Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/737/15429
Send the transport privatisers packing
Renationalise the railways
Take the whole rail system back into public ownership! That is the only logical conclusion from the fiasco over the franchise for the West Coast Main Line railway from London to Glasgow.
Capitalist giant Virgin Rail had run the service since 1997 under the privatisation policy that has ruined the rail system.
However, this August, the Department of Transport took the franchise off them and handed it to rivals FirstGroup.
After angry protests from Virgin's Richard Branson, that decision was overturned with ministers blaming civil service workers (who else?) for this disastrous flop of a government policy.
Rail privatisation, introduced by the Tories in the 1990s but continued by Labour governments, puts profit-seeking in the driving seat.
Rail firms are guaranteed a large income. If they do not reach their target profit, the government makes up part of that shortfall. It foolishly puts trust in the capitalist companies' integrity.
Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the transport union RMT, told the Socialist:
"The bidding system was supposed to get private rail firms to put in a realistic bid to win the franchise and safeguard jobs.
"FirstGroup put in an unrealistic bid and have been granted the franchise! The only way they're going to make this franchise pay out is to cut jobs aggressively.
"We're not supporting one private company against another. The RMT thinks the whole network should be renationalised.
"Even the job-threatening McNulty report says this would be three to four times as cheap as a private system.
"It's ridiculous. For months the system will be in limbo. They don't know what to do apart from painting the trains green but not putting any logo on it until the whole mess is resolved! Renationalisation is the only realistic solution."
The Socialist Party programme includes:
- No to privatisation
- A democratically planned, low fare, publicly owned transport system
- Nationalisation of the transport system under democratic working class control and management
- Compensation to be paid only on the basis of proven need. No compensation for the privatising fat cats
Reality of rail privatisation
- The West Coast deal will cost Britain's taxpayers £40 million to compensate bidders as this franchising operation is totally rerun.
- The government returns in taxpayer bailouts nearly half of the money that privatising rail companies pay for their profitable operations.
- Eight out of 17 rail franchises receive huge public subsidies. They received £451 million in the past year (up by 55% in two years) after they over-inflated their projected revenue.
- Fares are set to rise by up to 11% next January to boost private profits. Thousands of workers' jobs are threatened by the McNulty review.
- The East Coast line has increased its punctuality since being taken back into public ownership, and even made almost £200 million in profits.
Polls had already suggested that 70% of people supported the RMT union policy of total renationalisation of the rail system - after this debacle a Guardian poll showed 93% of people shared that opinion.
Freight transport's lost opportunity
At one time a nationalised body, the National Freight Corporation (NFC) could have been the way to integrate a fragmented freight transport system. NFC was formed in 1969 from several nationalised companies.
NFC comprised British Road Services, (included its parcel service, rebranded as Roadline), two companies from the railways including National Carriers, two shipping companies, the three Pickfords companies, Heavy Haulage, Removals and Travel, and Waste Management Ltd.
NFC could have been the means to integrate the freight transport system, as many transport workers hoped, or it could be a holding company, preparing for privatisation, as proved to be the case.
National Carriers (NCL) soon closed its rail links and the two parcels companies competed with each other.
NCL inherited many rail goods depots, but sold off most of them, paying for redundancy out of the proceeds.
When NFC was privatised in 1982, the Tories pretended it was a workers' cooperative. It was nothing of the kind.
Not all the workers could afford to buy shares, and the existing management remained. One union rep, with some exaggeration, told me that negotiating with this management was like "attending a Nuremberg Rally". A minority of shares was also owned by banks.
For some years, shareholders could only sell shares back to the company or other shareholders. However in 1989 it became listed on the London Stock Exchange.
Former boss Sir Peter Thompson writes (Connections, August 2012) "an investment of £500 by the drivers or any employees was by the end of the decade worth over £50,000."
However much this was due to the inherent profitability of the company and how much to the bubble of capitalist euphoria following the collapse of Stalinism, cashing in shares was an offer the shareholders could hardly refuse. A bubble was likely because the shares soon went down again.
By this time NFC was buying and selling whole companies. In 2000 it renamed itself after its North American subsidiary Exel.
In 2005 what remained of the company was taken over by German company DHL. Privatisation had done its worst and profits not planning were the order of the day.
Peter Redfarn, a former NFC worker.
Buses - brutal reality behind the sweet talk
A London bus worker
Privatisation of public transport would make things so much better, the Tories told us under Margaret Thatcher.
Many people thought it couldn't get any worse. The prospect of waiting in the cold and rain or being packed on overcrowded trains meant more people used cars and services declined for the rest of us.
Apparently privatisation would improve things for the consumer because faceless bureaucrats were no longer in control.
Enterprising companies would run things in their customers' interests. They'd be more flexible and respond to people's needs - the free market would guarantee that if they didn't provide a good service, competitors would take their business. Passengers would have a choice.
No mass party explained an alternative. So the brutal reality behind all this sweet talk only slowly dawned on people.
Fatal rail disasters showed how the safety culture had been undermined. Bus services outside the big cities practically vanished on Sundays and in the evenings.
As a public transport user and a bus driver, I see things from two viewpoints. The month I lost my staff pass reminded me of the high fares, too.
London buses were privatised a decade after the rest of Britain, partly because the government was concerned at the potential resistance of the unions.
But eventually in the run-up to 1994, in the absence of a determined union leadership, workers were forced to accept job cuts, pay cuts of up to a third, destruction of pensions and even our social clubs.
The Tories also feared transport chaos in the capital. So privatisation came with regulation through Transport for London (TfL).
This includes an annual subsidy from the taxpayer to private bus operators of hundreds of millions of pounds. So they don't mind state regulation too much.
Look at the career of David Brown. Last year he resigned as TfL's Managing Director of surface transport to become CEO of bus firm Go-Ahead.
Before TfL, Brown had been chief executive of Go-Ahead's London bus business. Now a former boss of bus company First has taken his position at TfL. So that's all right then - for the bus companies.
Where's the "healthy competition"? Just five firms - Arriva, First, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach dominate UK local bus services and train operations too.
Where's the "choice"? These same big firms have already chosen which one will provide a service in your area.
London tube workers beware! Privatisation is heading in your direction too, if the government gets its way.
A genuine alternative would involve a mass political campaign by transport users alongside workers in the industry and democratic public control of the transport system.
In The Socialist 10 October 2012:
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