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National rail strike looms
THE RAIL union RMT Annual General Meeting in Exeter last week called a ballot for a national rail strike affecting the whole of Network Rail.
Network Rail wants to hand over part of its system to Merseyrail as a step to re-privatising the whole network.
Since the failure and collapse of privatised Railtrack Network Rail, owned by the government, has taken over the running of the rail system with private Train Operating Companies (TOC) continuing to operate the trains. Now the government want to hand one of the smaller units of the network, the section around Merseyside over to Merseyrail, one of the private TOCs, who run most of the trains in the area.
So Merseyrail would control the tracks, signals and stations as well as operating the trains. Network Rail employees would be handed over to Merseyrail. And Merseyrail would be a guinea pig for the whole network to be re-privatised and handed over to Train Operating Companies like Virgin, Scotrail and GNER.
RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, pointed out it would be a return to the same methods as Railtrack, with the TOCs subcontracting work out to companies like Jarvis again. Jarvis was held responsible for the Potters Bar rail crash, which killed seven people.
Many of the other contractors have been removed from the system because of the appalling levels of safety and efficiency with which they maintained the track and signals.
Unbelievably, the government, in its drive for privatisation, want to hand the rail system back to private enterprise again after the disasters under Railtrack. They argue that it would be better to have "vertical integration", the control of the tracks by the companies operating the trains. But, as one delegate pointed out, "if you want that why doesn't Network Rail take over Merseyrail?"
Not only will safety be compromised again but it will be a recipe for even greater chaos on the railways. Merseyrail-controlled signal boxes will obviously give preference to Merseyrail trains holding up other companies' trains and Virgin would do the same on its part of the track as well, and so on across the whole country if this was allowed to succeed.
Craig Johnston from Carlisle pointed out: "This is one New Labour privatisation too far. They have picked off one of the smallest areas of Network Rail, and we will have to explain to our members this is not just about Merseyrail but the whole rail network."
Bob Crow moved the resolution to call for a strike ballot of the 18,000 Network Rail members: "If they try and privatise Network Rail they will face a national rail strike".
As well as fighting for a maximum vote in the ballot the RMT is fighting for the full nationalisation of Network Rail and the renationalisation of the whole railway system including the TOCs. And Red Line, produced by Socialist Party members in the RMT, adds that nationalisation should be under railworkers' control and management.
In The Socialist 7 July 2005: