Bristol RMT on strike. Photo: Bristol Socialist Party
Bristol RMT on strike. Photo: Bristol Socialist Party

Renationalise rail

Adam Harmsworth, Coventry Socialist Party

Train ticket prices rose 5.9% last year, higher than many workers’ wages.

So far this year, passengers have only been promised they won’t go up by more than 9%! At the same time, the privatised Train Operating Companies (TOCs) make gigantic profits, funded by us and by attacking rail workers’ jobs, pay and conditions.

Privatisation has been horrendous for everyone except the rail bosses who will always put profit over running a decent service. In the first 18 months from the beginning of the Covid pandemic, they made over £300 million while leaving staff and passengers worse off.

Worse still, the Tories funded those profits with our taxes. The government also directly compensates companies for losses from strike action. So far £1 billion has been funnelled to the rail companies to pay them for the ongoing dispute. Rail workers in RMT and Aslef unions continue their determined industrial action on 1 and 2 September respectively.

The recent wretched plans to shut nearly every ticket office illustrate how privatisation is running the rail system into the ground. Capitalism’s mythical promise is that the market inspires bosses to invest and improve services. Most workers can see this is a blatant lie. The largest poll ever done on the issue shows two thirds support public ownership of the railways.

Such is the failure of privatisation that one third of the TOCs are already back in public ownership but run top-down with bosses still attacking workers. When British Rail was in public ownership in the past, it was run top-down – underfunded and poorly maintained.

Bringing rail into democratic public ownership, run by the working class who actually have an interest in an affordable high-quality rail system, the money currently going to rail company profits and bosses’ bloated salaries could be put to good use. We could cut ticket prices, and improve staff wages and conditions including fewer hours with no loss in pay.

By taking into public hands the mega-profits that have been siphoned off by big business bosses, and by nationalising those major companies and banks too, investment can be planned to provide all that we need. That could include an expanded public transport system, democratically planned and free to use – along with other measures to tackle the climate crisis.

A socialist rail service under workers’ democratic control and management must be the future of railways. The rail unions must demand that an incoming Keir Starmer-led government pledge to nationalise rail immediately, maintaining ticket offices and workers’ pay, terms and conditions. And if those pledges aren’t made, then prepare to back candidates at a general election that will, independently of Labour.