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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 December 2009

New Labour gift wraps Tyne and Wear Metro

The Keep Metro Public campaign in Newcastle, photo Elaine Brunskill

The Keep Metro Public campaign in Newcastle, photo Elaine Brunskill   (Click to enlarge)

On 4 December it was announced that DB Regio is the preferred bidder, over the in-house bid, to operate the Tyne and Wear Metro from April next year. DB Regio is a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn, the German state Railway company, earmarked to be fully privatised by the Merkel government. This is a kick in the teeth from New Labour to the workers on the Metro system and to the people of Tyne and Wear.

Norman Hall, Keep Metro Public (KMP) steering committee and Socialist Party member and Stan Herschel, RMT regional organiser and Socialist Party Member

The Keep Metro Public campaign and the RMT have fought over the last two years to keep the Metro in public hands. We launched a tremendous campaign of public meetings, lobbying of MPs and councillors, leafleting of Metro stations and the sending of protest postcards by thousands of members of the public.

The main aim of the KMP has been to oppose the privatisation of the Metro and call for the whole expensive process to be scrapped as a total waste of money.

The RMT estimate that the developing the in-house bid alone has cost around 3 million. Adding the tendering and bidding process costs makes over 10 million. The Integrated Transport Authority and its executive arm NEXUS have refused to release the true costs.

It comes as no surprise to us that New Labour prefers to hand over our public services to profit hungry private companies. But for some it will come as a shock, not least Labour's apologists in the leadership of Unison and Unite.

They constantly denounced the activities of the KMP as "harassment" of Labour MPs and councillors. While nominally part of the campaign, the two unions consistently attempted to hamper its public activity. They withdrew over 7,000 worth of initially pledged funding, spending the cash on an academic to "observe" the fairness of the final stage of the bidding process.

Their constant mantras were to trust the Labour government, MPs and councillors to do the right thing and to support unconditionally the unseen in-house bid.

From the beginning they preached defeatism. They said the process could not be stopped and the only option was the in-house bid. Their preferred methods were the secretive behind the scenes discussions with ministers, MPs and councillors.

The Keep Metro Public campaign in Newcastle, photo Elaine Brunskill

The Keep Metro Public campaign in Newcastle, photo Elaine Brunskill   (Click to enlarge)

They admitted their errors when a month before the announcement, they issued a joint leaflet to their members, calling for them to lobby their MPs and councillors etc. in support of the still unseen in-house bid - exactly the same campaigning methods that were denounced as "harassment" previously.

This was an attempt to cover their collectively exposed backsides. It appears the much vaunted in-house bid contained greater job losses, and worse conditions for Metro workers than those proposed by DB Regio, who have conceded no compulsory redundancies for the nine year life of the contract.

The KMP and RMT have always been clear on the in-house bid. Unconditional support for it was impossible without knowing the contents of the bid and its implications for both the workforce and the people of Tyne and Wear.

For Unite and especially Unison, the in-house bid always was the first and only option, irrespective of its content.

The KMP and RMT are also clear that any honeyed words currently spoken by DB Regio cannot be trusted. They should understand that any threat to jobs and services will be opposed.

It need not have been this way. The process could have been rolled back if Unison and Unite had thrown their full weight behind the campaign. Instead, they have looked to protect the interests of the Labour Party rather than those of their own members and the people of the area. Unison's leaders have admittedly had other things to deal with, namely witch-hunting its own activists, including now Alan Docherty from Darlington in the northern region.

The Labour Party are continuing with their spin that because the infrastructure of the Metro remains owned by NEXUS what is happening is not privatisation. This is nonsense. Come 1 April 2010, 400 workers previously employed in the public sector by NEXUS, will be employees of DB Regio.

This whole experience further underlines the desperate need for a credible political voice for the working class in Britain.

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In The Socialist 9 December 2009:

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