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Rail Union's Historic Rule Change
DELEGATES TO the rail union RMT conference in Glasgow, backed a potentially historic rule change that opens the way for the union to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party and possibly even to back the Socialist Party and other independent and Left candidates in England and Wales.
Ken Smith, at RMT conference
Although the union took the decision by 46 votes to five to: "authorise support for other organisations or campaigns in pursuance of the union's policy objectives" , it also unfortunately agreed that this "union shall affiliate to the Labour Party", to the obvious irritation of many delegates.
Speakers said they were reluctantly supporting the rule change from the union's executive because it allowed support for parties like the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) but added that the union should be disaffiliating from the Labour Party now.
Bob Law, a delegate from London Underground, said that delegates were unhappy at being asked to back continued affiliation to the Labour Party. The argument was not to throw the baby out with the bath water but the problem, he argued to applause, was that the bath water (the Labour Party) was full of stale urine.
Craig Johnston, a delegate from Northern England where he has been involved in the long-running Arriva trains dispute, said that he had serious reservations about supporting the resolution and said the executive would have difficulty in going back to the Arriva trains mess rooms and explaining why the union was still giving money to the Labour Party.
Lewis Peacock, a London Underground delegate whose job had recently been privatised, said that he had not come across any London Underground workers who wanted to continue funding the Labour Party.
A small minority of delegates argued that the Labour Party was not the Labour government and if the union disaffiliated then it would mean the union could no longer support good Left MPs who supported the RMT.
A constant theme of many in the debate was that although an alternative to New Labour existed in Scotland in the form of the SSP, there was an obligation on union leaders like Bob Crow to build a framework for a new party in England and Wales.
Bob Crow responded by accepting that: "sooner or later you've got to put your toe in the water."
Bob Law referred to the success of the Socialist Party in getting councillors in Coventry and Lewisham and other speakers referred to the millions that took to the streets in the anti-war movement in February as showing the potential for building a new party to the left of Labour to represent working-class people.
Bob Crow said he wanted to see the establishment of a class-based party: "that put the boot into big business."
Bob Crow was very explicit that, although the change of rule did not specify who the union would be supporting in future, he wanted the union to "proudly" affiliate to the SSP and others who had broken with Labour like John Marek in Wrexham and Ken Livingstone.
He added that the way would be open for supporting others like the Kidderminster hospital workers, George Galloway, if he is expelled and others who the union judged to be fighting for its members' interests.
He discounted the idea that you should continue supporting the Labour Party because there were good people in there. He said: "There are innocent people in prison too", the implication being they're still trapped.
Delegates were critical that the line in the resolution about continued affiliation means that the union cannot come back to a rule change about the issue of making a clear break from the Labour Party for three years.
However, individual branches of the union can now approach the union's executive to ask them to back candidates who are not Labour Party members. The union's executive then has to make a decision within 14 days.
Glen Burrows articulated the views of many delegates when she said that the union was only delaying the inevitable break from the Labour Party.
Bob Crow said that he didn't know whether or not the Labour Party would now expel the union and didn't know what the Labour Party was going to do. But he was not going to let that stop him and the union from campaigning for its members' interests and fighting for a socialist society.
The conference later voted to reduce the basis on which the union pays affiliation fees to the Labour Party down to 5,000 members. Currently it is 10,000 and not long ago it was 65,000.
Double trouble on the railways
ANOTHER WEEK, another railway scandal or two! Firstly Connex train operator, which carries 132 million passengers a year, was stripped of its south-eastern commuter franchise from the end of 2003 - for incompetence and "botched management".
One in five Connex trains is late and trains are on average 103% full. Since privatisation, Connex South East has had over £435 million in subsidies plus a £58 million emergency injection from public money just before Christmas. They were asking for another £200 million.
On some of Britain's busiest lines to south London, Kent and Sussex, all this was too much for the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA). Two SRA directors will now head up a firm which will run it until new private firms bid for the franchise.
As ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix asked, why did they hand "Connex £56 million of public money, then take the franchise away a few months later, only to hand it over to another group of fat cats?"
The same week Network Rail announced that they were axing 2,500 jobs in a cost-cutting exercise. As the company employs just over 14,000 workers, those redundancies - phased until 2006 - would have a devastating effect on signalling staff, engineers, administration staff and so on.
Already more than half of stations are unmanned during part of the day and there are one-person operated trains on half the network. The rail union RMT is sure that this will affect safety.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the union would fight any compulsory redundancies with industrial action if needed. He called the decision "obscene" particularly as five Network Rail directors recently stuffed their wallets with £1.8 million in bonuses even though train services had got even worse.
Network Rail, ostensibly a 'not-for-profit' company set up by the government to run Britain's rail system, was in fact a 'save profit' scheme for shareholders at Railtrack the private company which went bankrupt in 2001. Greedy shareholders got a massive £1 billion plus pay-off.
So big City of London investors got their money which they might otherwise have lost - Railtrack was £3 million in the red so the shares would probably have been worth nothing if the firm hadn't gone into administration. These same parasites ripped the rail system and taxpayers out of £700 million in the years before that.
The bosses want the workers to pay for their problems. Don't let them. All of the rail system, Connex and all the train operating companies and Network Rail should be taken back into public ownership.
It should be run under the democratic control and management of rail workers and the public. We need a service geared to meet people's needs not the profits of a parasitic few.
A points system on a track near York carrying 125mph passenger trains, went 220 days without being checked by the specialist safety squad from the privatised rail repair firm Jarvis which is responsible for them.
Trains travel so fast on this line that they should be checked every 56 days. Jarvis seem to lead a charmed life when it comes to punishment. They are still under investigation for the Potters Bar rail crash which killed seven people in 2002, but Jarvis was last week named as preferred bidder for a new five-year track contract with Network Rail!
In The Socialist 5 July 2003: