. They have failed with catastrophic consequences. The railways should now be
renationalised without delay.
The rail companies scandalously tried to shift any blame for the disaster from
themselves onto the driver, stating that the signals were "in full working
order". This correctly drew an angry response from the unions. Bob Crow, assistant
general secretary of the RMT, accused the rail companies of "trying to wash their
hands" of the tragedy.
The Paddington disaster came only two years after the terrible collision at Southall,
where seven passengers were killed and 150 were injured. More unbelievable still, the
crash occurred on the very same stretch of track.
That such a tragedy could happen once is inexcusable, to allow it to happen again is
unpardonable. It was entirely predictable and preventable. The inquiry following the
Clapham rail crash in 1989 recommended that Automatic Train Protection (ATP) should be
adopted. The Tory government under pressure agreed to implement the safety system. The
cost was estimated to be about £700 million, at a time when the Tories were looking to
privatise British Rail. The prospective bidders put pressure on the government to get them
to reverse their decision. Profit ruled over safety.
Privatisation has to be implemented even at the cost of human life. Public concerns
have been rising for years about the dangers to safety from cost-cutting companies who are
hell-bent on boosting their profit margins.
In an opinion poll 74% came out for the renationalisation of the railways! The
privatised rail companies are getting away with murder. Corporate manslaughter charges
against Great Western Trains relating to the Southall crash were dropped because no one
could be found to take the blame. The fragmentation of the railways through privatisation
has led to disputes over responsibility for accidents, with rival private companies
blaming each other and inevitably dragging out the findings of public and police
It is high time conclusions were drawn from these public inquiries. Almost every
inquiry into a rail collision from before Clapham in 1988 has recommended action: to bring
in a modern, fail-safe, computerised train safety system, known as automatic train
protection or ATP. Many trains in Europe have this system; so does Eurostar and the
Heathrow Express. It was installed in the Southall rail crash but was not being operated.
It was fitted but not operational in the Great Western train involved in the catastrophe
at Ladbroke Grove. The Thames train which passed the signal was fitted with a relic from
the 19th century.
The British rail system is way behind the Europeans. In France, the rail network, SNCF,
is publicly owned. High speed trains (TGV) have in-cab signalling which tells the drivers
how fast they can go. And if the limit is exceeded, the brakes are applied automatically.
France invests 1.1% of its GDP on transport infrastructure, compared to 0.9% in Britain.
France was planning to invest a further £5billion by the end of last year.
In Spain, the Renfe railway system, is also publicly owned. Spain spends above the EU
average on infrastructure – 1.4% of its GDP. There were no recorded deaths in 1998, and
they have an excellent safety record.
In Germany, the state-owned Deutsche Bahn uses a safety system which automatically
stops a train passing a red light. Germany spends 1.2% of its GDP on transport. Just 0.31
passengers were killed per billion passenger kilometre travelled.
Italian railways, FS, is in public control. Two drivers man the cab, and have an
electronic display informing them of red signals, other trains in the vicinity and speed.
Its safety record is only second to Spain’s in the EU.
In Britain, the railways have been starved of investment for decades. This explains how
outdated the system is. Years of Tory rule further exacerbated the situation. ATP – again
recommended by the Clapham inquiry – was thrown out by the Tories before privatisation.
For the Tories nothing was allowed to stand in the way of their privatisation programme.
"They thought it would be an albatross around the industry’s neck", said a City
analyst. "There were already people questioning the wisdom of investing in an
industry with such a poor reputation and in dire need of investment." A memorandum to
the board of Railtrack in February 1995 warned that the cost of installing ATP would
affect the share value on its flotation as a private company. Nine months later Railtrack
wrote to the government saying the cost of installing ATP was too high. Safety had to be
sacrificed to make the railways an attractive proposition to the Tories’ friends in the
City. Remember that when their mealy mouthed representatives claim that ‘money would never
stand in the way of safety.’
The Tories gave huge subsidies from tax payers’ money to the private rail companies.
The industry as a whole was being subsidised to the tune of £1billion in 1999 – taking
the total to £4.2 billion since the sell-off.
The two operators involved in the Paddington crash and Railtrack have made more than
£1.5 billion since privatisation. The reality is that the present advance warning system
was introduced in the 1920s. It is antiquated and unreliable for today’s high-speed
trains. The system had failed 63 times on Great Western trains alone in the nine months
before the Southall crash.
Despite all the glib talk of safety by the rail companies, these businesses are more
concerned with cost benefit analysis and the "value" of saving lives. They put
the value of a human life at not more than £2.76 million. They were not prepared to pay
the £14 million per life on installing ATP.
Privatised railway companies are making huge profits. In 1998/9 Great Western (now
owned by First Group) made operating profits of £25m and Railtrack made operating profits
of £442m. "How must the bereaved feel today when they learn that the cost of saving
the lives of their loved ones was too much for these pursuers of profit to afford?"
stated The Guardian, (6/10/99)
The safety of passengers is being compromised at every turn. This has been pointed out
by our unions repeatedly. At Paddington, train drivers have made repeated complaints about
signal 109 which they say is situated too high and partly obscured by overhead cables and
a pylon. Railtrack records show eight incidents over the last six years where trains have
gone through red lights and was due to hold a meeting to consider resiting the signal.
The spot had been implicated in a crash in November 1995, when nine passengers were
hurt. In spite of a recommendation at the time that the signal should be moved, Railtrack
took no action. Now Railtrack has the temerity to say that new changes "will make
signal 109 even better."
"The problems with that signal have been well known since 1993," said Mick
Rix, general secretary of ASLEF. "There were numerous instances of the signal being
passed at danger. The powers that be have stalled the resiting of that signal."
"Blaming the staff is not good enough", said Bob Crow. "We will always
get human error but you have to look at why this happened. If automatic train protection
(ATP) had been fitted this would never have happened. Railtrack has refused to install it
because it costs money. The human cost of failing to protect passengers and workers is now
enormous. The travelling public knows where the real blame lies."
"We have a track record that shows that we do not stint on spending money where it
is necessary to deal with safety on the railways", states Great Western manager Mike
Mitchell, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. But the reality is a lot different.
They have constantly striven to drive down costs. They are attempting to get rid of guards
on trains and extend single person operators. Just like they got rid of the assistant
drivers. If these people had their way train drivers would also sell and inspect tickets
and operate the buffet too.
The railway inspectorate has already severely criticised the industry for a big rise in
trains going through red lights, which were up 8% last year to 643. In an unpublished
report on signals passed at danger, the inspectorate blames Railtrack and the train
operating companies for the increasing number and that remedial action had been
"There is then a possibility that such a SPAD incident may lead to an incident
with serious consequences," states the report. In other words this tragedy not only
could have been predicted, it actually was, and yet for the sake of a few measly pounds
nothing was done about it, and more than a hundred people paid with their lives.
Accidents on the railways can always happen. But today the technology exists to
eliminate them. It all comes down to money and the greed of the rail operators. Safety
will never be a top priority for these parasites, who cannot see further than their
This scandal cannot be allowed to continue. The rail bosses continue to award
themselves huge pay rises. Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett "earns"
£409,000 a year, including a bonus of £61,000. Total profits since privatisation amount
to £1,370 million. Thameslink managing director Martin Ballinger "earns"
£206,000, including a bonus of £31,000. Thameslink total profits were £29.9 million.
Great Western executive chairman Trevor Smallwood "earns" £262,000, including a
£70,000 bonus. This money is soaked in blood. Since privatisation Great Western has made
£52.7 million profit. Now the rail bosses plead poverty – at the expense of safety.
The privatisation of the railways has been a disaster from the word go. Most countries
in the world have publicly owned rail systems for obvious reasons. The private sector
cannot be trusted to run a national rail network without putting its profitability first.
That is incompatible with running a service. That is why the railways were nationalised in
the first place in 1947. The Tories were interested in selling off the "family
silver" to grant rich pickings to their big business friends in the City.
The railways, as with the rest of the public assets, were sold off below the market
price for a song. Railtrack was sold for £2.5 billion. Today, it is valued at £6.5
billion. Lawyers and consultants had a field day. It was daylight robbery, which the
Labour Party pledged to reverse. Unfortunately they have reneged on this promise. This has
been their most costly betrayal.
Everyone knows the rail system is in a complete mess. Privatisation, breaking up the
network, putting profits before lives must now be reversed.
"Three years on" , states The Guardian, "the privatisation of the
railways is threatening to achieve what Labour failed to do in almost 20 years of
opposition – rehabilitate the idea of nationalisation." (7/10/99)
The Tories received £5.3 billion for the sale. The old British Rail was broken up into
100 component pieces – including Railtrack, which owns the tracks and the stations, 25
operating companies such as Great Western, five freight operators, three rolling stock
leasing companies, and 19 maintenance suppliers. Chris Green, who runs Virgin Rail is
quoted as likening the present system to "an orchestra where 100-odd musicians have
individual contracts with the conductor, and with each other." The only difference
being that a chaotic orchestra doesn’t kill anyone.
One of the reasons for the sharp rise in rail company share prices since privatisation
has been the big rate of return on investment. The pre-tax profits of £1.1 billion last
year for the rail companies represents a massive 20% return. Nevertheless, these companies
continue to receive subsidies from the government. In 1997-8, for example, the 25
operating companies raised £2.7 billion in fares, but this was then topped up with £1.8
billion in public subsidy!
The government plans to reduce the subsidy to £0.9 billion by 2002-3. The rail bosses,
to keep up their profits, will have two choices: increase fares or cut costs. Cutting
costs is well underway. There has already been a massive reduction in the workforce. This
has resulted in a shortage of up to 1,500 train drivers needed to operate trains without
significant overtime. Drivers admit they are jeopardising safety by working extra shifts,
rest days and unsocial hours for overtime pay. "The train companies have confirmed
that they do not have enough drivers for the trains and will be depending heavily on those
they do have working longer hours of overtime", states the Sunday Times (31/5/98).
This has produced a situation where drivers have fallen asleep on duty. In 1998 the Health
and Safety Executive, which oversees railway safety, reported a 77% increase in the number
of train accidents, including collisions. Drivers blame many of these incidents on lack of
concentration due to fatigue.
Recently drivers in Scotland claimed that they were working longer hours and more
intense shifts because journey numbers were going up while staffing levels remained the
same – putting drivers and passengers clearly at risk.
Other attempts to cut costs, such as the employment of contractors, have led to
mistakes in signal repair and other errors in trackside maintenance.
"On the operational side", states The Guardian, "train companies were
more likely to take short cuts because of the threat of hefty fines from Railtrack if
their trains are late."
Railtrack boasts that it is investing large sums. However, the £27 billion headline
figure is a fraud, which has to be stripped down into its components. Two-thirds of the
money is for routine maintenance, much of it delayed in the run up to privatisation.
Corbett, Railtrack’s chief executive, has admitted that £8 bn over the next five years is
more realistic, and has gone cap in hand to the government for it! As expected the rail
bosses are looking for a continuation of the massive subsidies they receive. In the words
of one "expert": "It begs the question: why was the industry privatised
when it needs to be substantially underpinned by the state?"
Despite the public handouts, the report for the rail regulators by consultants Booz,
Allen & Hamilton condemns the companies for their record of poor investment.
"Track renewals have averaged around 1.3% per annum during the control period
(1995-2001). This is low by comparison with European railways , which typically replace
around 2-3% per annum, and with the intended renewal rate of 2.2% per annum quoted in the
1995 business plan.
"Measures of track asset quality and condition have shown some deterioration.
Overall, it appears that the physical programmes have in aggregate been below those which
were envisaged at the time of the determination. It is likely that there has been a
decline in underlying quality of the network assets as a whole." In plain English,
despite their colossal profits, Railtrack have not even invested the minimum required for
basic maintenance of the tracks.
Anyone who has visited Paddington station this year knows where all the investment has
gone. The highly profitable Heathrow Express boasts a check-in beneath a glass ceiling in
the new Lawn shopping mall and restaurant area. The same is true of other stations around
the country. The trains are late or cancelled, the track is falling apart, the rolling
stock is decrepit, but you can get a cappuccino while you wait.
The point was underlined by Vic Coleman, deputy chief inspector of railways at the
Health and Safety Executive, who blamed a number of the increasingly frequent derailments
on Railtrack’s failure to maintain the track. The HSE has gone so far as to threaten
Railtrack with criminal prosecution over the "persistent poor condition" of the
tracks. This is despite the fact that subsidies are double those given to British Rail
However, the HSE is toothless to deal with rail companies.
The private sector is not interested in running trains, just making money. Take Great
Western, one of the companies involved in the Paddington crash.
The bus operator FirstGroup bought them out for £148 million. Ten of the Great Western
directors became millionaires as a result, with CEO Brian Scott raking in £3.7 million.
This is despite the fact that his company became known as Late Western because of the poor
quality of their service.
South West Trains owned by Stagecoach, another bus company, failed to reach its
benchmark satisfaction figures in 9 out of 12 areas including punctuality, reliability,
cleanliness and catering. None of which stopped them making record profits.
Another gravy train to emerge from rail privatisation was the selling on of the three
rolling stock companies (ROSCOs). These were sold by the Tories for £1.8 billion when, in
the public sector, they were worth £2.9 billion, according to the National Audit Office.
All three were then sold on for huge profit. Sandy Anderson, for example, a former BR
manager, led the buyout of Porterbrook and then sold it on to Stagecoach for £900
million, pocketing £36 million for himself. Andrew Jukes the managing director of
Evershot made £15.9 million from an investment of £110,000 when the company was sold to
Forward Trust, an arm of HSBC Holdings for £788 million. John Prideaux received £15
million from the sale of Angel Trains by Nomura to the Royal Bank of Scotland. Nomura had
paid £700 million for the company and then sold it on for a profit of £396 million.
In relation to the sale of Great Western, Prescott stated: "This take-over is
another example of the privatised railway making individuals into millionaires at the
expense of the taxpayer." Well isn’t it time the taxpayer got back the assets robbed
from them in the first place?
The idea that by regulation the railways can be run effectively is shown to be a sham.
The present regulator has had precisely zero effect on the railways. The rail companies
have a thousand and one ways of evading regulations. So far there have been eight official
meetings to discuss the problem with signal 109, perversely coinciding with the number of
times it has been passed at danger, and two years after Southall before the inquiry into
that tragedy has even finished, we have another catastrophe. No amount of regulation is
going to prevent these tragedies being repeated again and again. There is no escaping the
fact that you cannot control what you don’t own. We don’t need Royal Commissions, or
public inquiries to tell us what we already know, private companies are in the business of
making money not running public services.
For years in opposition Labour correctly opposed privatisation. Most famously Andrew
Smith, then a frontbench spokesperson, announced to Labour Party Conference "Our air
is not for sale." Now it is Labour in government who have embraced the Tory dogma of
privatisation and plan to sell off the safety of the airways and the underground. Not only
was the Labour Party opposed to privatisation, at the 1996 Party Conference, Tony Blair
made a commitment to "restoring a unified system of railways with a publicly owned,
publicly accountable BR at its core."
Not just the track, but the operation of all rail services, maintenance and the entire
rail network needs to be brought back into public ownership immediately, and in the
interests of safety and efficiency the railways should be run democratically by the
workforce and passengers. This would bea first step to reversing the deregulation of
buses, and integrating our transport system in the interests of the conditions of the
workers, the safety of passengers and the protection of the environment.
The type of nationalisation we want is not the same as in the past. When rail was first
nationalised, Boards were appointed made up of ex-captains of private enterprise whose
sole mandate was to run the industry within the confines of capitalism, and according to
the laws of capitalist profitability. Never was the welfare of the workers in the industry
ever catered for. The aim was to simply provide cheap transport for the private sector.
Even where a profit was made, it was not reinvested back into the industry. In fact it was
bled by the bankers and financiers through high rates of interest. Lucrative parts of BR
were hived off to the money-grabbers and speculators. We want genuine nationalisation
under democratic workers’ control and management, run not for profit, but as a service.
Railtrack, the Train Operating Companies and the banks that have made a fortune out of
raping our transport system should be made to pay the money back! They owe us billions.
Labour should renationalise the entire rail network immediately with no compensation to
the profiteers. The chancellor has a budget surplus of £12 billion sitting in the bank.
Yet why should this be used to repair our railways. This money should be devoted to health
and education. Instead the private rail companies should be made to pay for the
introduction of the ATP system and the maintenance they have failed to carry out. They
should not be allowed to walk away with billions while we foot the bill for the mess
* The most advanced safety systems, including ATP to be introduced immediately throughout the rail network
* All the component parts of the rail network to be renationalised and
unified immediately. No compensation to the fat cats!
* A nationalised rail network to be run democratically involving government,
unions, railworkers and passenger representatives
As with the rail system, the London Underground has been starved of
investment over decades. As a result of this neglect the Tube has
accumulated an investment backlog of £1.2 billion. In addition, it has
been calculated that the tube network required around £ 400 million a
year to maintain the system.
It has traditionally been the government who is responsible for its
upkeep. We expected the Labour government to have made good the years
of neglect, especially under the Tories. However, the decision to stick
to Tory spending limits has been disastrous. They have adopted the Tory
idea of PFI or Public Private Partnership, as it has now been
rechristened. A rose by any other name smells as sweet.
The government’s "new" idea is to restrict public control to the operation
of the trains and ticketing, while the core of the network is transferred
into private hands. In other words, Tory privatisation by the back door.
This is a recipe for a complete mess. It will be worse than the
railways. It goes one step further than the break up of British
Rail. At least there one company was given responsibility for the
infrastructure. The government now plans to hand over responsibility
for the tube infrastructure to three separate private companies!
The so-called competition for the three franchises to run the infrastructure
is down to only four main bidders. It means that all three infrastructure
companies will be run by foreign-led consortia. The bidders are
LINC, led by French train builder Bombadier; and Metronet, led by another
French train builder, Adtranz. The third is a new group of Bechtel/Halcrow,
the US project management group, and two construction companies,
Amey and Jarvis.
Keith Hill, the Labour minister for London, said the government was
"delighted " with the quality of the bids for the 30-year contracts.
The three consortia have until 15 September to submit bids, with the
winner expected to be announced by the end of the year.
As LINC and Metronet are both bidding for the two deep tube
contracts and Bechtel is part of another deep tube consortia, Tube
Lines Group, real "competition" for the three schemes is reduced to
five groups – but four lead players. The whole thing is a carve up.
The private sector will be required to invest about £16 billion over
15 years. In return the private companies will be awarded
mouth-watering 30-year contracts. They will be guaranteed a very juicy
rate of return for their shareholders of at least 12%. This will
obviously be far more than public funding. And who will pay for this?
Ordinary people though massive price increases, of course!
An alternative of issuing bonds has been put forward by Livingstone
and others. This scheme on the basis of 4 to 4.5% interest being paid,
could be up to £7 billion cheaper than PPP. It has been claimed that
the total payback on £7 billion worth of loans would only be around £11
to £12 billion, as opposed to £19 billion if the money was raised
through the private sector.
If we were forced to choose which system to fund the Underground improvements
on the basis of capitalist economics, we would have to opt for the
proposal that would give the best and most cost effective service to Londoners
and the least to the parasites in the City of London. If it is true
that there is a £7 billion difference, why should that money (that represents
about £1,000 for every Londoner) be going into the pockets of the
bankers in the City.
But there is a far better alternative to both these options. To
defend the lesser of two evils is to pose the question, why have evil
at all? We, along with most of the Labour movement, want to see a
publicly run, publicly funded, cheap, efficient and properly integrated
transport system in this country. A system that has a well-paid,
well-motivated workforce providing a safe and comfortable service.
There can be no doubt that proper funding for such a service would
ensure more people using public transport and leaving their cars at
home. This inevitably means a resounding "no" to the proposed part
privatisation of the tube.
But it also means the renationalisation of the railways and the
buses as part of a socialist plan. It means direct and adequate
investment from a socialist government, and bringing into public
ownership the firms currently undertaking work on public projects and
the development of a direct labour force capable of undertaking this
We have to fight the tube privatisation by every means at our disposal.
The ranks of the Labour Party are overwhelmingly opposed to it, as
the vote for Livingstone for Labour’s candidate proved. The vast
majority of Londoners are opposed. That is one of the main reasons
why Livingstone will win the elections for the London Mayor, and why a majority of Labour
Party members will vote for him.
However, to believe that the election of Livingstone will block the
privatisation of the tube is a mistake. The Blair government is trying
to tie things up before May and deny any powers of interference to the
Mayor and Assembly until after the privatisation has been completed. As
rail workers, we have to rely upon our own organisation and our own
strength. We have very little time left! A one-day strike of all London
Underground staff, and a mass lobby of parliament should be immediately
organised. This will give us the opportunity to protest and to rally
behind us the entire labour movement in London. We will need their
solidarity if we are to defeat these proposals, and make no mistake we
can defeat them. However, we’ve had one day strikes before, they are no
longer enough. If the government refuses to back down in the face of
such action then an all-out strike by tube workers, appealing to other
transport workers for solidarity, will need to be prepared. If we stand
firm we can paralyse the city, not just transport workers but the whole
population will be behind us. Only militant action can force the
government to abandon these disastrous plans.
We should take a leaf out of the book of our brothers and sisters in
Ireland who recently won a victory based on united action. Bus and rail
workers paralysed transport in Dublin in early April. Bus workers used
pickets to bring out workers on DART (the local rail service in
Dublin), Irish Rail, and Bus Eireann (the national bus service). Some
800 rail maintenance workers struck unofficially and defied a high
The employers were forced to back down. Such action in London,
involving solidarity action from bus workers and railworkers in main
line stations in London, would ha ve similar results and win the
overwhelming support of working people in London, and the Labour movement
*No privatisation of the tube
* Prepare for all-out industrial action now
* Appeal for solidarity action
* For workers’ control and management
*Publicly Owned Integrated System
This must be part of a programme to radically overhaul transport
policy. What is needed is a publicly-owned fully integrated system of
transport. Our transport system is overcrowded, overpriced and
generally dilapidated. The bus system, ever since its deregulation and
privatisation has been subject to cuts and deteriorating standards.
Rural areas have been effectively cut off in many places. Millions have
been forced onto the roads resulting in widespread congestion and
pollution. In London, the underground is literally falling to pieces as
the infrastructure collapses under the weight of the passenger traffic.
Its fares are probably the most expensive in the world. Under the
Tories, the proportion of freight carried on roads grew to 66%. But the
proportion carried by rail fell to only 6%.
The motorways are under constant repairs. The whole system is being
snarled up. The idea of introducing tolls and charging motorists to
enter cities will not solve the problem. Such tinkering will make
Labour’s plans for privatisation and PPP must be dropped
immediately. Instead of the discredited old Boards that ran the
nationalised industries in the past, which were largely made up of
ex-owners, Ladies and Gentlemen, and other bureaucrats, we must
introduce a system of democratic control.
National management boards made up of representatives from
government, the trade unions, railworkers and passengers, should be
elected and operate under the right of recall. These can co-ordinate
with all the transport services to draw up an integrated transport
system. Within the transport industries there must be a system of
democratic workers’ control that can oversee the day to day running of
the system. After all, transport workers know more about our industry
than anyone else.
But where are the new resources to come from to develop an
integrated transport system? PPP is simply pouring more money into the
pockets of big business. It is a licence to print money! Under the
present big business system, where profit is the driving force,
transport has suffered a protracted decline. Only by introducing a
socialist economic programme can the resources be generated to rebuild
our infrastructure and public transport system.
Labour must introduce a massive programme of public works, to
rebuild our health service, our schools, and redevelop our entire
transport system. A socialist integrated transport policy wouldsee the
democratic running of our buses and trains in the interests of workers
conditions, passenger safety and the protection of the environment.
Never again must profit come before lives. There is no place for such
an economic system in our railways, in our hospitals, in our schools or
*No to Private Public Partnership
* A fully integrated transport policy, bringing into public ownership rail, buses, air, shipping and road haulage.
* The industry to be run democratically by representatives from
government, unions, railworkers and passengers. Day to day running of
the industry under democratic workers’ control.
* Compensation on the basis of proven need only.
* A transport system as part of a socialist plan of production, where the needs of people come before the profits of a few.
The fight for these demands can only be effective if taken up by
militant trade unions. This must be built on the fullest democracy
within our ranks.
Under capitalism, the tops of the Labour movement come under the
pressures of capitalism. In many different ways, the big business
system attempts to corrupt and buy off the leaders of the unions. Not a
small number of right-wing trade union leaders have ended up in the
House of Lords for services rendered!
As the old left-wing MP John McGovern once remarked, the workers’
leaders can often believe: "I am for the emancipation of the working
class, one by one, beginning with myself!"
Careerism is a cancer in the Labour movement. We must stamp it out.
Accountability of the leadership to the membership is absolutely vital.
That is why we must oppose the system of appointments and officials
being elected for life. All trade union officials must be regularly
elected, at least every three years, and subject to the right of
recall. Three years would allow adequate time for the full time
official to prove his or her capability in this privileged position of
serving the members.
Furthermore, experience has shown that inflated salaries can lead to
isolation from the shop-floor, irrespective of the personal qualities
or sincerity of individuals. Not only is a full time officer removed
from day-to-day pressures and hardships of workplace labour but he/she
becomes financially divorced. No official must get more than that of a
skilled worker, plus reasonable expenses. These must be vetted by the
rank and file.
The sovereign body of the union is the Annual conference. It is here
that our policies are decided for the whole union. Representation is
But in the RMT and ASLEF not every branch is represented, thereby
seriously hampering the fullest possible discussion of branch views.
Relatively small conferences represent 55,000 and 15,000 members
respectively. At this stage, where the industry is split up, we need
the maximum unity and representation in our policy making conferences.
The EC of our unions must be under the control of the membership.
Election should take place on a regular basis, with no restrictions.
The 3-year rule in the RMT should be abolished, which merely
strengthens the hand of the full-time officials. Changes in the rule
book along these lines would serve to strengthen our organisations.
* All officials to be elected every three years, to be subject to recall
* All officials to receive the average wage of a skilled worker, plus necessary expenses
* All branches to be allowed to send delegates to all policy making conferences
* Elections to the EC to take place on a regular basis, with no restrictions
on those wanting to stand.
"For management, the split between the rail unions had provided a
classic example of how to succeed by a policy of divide and rule."
(Nicholas Jones, BBC’s industrial correspondent)
"What made this time particularly dangerous was that the separate
negotiations with ASLEF and NUR were racing in parallel and it was
absolutely essential they be kept apart: a combined attack by both
unions would have been hard, if not impossible, to resists."
(Sir Peter Parker, former chairman of British Rail, on the 1981 dispute)
It was the importance of combining together to fight ruthless
employers and anti-working class governments that led in 1913 to the
formation of the NUR. For the first time in history the majority of
rail workers were enrolled in one trade union.
Now, once again, under privatisation, new battles are looming
between workers and bosses. It is a cornerstone of the Labour movement
that unity is strength. The past differences that have existed between
the RMT, ASLEF and TSSA, should be discarded to allow us to concentrate
all our forces on fighting the real enemy, the bosses. Faced with a new
struggle within the industry, these differences must be swept aside.
The instinct for unity by workers in struggle must be encouraged at all
The bitterness that exists has largely been based on historical
events and fostered by personal animosities. The past sell-outs by one
or other of the unions serves to create divisions. However, with the
election of Mick Rix as general secretary of ASLEF, who stands on the
left, co-operation between ASLEF and the RMT should be put on a more
organised footing. It could be the beginning of a new relationship
between the unions. This opportunity to promote the idea of one railway
union must not be lost. The proposal of a federation of the three
unions should be put back on the agenda.
In the past, the political rivalries between ASLEF, on the left, and
the old NUR, on the right, are now redundant. The shift to the left by
the RMT provides the opportunity for taking the issue of trade union
Our slogan remains: "Unity is strength!" The alternative is division and
defeat, as the bosses know full well.
*Unity is strength!
* For joint union bodies
* For a federation of RMT, ASLEF and TSSA
* Fight for one rail union