Readers’ opinion – buybacks and train drivers

Buybacks – the rich get richer

John Merrell, Leicester Socialist Party

Amidst all this profiteering resulting in bumper bonuses for bosses and bumper dividends for shareholders, a third way of super-enrichment has become apparent. Buybacks – when a company buys its own outstanding shares to reduce the number available on the open market – took off during the years following the 2007-09 financial crisis.

The Times says: “Gargantuan chunks of company cash are now used not to reinvest in the business, nor to pay conventional dividends”. According to the newspaper, globally buybacks have almost tripled in ten years, even outstripping the growth in dividends.

UK buybacks have grown from $9.4 billion to $70.5 billion. The world’s richest company, Apple, spent $89 billion on buybacks in 2022.

This is a win-win for shareholders. Those who give up their shares are generously rewarded, whilst the remaining shareholders get a larger share of future profits.

Unsurprisingly, The Times regards this super-enrichment as “a good thing”, although it admits that bought-back shares “can too easily be diverted into management bonuses”!

However, there is another ‘third way’, which does not benefit bosses or rich shareholders. Nationalisation of these top companies under workers’ control and management, ensuring the wealth they create provides decent pay and conditions, and goods and services at affordable prices.

These socialist policies would make the cost-of-living crisis history.

Train drivers vs Tories

Pete McNally, proud to have been a member of ASLEF

I have heard a number of Tory MPs refer to train drivers pay rates recently as though they are too high.

I do not know what qualifications, if any, Tory MPs need, but I worked as a train driver for 17 years. The training took about a year. I had to be capable of following the rules for train drivers, know in detail the types of traction I would be driving, be able to diagnose various faults, deal safely and effectively with any safety issues, obey signals, control the speed of the train, know and carry out the procedure for coupling units, be able to communicate with signallers, shunters, other train crew and rail personnel, know the speeds applicable to the routes I was qualified to drive over, along with gradients and other features, points for shutting off power, and braking and stopping points. I had to be able to take trains safely onto any depots, stop blocks and stabling points that I would have to use.

I also had various dealings with the public. On a number of occasions I volunteered to do extra work so that the service customers needed was available, and I witnessed countless times when other staff did the same.

The pay I got was agreed with the employer, it was not imposed upon them. Perhaps the most pertinent point for Tory MPs to note if they want to become train drivers, is that the first starting time at the depot I worked at was 03:54.

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