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From The Socialist newspaper, 10 October 2012

Send the transport privatisers packing

Renationalise the railways

RMT protest July 2012, photo Paul Mattsson

RMT protest July 2012, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Take the whole rail system back into public ownership! That is the only logical conclusion from the fiasco over the franchise for the West Coast Main Line railway from London to Glasgow.

Capitalist giant Virgin Rail had run the service since 1997 under the privatisation policy that has ruined the rail system.

However, this August, the Department of Transport took the franchise off them and handed it to rivals FirstGroup.

After angry protests from Virgin's Richard Branson, that decision was overturned with ministers blaming civil service workers (who else?) for this disastrous flop of a government policy.

Rail privatisation, introduced by the Tories in the 1990s but continued by Labour governments, puts profit-seeking in the driving seat.

Rail firms are guaranteed a large income. If they do not reach their target profit, the government makes up part of that shortfall. It foolishly puts trust in the capitalist companies' integrity.

Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary, at the NSSN lobby of the TUC 2012, photo Serena

Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary, at the NSSN lobby of the TUC 2012, photo Serena   (Click to enlarge)

Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the transport union RMT, told the Socialist:

"The bidding system was supposed to get private rail firms to put in a realistic bid to win the franchise and safeguard jobs.

"FirstGroup put in an unrealistic bid and have been granted the franchise! The only way they're going to make this franchise pay out is to cut jobs aggressively.

"We're not supporting one private company against another. The RMT thinks the whole network should be renationalised.

"Even the job-threatening McNulty report says this would be three to four times as cheap as a private system.

"It's ridiculous. For months the system will be in limbo. They don't know what to do apart from painting the trains green but not putting any logo on it until the whole mess is resolved! Renationalisation is the only realistic solution."

The Socialist Party programme includes:

Reality of rail privatisation

RMT protest July 2012, photo Paul Mattsson

RMT protest July 2012, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Polls had already suggested that 70% of people supported the RMT union policy of total renationalisation of the rail system - after this debacle a Guardian poll showed 93% of people shared that opinion.

Freight transport's lost opportunity

At one time a nationalised body, the National Freight Corporation (NFC) could have been the way to integrate a fragmented freight transport system. NFC was formed in 1969 from several nationalised companies.

NFC comprised British Road Services, (included its parcel service, rebranded as Roadline), two companies from the railways including National Carriers, two shipping companies, the three Pickfords companies, Heavy Haulage, Removals and Travel, and Waste Management Ltd.

NFC could have been the means to integrate the freight transport system, as many transport workers hoped, or it could be a holding company, preparing for privatisation, as proved to be the case.

National Carriers (NCL) soon closed its rail links and the two parcels companies competed with each other.

NCL inherited many rail goods depots, but sold off most of them, paying for redundancy out of the proceeds.

When NFC was privatised in 1982, the Tories pretended it was a workers' cooperative. It was nothing of the kind.

Not all the workers could afford to buy shares, and the existing management remained. One union rep, with some exaggeration, told me that negotiating with this management was like "attending a Nuremberg Rally". A minority of shares was also owned by banks.

For some years, shareholders could only sell shares back to the company or other shareholders. However in 1989 it became listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Former boss Sir Peter Thompson writes (Connections, August 2012) "an investment of 500 by the drivers or any employees was by the end of the decade worth over 50,000."

However much this was due to the inherent profitability of the company and how much to the bubble of capitalist euphoria following the collapse of Stalinism, cashing in shares was an offer the shareholders could hardly refuse. A bubble was likely because the shares soon went down again.

By this time NFC was buying and selling whole companies. In 2000 it renamed itself after its North American subsidiary Exel.

In 2005 what remained of the company was taken over by German company DHL. Privatisation had done its worst and profits not planning were the order of the day.

Peter Redfarn, a former NFC worker.

Buses - brutal reality behind the sweet talk

A London bus worker

Privatisation of public transport would make things so much better, the Tories told us under Margaret Thatcher.

Many people thought it couldn't get any worse. The prospect of waiting in the cold and rain or being packed on overcrowded trains meant more people used cars and services declined for the rest of us.

Apparently privatisation would improve things for the consumer because faceless bureaucrats were no longer in control.

Enterprising companies would run things in their customers' interests. They'd be more flexible and respond to people's needs - the free market would guarantee that if they didn't provide a good service, competitors would take their business. Passengers would have a choice.

No mass party explained an alternative. So the brutal reality behind all this sweet talk only slowly dawned on people.

Fatal rail disasters showed how the safety culture had been undermined. Bus services outside the big cities practically vanished on Sundays and in the evenings.

High fares

As a public transport user and a bus driver, I see things from two viewpoints. The month I lost my staff pass reminded me of the high fares, too.

London buses were privatised a decade after the rest of Britain, partly because the government was concerned at the potential resistance of the unions.

But eventually in the run-up to 1994, in the absence of a determined union leadership, workers were forced to accept job cuts, pay cuts of up to a third, destruction of pensions and even our social clubs.

The Tories also feared transport chaos in the capital. So privatisation came with regulation through Transport for London (TfL).

This includes an annual subsidy from the taxpayer to private bus operators of hundreds of millions of pounds. So they don't mind state regulation too much.

Look at the career of David Brown. Last year he resigned as TfL's Managing Director of surface transport to become CEO of bus firm Go-Ahead.

Before TfL, Brown had been chief executive of Go-Ahead's London bus business. Now a former boss of bus company First has taken his position at TfL. So that's all right then - for the bus companies.

Where's the "healthy competition"? Just five firms - Arriva, First, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach dominate UK local bus services and train operations too.

Where's the "choice"? These same big firms have already chosen which one will provide a service in your area.

London tube workers beware! Privatisation is heading in your direction too, if the government gets its way.

A genuine alternative would involve a mass political campaign by transport users alongside workers in the industry and democratic public control of the transport system.

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In The Socialist 10 October 2012:

Socialist Party news and analysis

Tories promise more pain... Kick out the 'nasty party'!

Labour Party conference - not fighting austerity

Arguing the case for a 24-hour general strike

Birmingham Tory conference demo

'Millions crying out for leadership and for an alternative'

Anti-austerity candidates selected for November contests

No welfare cuts

Health workers must fight attacks on jobs and pay

Politicians line up to attack abortion rights

The hidden homeless - "Sofa surfing is my lot"

Them & Us

Transport feature

Send the transport privatisers packing

International socialist news and analysis

Venezuela presidential election

Greece: escalating the action against austerity

South Africa: 'What are we doing about this government that is killing us?'

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Why we're marching on 20 October

More success for Socialist Students

Save East Midlands ambulances

Campaign Kazakhstan: A musical and political evening

Youth Fight for Jobs and Education fortnight of action 13-27 October

Dewsbury fights health service cuts

Waltham Forest: Parents and staff unite against school sell-off

Sunderland anti-fascists stand up against divisive EDL

Socialist Party workplace news

South Wales bus workers receive strong support for strike

Fighting the construction industry blacklist

Workplace nurseries saved in HMRC

Leeds solidarity with Crossrail battle

Mid Yorkshire Health admin staff ballot for strike

Bin workers' strike threat

Workplace news in brief


TV review : Masters of Money - Karl Marx

Marx was right!


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