Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/357/5892
Take Back The Railways!
MEMBERS OF the rail union RMT, lobbying Parliament on 20 July for a publicly owned rail system, spoke to KEN SMITH.
Craig Johnston, Carlisle
"WE'RE here today because, like most people, we believe the railways should be renationalised, publicly owned and publicly accountable. In a recent survey by a local newspaper in Carlisle, out of six people randomly selected on the street, all of them said the railway should be renationalised.
"Privatisation has been a disaster and a licence to print taxpayers' money for the privateers. Everybody agrees with us - except the government.
"We're here to show the strength of feeling there is. I doubt anything will have any significant impact on this government except their own preservation. They can't be remotely described as a socialist government. They are a right-wing government in the same tradition now as the Tories."
Bill Salter, Margam, south Wales
"PRIVATISATION HASN'T worked. I've seen a lot of my friends made redundant through the big changes since privatisation. Over 7,000 employees in the area I work has been reduced to just over 4,000 and still things are ongoing through a lack of money for investment, where it counts.
"Hopefully MPs will see what we're doing and that message may get through to the government and they should give the railways back to the people."
Bob Crow, general secretary RMT
"There's more government money going into rail now under privatisation than ever went in when it was nationalised. People are not happy with the services or the patchwork of different companies operating it.
"Instead of just a small minority - the directors and shareholders - making all this money out of the rail network, the money they make should be redeployed to ensure we have a decent railway network.
"The tide is turning our way and the message of ordinary people is that the railways should be renationalised."
Rail White Paper: Labour's Pathetic Half-Measures
THE GOVERNMENT'S railways White Paper is the fifth half-hearted attempt in seven years to undo the folly of the Tories' privatisation of Britain's railways in 1996.
Unfortunately it does not offer 'renationalisation' as some papers claim. It gives 'control' of the rail system back to the department of transport instead of the 'independent' Strategic Rail Authority, but that's largely because the government wants tighter financial control to stop cash disappearing into a huge black hole.
Taxpayers subsidise the private railway system by £5.3 billion a year, four times more than they subsidised the nationalised British Rail. The government's long-term answer could be cuts in the rail network and services or big fare rises.
Rail services are already less reliable. In 1998, the target for trains running on time was 90%. They'll be satisfied with 85% next year.
The White Paper says the government will take over fare policies and the awarding of rail franchises - while the publicly funded Network Rail handles timetables, punctuality and passenger service.
But the government are keeping the system of franchising rail operators even though privatisation has been disastrous for rail safety, reliability, efficiency and cost. The way rail was privatised, the massive fragmentation etc., has compounded the problems caused by decades of under-investment.
The bosses' Financial Times says the new plans give little incentive to private firms to invest and "bring growth" to the rail system. The FT of course ignores the fact that, under privatisation, all the money has gone to directors and shareholders and very little to long-term investment in the rail system.
But the FT is right in one thing. This pathetic half-measure tries to put controls on the uncontrollable. Most likely the government will be forced into unsatisfactory compromises with profit-chasing private companies on fares, subsidies etc.
You can't run an important public service for private profit. If company directors and shareholders have to make massive profits, how can you supply a safe, efficient public service with low fares and decent wages?
You can't plan what you don't control and you can't control what you don't own. The rail unions should fight to take the rail system out of big business's hands. It should genuinely be renationalised and run under democratic workers' and users' control and management.
Shareholders should only get minimal compensation if they can prove they're in need. The City fat cats involved in the sell-off should not be compensated. Private rail operators have made fortunes from privatisation at rock-bottom prices, slashing wages and jobs, jeopardising safety and pocketing the subsidies.
A rail system under public ownership could ensure real investment to keep lines open and make rail passengers' journeys safer, more comfortable and reliable.
In The Socialist 24 July 2004:
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