The Tories are cynically using the pandemic to wage war on Labour-controlled London, demanding cuts to the capital’s public transport network in exchange for funding. This is a warning of what workers everywhere can expect.
With the COVID-19 crisis raging on, earlier this month the Tory government finally decided to stump up £1.6bn to save Transport for London (TfL) from bankruptcy.
TfL – which runs London’s Underground and buses – came within days of running out of money. This was a result of the near total collapse in income from fares, since Londoners have stayed at home to comply with the government’s lockdown rules.
The Tories have not wasted this opportunity to make workers pay for the cost of the crisis. This is a taste of what workers everywhere can expect in the period ahead.
In exchange for the bailout, Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan has been presented with demands that he implement a series of cuts and fare increases. These will place the financial burden squarely on the shoulders of London’s workers.
The conditions attached to the bailout include a 30% increase in the congestion charge; suspending free travel for children; charging over-60s to travel at peak times; and an enforced end to Sadiq Khan’s fare freeze, which will see fares go up in January for the first time in four years.
This package of measures is a brazen attack on working-class Londoners, who are already suffering from the economic chaos unleashed by the outbreak.
As part of the deal, TfL has also been forced into recommencing charging for bus travel. Bus fares were suspended as part of the safety measures brought in to protect London bus drivers, by limiting their contact with the public.
Although Sadiq Khan was slow to take action, only implementing the changes in mid-April after 26 bus drivers had already died, the measures have proven effective in drastically reducing the number of deaths. Forcing drivers to take payment will directly place them in danger. Once again, the Tories are placing profits ahead of the lives of workers.
Break the law, not the poor
Despite the blatantly political attempt to blame Sadiq Khan for the state of TfL’s finances, the reality is that the Tories are very much responsible.
The Transport Secretary laid out the facts of the TfL bailout yesterday.
??After 4 years, Sadiq Khan has left TfL finances in a “poor condition.”
?? It was the Mayor’s decision to hike the C-charge, not the Gov’s.
?? The Gov no longer trust Khan to manage TfL’s finances. pic.twitter.com/mkXStFY3TN
— Shaun Bailey (@ShaunBaileyUK) May 19, 2020
Prior to 2017, TfL received an annual £750m operating grant. But – as part of the Tories slash and burn austerity programme – this was cut in its entirety. As a result, TfL is now the only public transport system in western Europe that doesn’t receive central government funding. This makes London’s transport network totally reliant on fare income – something that has now plummeted.
This isn’t the end of the story. The crisis is set to continue for many months to come. The deal will only tide TfL over until October. And there remains a further £3.2bn gap in the authority’s emergency budget for the financial year ending March 2021.
Rather than cave in to the continued attacks of the Tories, Sadiq Khan should look to the radical history of previous London Labour politicians.
Almost a century ago, for example, George Lansbury and the Poplar councillors led a valiant struggle against Tory-imposed rate increases. Their bold slogan then was that “It’s better to break the law than break the poor!”
Only by showing such a lead can we build the mass movement necessary to defend our class from the coming attacks.
When the Mayor says of this deal, ‘I had no choice but to accept it,’ this is incorrect. Labour councillors and local authorities can and must refuse to implement Tory austerity, which not only makes workers pay for the crisis, but also puts their very lives at risk.
- No fare hikes! Make the bosses pay!
- Protect the lives of bus drivers and their families!
- Build a mass campaign of Labour councils, supported by the trade unions and the whole Labour movement, to refuse to implement Tory austerity!