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A Decade On The Wrong Tracks
FEW PEOPLE are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Tory Transport Act which ushered in rail privatisation. Shareholders in the private rail companies are an exception of course.
At a conservative estimate, 25 passenger-train franchises have made more than £1.1 billion profits since the Tories started breaking up British Rail (BR). If you include other former BR companies like train leasing firms the total profit could be over £2 billion.
The whole rail system was sold at the knock-down price of £5.3 billion, ripping off the public by at least £1.5 billion and making fortunes for rail managers and other fat cats.
Rail investment now costs three times as much as it did under public ownership. In fact the West Coast mainline route modernisation currently costs over £16 million per mile compared to £1.8 million per mile for the East Coast mainline route modernisation in the 1980s (both at 2000 prices). But the privatised rail system attracts more government subsidies.
In BR's last year operating a public integrated railway, the government gave them £1.325 billion at 2003/04 prices. Government ministers have earmarked £3.84 billion in subsidies for this financial year. That's more than 180% higher.
But as a tube worker told the socialist:
"The private sector is in full-scale retreat from the rail industry. First Railtrack was forced into liquidation after failing to meet its costs, despite receiving larger subsidies from public money than the old nationalised BR used to get.
"Railtrack was replaced by the not-for-profit Network Rail, which has now sacked private firms including Jarvis and Balfour Beatty and taken all maintenance back in-house. Even the Financial Times admitted: 'The experiment of privatised rail maintenance is over'.
"The ideology of privatisation has been seriously shaken. But the campaign to rescue our public transport system from the private sector has not yet been won. Rail renewals (as opposed to remedial maintenance) and train operating companies remain in the private sector while, at least for now, PPP continues to afflict London Underground."
SINCE 1993 trains have become less reliable - the proportion arriving on time has fallen from 91% to 79%.
They've become more expensive. The price of a peak-time return from London to Manchester has risen from £90 to £175.
They're slower. The fastest journey time from London to Glasgow has risen from four hours 59 minutes to five hours 21 minutes.
The old safety culture under nationalisation has gone - high-profile rail crashes have shown that privatised companies tend to put profits before safety.
The Socialist Party calls for the renationalisation of the rail and tube services, but unlike the old British Rail it should be run under a democratic system of workers' control and management.
Tube Workers Ballot For Action On Safety
LONDON UNDERGROUND (LU) workers in the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union) are being balloted to take industrial action over the Public Private Partnership (PPP).
The ballot is in response to two train derailments at Hammersmith and Camden Town. RMT believes PPP is inherently unsafe and its demands will be impossible to meet unless London Underground tears up the PPP contracts.
RMT is calling on LU to reverse PPP and bring maintenance back in house, as Network Rail has done. The union's demands centre on the deterioration in the tube's track inspection regime since PPP (and its preparatory stage called shadow running) was introduced:
- For a return to 24-hourly inspections.
- For a streamlined process of introducing speed restrictions where problems are found and for all maintenance to be carried out by directly employed LU employees.
RMT is asking members to support both strike action and action short of strike action in support of these demands. The latter could include working to rule on stations and train drivers running at caution speed, causing multiple station closures and potentially shutting down the network in central London, discussions continue about when to use strike action.
Socialist Party members in RMT will support and build for all action but we are arguing for a one-day strike to launch the action. This would have the advantage of uniting all grades and sections of tube workers and would show drivers the level of support behind them.
The response from RMT to the recent derailments has been excellent. Members of ASLEF and all other unions on LU must now demand their own leaders back the RMT and call ballots to join the action. If this is not successful then the unity must be built upon with appeals at a rank and file level. In particular the solidarity built up in train depots between RMT and ASLEF must be maintained.
Providing there is no backtracking on the demands put to LU this will be a decisive fight to reverse PPP and restore the tube as a public service.
Coming so closely after the successful action by postal workers and possibly alongside action by other public sector workers, the government must fear a resurgent trade union movement it cannot contend with.
London Underground - reinstate Chris Barrett
IN A strike ballot that was disrupted by the post workers' dispute. RMT train drivers on the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines of London Underground (LU) have voted by two to one for strike action.
An RMT member
This is for the reinstatement of a driver who has been dismissed while being off sick. He had been put under surveillance by company-hired spooks armed with video cameras. This is now LU standard procedure for staff who are off sick.
The spy team claimed that Chris was caught coming out of a gym. Chris has a letter and other evidence from his medical team recommending exercise to overcome an ankle injury. This evidence was disregarded at his disciplinary hearing.
When the drivers first heard that Chris had been dismissed, many took unofficial action causing disruption to the service.
Management then supplied a photo and personal details of Chris to the Evening Standard, which appeared on the front page accompanied by a scurrilous article. This further angered the drivers at his depot.
Chris's RMT branch demanded a ballot for action, however the union preferred to try and do a deal with the new management of Transport for London, with whom they thought they were on better terms.
Management offered to pay Chris £3,000 and to conduct an inquiry to industrial relations on this line which is at rock bottom. When the union said they were pressing ahead with the ballot the offer was taken off the table, leaving Chris with nothing. So much for improved union - management relations!
The two affected depots, Barking and Edgware Road have been called out on 14 November.
All RMT activists should get down to the picket line. ASLEF members on this line have a good tradition of respecting RMT picket lines.
If management still refuse to reinstate Chris then the union should extend the action across the network.
In The Socialist 15 November 2003: