The Labour movement is at the crossroads. The pro-business policies of the Blair government have led to widespread disillusionment, as witnessed in recent election results.
The bosses are engaged in an offensive against wages and conditions across the board. Under all kinds of threats, they are busily attempting to get workers to engage in a race to the bottom. No worker is safe.
With Wall Street's bubble threatening to burst, and overproduction raising its head in different sectors, the world economy teeters on the edge of a new slump. The shadow of the Thirties hangs over every worker in Britain.Rail workers are no exception.
Unfortunately, the TUC is blind to these developments, preferring to bury its head in social partnership and class collaboration.
Never has a fighting union leadership been more needed. But a fighting leadership needs a fighting programme offering a clear alternative, around which to mobilise the membership.
This pamphlet is written by active RMT and ASLEF members who support the ideas and programme outlined in the magazine Socialist Appeal. This provides a clear class analysis of events and a programme that can take the struggle forward at each stage.
The ideas put forward in this pamphlet can unite the rank and file of the rail unions and transform them into fighting organisations that can defend our jobs and services and assist the whole Labour movement in the struggle for the socialist transformation of society.
If you agree with the views in this pamphlet and would like to receive other Socialist Appeal publications, or attend Socialist Appeal meetings organised in your locality, or discuss these ideas further, contact:
Socialist Appeal Publications,
PO Box 2626,
London N1 7SQ
For more than twenty years rail workers have faced huge changes: on top of privatisation, has come flexibility and the restructuring of our terms and conditions. Along with the rest of the British workerforce, we have faced a barrage of attacks which has swept through British industry. We are experiencing increased work loads, stress levels and a general tightening of the screw.
For over 20 years, especially under the Tories, big business has unleashed a "counter-revolution" on the shop floor. Rail workers have experienced the adverse effects of this employers' offensive. Ever since the introduction of "flexible rostering" and driver only operation in the early part of the 1980s, we have had our backs to the wall with constant restructuring. Under privatisation - and the return to the profit motive - this process has only accelerated.We have faced continual pressure to "modernise" and become more "flexible".
A new vocabulary and philosophy has been invented - Human Resource Management - to persuade us to accept changes in working practices. It is a new language for "productivity" deals, which did so much to drive standards down in the past. For workers, this new squeeze on costs has had drastic consequences on jobs, conditions and pay. The rail bosses are currently attempting to further undermine the role and responsibility of the guard, with a view to eliminating this grade altogether. It is the latest attempt to undermine our jobs, terms and conditions. Only through industrial action - strikes and the threat of strike action - as well as the public outcry over the disaster at Ladbrooke Grove, have the employers paused in their attack. But our union leadership must not drag its feet. It is now essential that the leadership take up the gauntlet thrown down by the employers and immediately ballot for action to defeat this proposal altogether.
The bosses are never satisfied. They are engaged in a constant struggle to reduce "costs" and push up profit margins - at our expense. They want more for less. Under privatisation, profit is king. The worker is merely a "cost" on a balance sheet, which must be reduced at every opportunity. The same goes for maintenance. The number of broken rails has increased by 21% and an independent report by consultants Booz-Allen Hamilton found that Railtrack had actually let the overall quality of the network fall below the standard inherited from British Rail. Passenger complaints have reached record levels, while Railtrack's profits have continued to rise year on year.
The recent suggestion made by Railtrack's chief Gerald Corbett that unlike in the past, the company was no longer in the business of maximising profits, was met with ridicule in the City. "We have moved completely off the profit agenda and the share-holder agenda", he said. But a leading City
analyst straightened him out: "The shareholders will kill him if he comes out with this rubbish. His primary concern is to look after the assets of his shareholders." (The Observer, 2/4/2000.)
Rail workers have faced a butchering of jobs ever since Beeching, with the closure of yards and lines, and further "rationalisation" leading to more cuts and de-manning. Since nationalisation of the industry in 1948, staff declined from 648,000 to under 200,000 in 1980, and even fewer than 100,000 today. Closures and restructuring have had devastating results on the industry - with false promises of jam tomorrow. With the decimation of British industry under the Tories, and especially the massive closures of the coal and steel industries, many rail depots and yards were forced to close. Marshalling yards were axed left, right and centre, and rail jobs were lost in droves.
Our members have been pressured to accept, with the full compliance of right-wing union leaders like Green and Weighell in the 60s and 70s, "reorganisation" and "restructuring", with the promise of big rewards in the future. Older workers were persuaded to sell their jobs and grades with bribes, enhanced bonuses and redundancy payments. Some sections gained some crumbs, but the bulk of rail workers have little to show for their sacrifices.
In the past, trains were staffed by a driver, an assistant driver, a guard, and possibly a conductor. Previously, InterCity trains had two drivers, to provide adequate safety cover. They were used as a 'second pair of eyes' on all trains travelling more than 100mph. Now there is only one driver. The position of the assistant driver was abolished as part of the restructuring by Great Western in 1998, in line with other companies. Now the train operating companies want to remove the guard.
New technology has played its part in reducing jobs. The new generation of signalling centres eradicated the older signal boxes. The three centres on the East coast mainline have replaced 52 manual signal boxes. Such modernisation is welcome - but only if jobs are guaranteed through redeployment or retraining, with no loss of pay. New technology can make things more efficient, and lighten the burden of work, if used properly. It could assist in introducing a 35 hour week, which must be on a full-time basis, no job losses and no cuts in pay.
Even under British Rail, the industry was constantly starved of investment, due to government stringent cash limits. From 1985 to 1993 the UK invested (per head of population) 60% less than Germany and 25% less than France.
The crisis of British capitalism has had a devastating effect on our infrastructure, especially on the railways. Today, the private rail companies receive more subsidies than BR when it was under public ownership! It seems big business and the City must be satisfied at all costs.
Privatisation of the railways has been a complete disaster. It was a means by which the Tories gave their big business friends rich pickings. It was also introduced in an attempt to the break the power of the rail unions.
The network was split up into 100 companies, all seeking their pound of flesh. Railtrack, which took over all track, signalling and stations, made a packet out of asset-stripping the valuable land once owned by BR. How is it possible to plan the rail system under privatisation and the "free
market"? It is a contradiction in terms. On BBC's Newsnight, Gwyneth Dunwoody, chair of the Commons Transport Committee revealed after the Paddington disaster that the Train Operating Companies "never spoke to each other". How can you hope to run a railway with different companies bidding to run their trains over one and the same track? Inevitably each will try to drive down costs to compete and maintain profits - at our expense. Yet this is not only a question of money. The fragmentation of the rail network, the other element of privatisation, is also to blame. There can be no more graphic example of the anarchy that is the free market. Nor could there be any more tragic consequences than in Southall and Paddington.
Traditionally, rail workers have been amongst the lowest paid, heavily reliant on overtime to earn a reasonable wage. This has been the product of decades of right-wing domination of the NUR prior to the 1980s, which was based on close "co-operation" with BR management. Although there have been some advances, notably over drivers' pay, wage levels are still lagging behind. Overtime and rest-day working have become a plague. Without the co-operation of staff working rest days and overtime, the management would find it impossible to maintain existing services.
This is nothing more than enforced labour to earn a living wage. Leaving aside the dislocation of our social and family life, as well as the effect on health caused by working excessive hours, tens of thousands of extra jobs could be created by reducing the working week. This would be a great step forward for all concerned. But the curse of long hours will never be eradicated as long as we have low pay endemic throughout the industry.
The idea of a minimum living wage of £300 take home for our members is long overdue. We should not be dependent on overtime to make ends meet. In fact, a decent wage and the reduction of overtime would serve to generate new jobs. This is linked to the demand for a 35 hour week - on our union agenda for over 20 years! - which must now be given key priority.
Decent wages must never again be tied to "productivity deals". Ourconditions have been eroded enough! The only means of achieving our goals is through well-prepared industrial action. Our brothers and sisters on Connex have shown what is possible. With a successful ballot for strike action over pay, the company conceded to the union's demands without a fight. Other companies have been forced to back down over reorganisation in face of strike action, with better deals negotiated as a result. In 1997 industrial action by our members over proposed changes to the rule book resulted in a victory, as all the operating companies capitulated one after another. It is clear: militant action achieves results!
With national agreements effectively scrapped by privatisation, the companies have sought to divide us with different wage levels and conditions. In effect, there has been an attempt to enforce new terms and conditions throughout the industry. Now more than ever, we need to pursue a co-ordinated claim throughout the industry to harmonise wages and conditions across the train operating companies, tied to the best agreement as a base-line and backed by industrial action. The growing determination of our members to fight is indicated by the high level of successful strike ballots - probably higher than in any other sector. Unfortunately, this determination has not always been transformed by the union leadership into action and a successful conclusion. Despite the legal restrictions, this must become the basis for national action. It is clear the companies act in unison; then so must the rail unions.
*No redundancies or selling of jobs
* For full-time jobs. No to agency labour
* 35 hour week for all rail workers, without loss of pay
* A minimum take-home wage of £300 a week
* 100% pensionable pay
* Retirement at 55, with full pension rights
* No compulsory overtime or "rest day" working
* Introduction of new technology under the control of the unions
*Restoration of National Agreements, including P.T. & R.
* Restoration of "priv" tickets
The Tories brought in a whole swathe of anti-union legislation to undermine our power. It was a gauntlet thrown down to the trade union movement. With determined leadership these laws could have been swept away or rendered obsolete. Unfortunately, the TUC policy of "non-compliance" was watered down to "reluctant acquiescence". Mesmerised by the idea of "New Realism", the TUC leaders allowed the Tories to walk all over them.
Disgracefully, they stood by while the funds of the NUM were sequestrated. They were impotent in the face of this onslaught. The heroic Liverpool dockers were scandalously left to fight alone as the TGWU leaders refused to break the laws in defence of their own members.
Unlike under the Heath government, where their anti-union laws resulted in the imprisonment of five dockers in 1972, Thatcher used the law to seize the funds of the union. This hit the trade union bureaucracy where it hurt!
Their material privileges were at risk. As a result, they refused to break the anti-union laws. Many right-wing leaders in fact used the laws to police their own membership.
The union is not the offices, the cars, or the funds, but the membership. The unions were born under illegal conditions. The trade union pioneers were prepared to risk imprisonment and deportation to fight for their rights. Without their sacrifice, there would be no trade union movement today. How far removed are the present majority of union leaders from these traditions!
We cannot allow these class laws to hinder our ability to fight. Obviously, where we can operate under the law successfully, then we should do so. But when there are key issues that we need to fight on and are prevented from doing so, we must be prepared to break the anti-union laws and appeal for support across the Labour movement.
Whether the bosses take legal action against us or not cannot be determined in advance. In the Post Office workers have been repeatedly forced into taking unofficial, illegal action yet the employers have not been able to use the law to destroy the union. However, we must prepare for a possible attack. Our recent experience, where the Train Operating Companies went to court to block our strike action is a warning. They are prepared to use everything against the union.
Of course, we cannot enter into an illegal battle lightly. At the same time, we cannot allow these unjust class laws to prevent us from representing the membership. We must campaign amongst the rank and file to prepare them for taking action, even to the point of breaking the law. If the issue is important enough, and the feeling is strong enough, the union can challenge the bosses and their laws. Such an issue could have been the privatisation of the railways, or rail safety, or the sell off of the tube.
Our unions must take the lead in campaigning throughout the movement for the repeal of these laws, and for action to defeat them. Bill Morris of the T&G told the 1999 TUC "our job is unfinished as long as one of these anti-union laws remain." These words must be turned into action. The weight of the entire movement must be thrown behind the defence of any union attacked for defying these laws in the interests of their members. Our unity is our strength.
Clearly, a move to seize the assets of the union should be prepared for, with plans to hide our funds, and obstruct the actions of a sequestrator.
Under these circumstances, an all-out call for action is the only course. A national strike of union members would bring the country to a standstill very rapidly. The laws would not be worth the paper they are printed on.
This would force the government to intervene to resolve the situation, just as Heath had to order the release of the five jailed dockers in 1972 when the TUC threatened a general strike.
*An injury to one is an injury to all
* Fight for the right to strike
* Oppose all Tory anti-trade union laws
* Labour must immediately repeal all these laws
Just a week or so before the Paddington disaster, John Prescott warned the private rail companies that they were still "on probation." That period of probation is truly at an end. They have failed with catastrophic consequences. The railways should now be renationalised without delay.
The rail companies scandalously tried to shift any blame for the disaster from themselves onto the driver, stating that the signals were "in full working order". This correctly drew an angry response from the unions. Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT, accused the rail companies of "trying to wash their hands" of the tragedy.
The Paddington disaster came only two years after the terrible collision at Southall, where seven passengers were killed and 150 were injured. More unbelievable still, the crash occurred on the very same stretch of track.
That such a tragedy could happen once is inexcusable, to allow it to happen again is unpardonable. It was entirely predictable and preventable. The inquiry following the Clapham rail crash in 1989 recommended that Automatic Train Protection (ATP) should be adopted. The Tory government under pressure agreed to implement the safety system. The cost was estimated to be about £700 million, at a time when the Tories were looking to privatise British Rail. The prospective bidders put pressure on the government to get them to reverse their decision. Profit ruled over safety.
Privatisation has to be implemented even at the cost of human life. Public concerns have been rising for years about the dangers to safety from cost-cutting companies who are hell-bent on boosting their profit margins.
In an opinion poll 74% came out for the renationalisation of the railways! The privatised rail companies are getting away with murder. Corporate manslaughter charges against Great Western Trains relating to the Southall crash were dropped because no one could be found to take the blame. The fragmentation of the railways through privatisation has led to disputes over responsibility for accidents, with rival private companies blaming each other and inevitably dragging out the findings of public and police inquiries.
It is high time conclusions were drawn from these public inquiries. Almost every inquiry into a rail collision from before Clapham in 1988 has recommended action: to bring in a modern, fail-safe, computerised train safety system, known as automatic train protection or ATP. Many trains in Europe have this system; so does Eurostar and the Heathrow Express. It was installed in the Southall rail crash but was not being operated. It was fitted but not operational in the Great Western train involved in the catastrophe at Ladbroke Grove. The Thames train which passed the signal was fitted with a relic from the 19th century.
The British rail system is way behind the Europeans. In France, the rail network, SNCF, is publicly owned. High speed trains (TGV) have in-cab signalling which tells the drivers how fast they can go. And if the limit is exceeded, the brakes are applied automatically. France invests 1.1% of its GDP on transport infrastructure, compared to 0.9% in Britain. France was planning to invest a further £5billion by the end of last year.
In Spain, the Renfe railway system, is also publicly owned. Spain spends above the EU average on infrastructure - 1.4% of its GDP. There were no recorded deaths in 1998, and they have an excellent safety record.
In Germany, the state-owned Deutsche Bahn uses a safety system which automatically stops a train passing a red light. Germany spends 1.2% of its GDP on transport. Just 0.31 passengers were killed per billion passenger kilometre travelled.
Italian railways, FS, is in public control. Two drivers man the cab, and have an electronic display informing them of red signals, other trains in the vicinity and speed. Its safety record is only second to Spain's in the EU.
In Britain, the railways have been starved of investment for decades. This explains how outdated the system is. Years of Tory rule further exacerbated the situation. ATP - again recommended by the Clapham inquiry - was thrown out by the Tories before privatisation. For the Tories nothing was allowed to stand in the way of their privatisation programme. "They thought it would be an albatross around the industry's neck", said a City analyst. "There were already people questioning the wisdom of investing in an industry with such a poor reputation and in dire need of investment." A memorandum to the board of Railtrack in February 1995 warned that the cost of installing ATP would affect the share value on its flotation as a private company. Nine months later Railtrack wrote to the government saying the cost of installing ATP was too high. Safety had to be sacrificed to make the railways an attractive proposition to the Tories' friends in the City. Remember that when their mealy mouthed representatives claim that 'money would never stand in the way of safety.'
The Tories gave huge subsidies from tax payers' money to the private rail companies. The industry as a whole was being subsidised to the tune of £1billion in 1999 - taking the total to £4.2 billion since the sell-off.
The two operators involved in the Paddington crash and Railtrack have made more than £1.5 billion since privatisation. The reality is that the present advance warning system was introduced in the 1920s. It is antiquated and unreliable for today's high-speed trains. The system had failed 63 times on Great Western trains alone in the nine months before the Southall crash.
Despite all the glib talk of safety by the rail companies, these businesses are more concerned with cost benefit analysis and the "value" of saving lives. They put the value of a human life at not more than £2.76 million. They were not prepared to pay the £14 million per life on installing ATP.
Privatised railway companies are making huge profits. In 1998/9 Great Western (now owned by First Group) made operating profits of £25m and Railtrack made operating profits of £442m. "How must the bereaved feel today when they learn that the cost of saving the lives of their loved ones was too much for these pursuers of profit to afford?" stated The Guardian, (6/10/99)
The safety of passengers is being compromised at every turn. This has been pointed out by our unions repeatedly. At Paddington, train drivers have made repeated complaints about signal 109 which they say is situated too high and partly obscured by overhead cables and a pylon. Railtrack records show eight incidents over the last six years where trains have gone through red lights and was due to hold a meeting to consider resiting the signal.
The spot had been implicated in a crash in November 1995, when nine passengers were hurt. In spite of a recommendation at the time that the signal should be moved, Railtrack took no action. Now Railtrack has the temerity to say that new changes "will make signal 109 even better."
"The problems with that signal have been well known since 1993," said Mick Rix, general secretary of ASLEF. "There were numerous instances of the signal being passed at danger. The powers that be have stalled the resiting of that signal."
"Blaming the staff is not good enough", said Bob Crow. "We will always get human error but you have to look at why this happened. If automatic train protection (ATP) had been fitted this would never have happened. Railtrack has refused to install it because it costs money. The human cost of failing to protect passengers and workers is now enormous. The travelling public knows where the real blame lies."
"We have a track record that shows that we do not stint on spending money where it is necessary to deal with safety on the railways", states Great Western manager Mike Mitchell, as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. But the reality is a lot different. They have constantly striven to drive down costs. They are attempting to get rid of guards on trains and extend single person operators. Just like they got rid of the assistant drivers. If these people had their way train drivers would also sell and inspect tickets and operate the buffet too.
The railway inspectorate has already severely criticised the industry for a big rise in trains going through red lights, which were up 8% last year to 643. In an unpublished report on signals passed at danger, the inspectorate blames Railtrack and the train operating companies for the increasing number and that remedial action had been inadequate.
"There is then a possibility that such a SPAD incident may lead to an incident with serious consequences," states the report. In other words this tragedy not only could have been predicted, it actually was, and yet for the sake of a few measly pounds nothing was done about it, and more than a hundred people paid with their lives.
Accidents on the railways can always happen. But today the technology exists to eliminate them. It all comes down to money and the greed of the rail operators. Safety will never be a top priority for these parasites, who cannot see further than their balance sheets.
This scandal cannot be allowed to continue. The rail bosses continue to award themselves huge pay rises. Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett "earns" £409,000 a year, including a bonus of £61,000. Total profits since privatisation amount to £1,370 million. Thameslink managing director Martin Ballinger "earns" £206,000, including a bonus of £31,000. Thameslink total profits were £29.9 million. Great Western executive chairman Trevor Smallwood "earns" £262,000, including a £70,000 bonus. This money is soaked in blood. Since privatisation Great Western has made £52.7 million profit. Now the rail bosses plead poverty - at the expense of safety.
The privatisation of the railways has been a disaster from the word go. Most countries in the world have publicly owned rail systems for obvious reasons. The private sector cannot be trusted to run a national rail network without putting its profitability first. That is incompatible with running a service. That is why the railways were nationalised in the first place in 1947. The Tories were interested in selling off the "family silver" to grant rich pickings to their big business friends in the City.
The railways, as with the rest of the public assets, were sold off below the market price for a song. Railtrack was sold for £2.5 billion. Today, it is valued at £6.5 billion. Lawyers and consultants had a field day. It was daylight robbery, which the Labour Party pledged to reverse. Unfortunately they have reneged on this promise. This has been their most costly betrayal.
Everyone knows the rail system is in a complete mess. Privatisation, breaking up the network, putting profits before lives must now be reversed.
"Three years on" , states The Guardian, "the privatisation of the railways is threatening to achieve what Labour failed to do in almost 20 years of opposition - rehabilitate the idea of nationalisation." (7/10/99)
The Tories received £5.3 billion for the sale. The old British Rail was broken up into 100 component pieces - including Railtrack, which owns the tracks and the stations, 25 operating companies such as Great Western, five freight operators, three rolling stock leasing companies, and 19 maintenance suppliers. Chris Green, who runs Virgin Rail is quoted as likening the present system to "an orchestra where 100-odd musicians have individual contracts with the conductor, and with each other." The only difference being that a chaotic orchestra doesn't kill anyone.
One of the reasons for the sharp rise in rail company share prices since privatisation has been the big rate of return on investment. The pre-tax profits of £1.1 billion last year for the rail companies represents a massive 20% return. Nevertheless, these companies continue to receive subsidies from the government. In 1997-8, for example, the 25 operating companies raised £2.7 billion in fares, but this was then topped up with £1.8 billion in public subsidy!
The government plans to reduce the subsidy to £0.9 billion by 2002-3. The rail bosses, to keep up their profits, will have two choices: increase fares or cut costs. Cutting costs is well underway. There has already been a massive reduction in the workforce. This has resulted in a shortage of up to 1,500 train drivers needed to operate trains without significant overtime. Drivers admit they are jeopardising safety by working extra shifts, rest days and unsocial hours for overtime pay. "The train companies have confirmed that they do not have enough drivers for the trains and will be depending heavily on those they do have working longer hours of overtime", states the Sunday Times (31/5/98). This has produced a situation where drivers have fallen asleep on duty. In 1998 the Health and Safety Executive, which oversees railway safety, reported a 77% increase in the number of train accidents, including collisions. Drivers blame many of these incidents on lack of concentration due to fatigue.
Recently drivers in Scotland claimed that they were working longer hours and more intense shifts because journey numbers were going up while staffing levels remained the same - putting drivers and passengers clearly at risk.
Other attempts to cut costs, such as the employment of contractors, have led to mistakes in signal repair and other errors in trackside maintenance.
"On the operational side", states The Guardian, "train companies were more likely to take short cuts because of the threat of hefty fines from Railtrack if their trains are late."
Railtrack boasts that it is investing large sums. However, the £27 billion headline figure is a fraud, which has to be stripped down into its components. Two-thirds of the money is for routine maintenance, much of it delayed in the run up to privatisation. Corbett, Railtrack's chief executive, has admitted that £8 bn over the next five years is more realistic, and has gone cap in hand to the government for it! As expected the rail bosses are looking for a continuation of the massive subsidies they receive. In the words of one "expert": "It begs the question: why was the industry privatised when it needs to be substantially underpinned by the state?"
Despite the public handouts, the report for the rail regulators by consultants Booz, Allen & Hamilton condemns the companies for their record of poor investment. "Track renewals have averaged around 1.3% per annum during the control period (1995-2001). This is low by comparison with European railways , which typically replace around 2-3% per annum, and with the intended renewal rate of 2.2% per annum quoted in the 1995 business plan.
"Measures of track asset quality and condition have shown some deterioration. Overall, it appears that the physical programmes have in aggregate been below those which were envisaged at the time of the determination. It is likely that there has been a decline in underlying quality of the network assets as a whole." In plain English, despite their colossal profits, Railtrack have not even invested the minimum required for basic maintenance of the tracks.
Anyone who has visited Paddington station this year knows where all the investment has gone. The highly profitable Heathrow Express boasts a check-in beneath a glass ceiling in the new Lawn shopping mall and restaurant area. The same is true of other stations around the country. The trains are late or cancelled, the track is falling apart, the rolling stock is decrepit, but you can get a cappuccino while you wait.
The point was underlined by Vic Coleman, deputy chief inspector of railways at the Health and Safety Executive, who blamed a number of the increasingly frequent derailments on Railtrack's failure to maintain the track. The HSE has gone so far as to threaten Railtrack with criminal prosecution over the "persistent poor condition" of the tracks. This is despite the fact that subsidies are double those given to British Rail before privatisation.
However, the HSE is toothless to deal with rail companies.
The private sector is not interested in running trains, just making money. Take Great Western, one of the companies involved in the Paddington crash.
The bus operator FirstGroup bought them out for £148 million. Ten of the Great Western directors became millionaires as a result, with CEO Brian Scott raking in £3.7 million. This is despite the fact that his company became known as Late Western because of the poor quality of their service.
South West Trains owned by Stagecoach, another bus company, failed to reach its benchmark satisfaction figures in 9 out of 12 areas including punctuality, reliability, cleanliness and catering. None of which stopped them making record profits.
Another gravy train to emerge from rail privatisation was the selling on of the three rolling stock companies (ROSCOs). These were sold by the Tories for £1.8 billion when, in the public sector, they were worth £2.9 billion, according to the National Audit Office. All three were then sold on for huge profit. Sandy Anderson, for example, a former BR manager, led the buyout of Porterbrook and then sold it on to Stagecoach for £900 million, pocketing £36 million for himself. Andrew Jukes the managing director of Evershot made £15.9 million from an investment of £110,000 when the company was sold to Forward Trust, an arm of HSBC Holdings for £788 million. John Prideaux received £15 million from the sale of Angel Trains by Nomura to the Royal Bank of Scotland. Nomura had paid £700 million for the company and then sold it on for a profit of £396 million.
In relation to the sale of Great Western, Prescott stated: "This take-over is another example of the privatised railway making individuals into millionaires at the expense of the taxpayer." Well isn't it time the taxpayer got back the assets robbed from them in the first place?
The idea that by regulation the railways can be run effectively is shown to be a sham. The present regulator has had precisely zero effect on the railways. The rail companies have a thousand and one ways of evading regulations. So far there have been eight official meetings to discuss the problem with signal 109, perversely coinciding with the number of times it has been passed at danger, and two years after Southall before the inquiry into that tragedy has even finished, we have another catastrophe. No amount of regulation is going to prevent these tragedies being repeated again and again. There is no escaping the fact that you cannot control what you don't own. We don't need Royal Commissions, or public inquiries to tell us what we already know, private companies are in the business of making money not running public services.
For years in opposition Labour correctly opposed privatisation. Most famously Andrew Smith, then a frontbench spokesperson, announced to Labour Party Conference "Our air is not for sale." Now it is Labour in government who have embraced the Tory dogma of privatisation and plan to sell off the safety of the airways and the underground. Not only was the Labour Party opposed to privatisation, at the 1996 Party Conference, Tony Blair made a commitment to "restoring a unified system of railways with a publicly owned, publicly accountable BR at its core."
Not just the track, but the operation of all rail services, maintenance and the entire rail network needs to be brought back into public ownership immediately, and in the interests of safety and efficiency the railways should be run democratically by the workforce and passengers. This would bea first step to reversing the deregulation of buses, and integrating our transport system in the interests of the conditions of the workers, the safety of passengers and the protection of the environment.
The type of nationalisation we want is not the same as in the past. When rail was first nationalised, Boards were appointed made up of ex-captains of private enterprise whose sole mandate was to run the industry within the confines of capitalism, and according to the laws of capitalist profitability. Never was the welfare of the workers in the industry ever catered for. The aim was to simply provide cheap transport for the private sector. Even where a profit was made, it was not reinvested back into the industry. In fact it was bled by the bankers and financiers through high rates of interest. Lucrative parts of BR were hived off to the money-grabbers and speculators. We want genuine nationalisation under democratic workers' control and management, run not for profit, but as a service.
Railtrack, the Train Operating Companies and the banks that have made a fortune out of raping our transport system should be made to pay the money back! They owe us billions. Labour should renationalise the entire rail network immediately with no compensation to the profiteers. The chancellor has a budget surplus of £12 billion sitting in the bank. Yet why should this be used to repair our railways. This money should be devoted to health and education. Instead the private rail companies should be made to pay for the introduction of the ATP system and the maintenance they have failed to carry out. They should not be allowed to walk away with billions while we foot the bill for the mess they've made.
* The most advanced safety systems, including ATP to be introduced immediately throughout the rail network
* All the component parts of the rail network to be renationalised and
unified immediately. No compensation to the fat cats!
* A nationalised rail network to be run democratically involving government, unions, railworkers and passenger representatives
As with the rail system, the London Underground has been starved of investment over decades. As a result of this neglect the Tube has accumulated an investment backlog of £1.2 billion. In addition, it has been calculated that the tube network required around £ 400 million a year to maintain the system.
It has traditionally been the government who is responsible for its upkeep. We expected the Labour government to have made good the years of neglect, especially under the Tories. However, the decision to stick to Tory spending limits has been disastrous. They have adopted the Tory idea of PFI or Public Private Partnership, as it has now been rechristened. A rose by any other name smells as sweet.
The government's "new" idea is to restrict public control to the operation of the trains and ticketing, while the core of the network is transferred into private hands. In other words, Tory privatisation by the back door.
This is a recipe for a complete mess. It will be worse than the railways. It goes one step further than the break up of British Rail. At least there one company was given responsibility for the infrastructure. The government now plans to hand over responsibility for the tube infrastructure to three separate private companies!
The so-called competition for the three franchises to run the infrastructure is down to only four main bidders. It means that all three infrastructure companies will be run by foreign-led consortia. The bidders are LINC, led by French train builder Bombadier; and Metronet, led by another French train builder, Adtranz. The third is a new group of Bechtel/Halcrow, the US project management group, and two construction companies, Amey and Jarvis.
Keith Hill, the Labour minister for London, said the government was "delighted " with the quality of the bids for the 30-year contracts. The three consortia have until 15 September to submit bids, with the winner expected to be announced by the end of the year.
As LINC and Metronet are both bidding for the two deep tube contracts and Bechtel is part of another deep tube consortia, Tube Lines Group, real "competition" for the three schemes is reduced to five groups - but four lead players. The whole thing is a carve up.
The private sector will be required to invest about £16 billion over 15 years. In return the private companies will be awarded mouth-watering 30-year contracts. They will be guaranteed a very juicy rate of return for their shareholders of at least 12%. This will obviously be far more than public funding. And who will pay for this? Ordinary people though massive price increases, of course!
An alternative of issuing bonds has been put forward by Livingstone and others. This scheme on the basis of 4 to 4.5% interest being paid, could be up to £7 billion cheaper than PPP. It has been claimed that the total payback on £7 billion worth of loans would only be around £11 to £12 billion, as opposed to £19 billion if the money was raised through the private sector.
If we were forced to choose which system to fund the Underground improvements on the basis of capitalist economics, we would have to opt for the proposal that would give the best and most cost effective service to Londoners and the least to the parasites in the City of London. If it is true that there is a £7 billion difference, why should that money (that represents about £1,000 for every Londoner) be going into the pockets of the bankers in the City.
But there is a far better alternative to both these options. To defend the lesser of two evils is to pose the question, why have evil at all? We, along with most of the Labour movement, want to see a publicly run, publicly funded, cheap, efficient and properly integrated transport system in this country. A system that has a well-paid, well-motivated workforce providing a safe and comfortable service. There can be no doubt that proper funding for such a service would ensure more people using public transport and leaving their cars at home. This inevitably means a resounding "no" to the proposed part privatisation of the tube.
But it also means the renationalisation of the railways and the buses as part of a socialist plan. It means direct and adequate investment from a socialist government, and bringing into public ownership the firms currently undertaking work on public projects and the development of a direct labour force capable of undertaking this work.
We have to fight the tube privatisation by every means at our disposal. The ranks of the Labour Party are overwhelmingly opposed to it, as the vote for Livingstone for Labour's candidate proved. The vast majority of Londoners are opposed. That is one of the main reasons why Livingstone will win the elections for the London Mayor, and why a majority of Labour Party members will vote for him.
However, to believe that the election of Livingstone will block the privatisation of the tube is a mistake. The Blair government is trying to tie things up before May and deny any powers of interference to the Mayor and Assembly until after the privatisation has been completed. As rail workers, we have to rely upon our own organisation and our own strength. We have very little time left! A one-day strike of all London Underground staff, and a mass lobby of parliament should be immediately organised. This will give us the opportunity to protest and to rally behind us the entire labour movement in London. We will need their solidarity if we are to defeat these proposals, and make no mistake we can defeat them. However, we've had one day strikes before, they are no longer enough. If the government refuses to back down in the face of such action then an all-out strike by tube workers, appealing to other transport workers for solidarity, will need to be prepared. If we stand firm we can paralyse the city, not just transport workers but the whole population will be behind us. Only militant action can force the government to abandon these disastrous plans.
We should take a leaf out of the book of our brothers and sisters in Ireland who recently won a victory based on united action. Bus and rail workers paralysed transport in Dublin in early April. Bus workers used pickets to bring out workers on DART (the local rail service in Dublin), Irish Rail, and Bus Eireann (the national bus service). Some 800 rail maintenance workers struck unofficially and defied a high court injunction.
The employers were forced to back down. Such action in London, involving solidarity action from bus workers and railworkers in main line stations in London, would ha ve similar results and win the overwhelming support of working people in London, and the Labour movement generally.
*No privatisation of the tube
* Prepare for all-out industrial action now
* Appeal for solidarity action
* For workers' control and management
*Publicly Owned Integrated System
This must be part of a programme to radically overhaul transport policy. What is needed is a publicly-owned fully integrated system of transport. Our transport system is overcrowded, overpriced and generally dilapidated. The bus system, ever since its deregulation and privatisation has been subject to cuts and deteriorating standards. Rural areas have been effectively cut off in many places. Millions have been forced onto the roads resulting in widespread congestion and pollution. In London, the underground is literally falling to pieces as the infrastructure collapses under the weight of the passenger traffic. Its fares are probably the most expensive in the world. Under the Tories, the proportion of freight carried on roads grew to 66%. But the proportion carried by rail fell to only 6%.
The motorways are under constant repairs. The whole system is being snarled up. The idea of introducing tolls and charging motorists to enter cities will not solve the problem. Such tinkering will make matters worse.
Labour's plans for privatisation and PPP must be dropped immediately. Instead of the discredited old Boards that ran the nationalised industries in the past, which were largely made up of ex-owners, Ladies and Gentlemen, and other bureaucrats, we must introduce a system of democratic control.
National management boards made up of representatives from government, the trade unions, railworkers and passengers, should be elected and operate under the right of recall. These can co-ordinate with all the transport services to draw up an integrated transport system. Within the transport industries there must be a system of democratic workers' control that can oversee the day to day running of the system. After all, transport workers know more about our industry than anyone else.
But where are the new resources to come from to develop an integrated transport system? PPP is simply pouring more money into the pockets of big business. It is a licence to print money! Under the present big business system, where profit is the driving force, transport has suffered a protracted decline. Only by introducing a socialist economic programme can the resources be generated to rebuild our infrastructure and public transport system.
Labour must introduce a massive programme of public works, to rebuild our health service, our schools, and redevelop our entire transport system. A socialist integrated transport policy wouldsee the democratic running of our buses and trains in the interests of workers conditions, passenger safety and the protection of the environment. Never again must profit come before lives. There is no place for such an economic system in our railways, in our hospitals, in our schools or anywhere else.
*No to Private Public Partnership
* A fully integrated transport policy, bringing into public ownership rail, buses, air, shipping and road haulage.
* The industry to be run democratically by representatives from government, unions, railworkers and passengers. Day to day running of the industry under democratic workers' control.
* Compensation on the basis of proven need only.
* A transport system as part of a socialist plan of production, where the needs of people come before the profits of a few.
The fight for these demands can only be effective if taken up by militant trade unions. This must be built on the fullest democracy within our ranks.
Under capitalism, the tops of the Labour movement come under the pressures of capitalism. In many different ways, the big business system attempts to corrupt and buy off the leaders of the unions. Not a small number of right-wing trade union leaders have ended up in the House of Lords for services rendered!
As the old left-wing MP John McGovern once remarked, the workers' leaders can often believe: "I am for the emancipation of the working class, one by one, beginning with myself!"
Careerism is a cancer in the Labour movement. We must stamp it out. Accountability of the leadership to the membership is absolutely vital. That is why we must oppose the system of appointments and officials being elected for life. All trade union officials must be regularly elected, at least every three years, and subject to the right of recall. Three years would allow adequate time for the full time official to prove his or her capability in this privileged position of serving the members.
Furthermore, experience has shown that inflated salaries can lead to isolation from the shop-floor, irrespective of the personal qualities or sincerity of individuals. Not only is a full time officer removed from day-to-day pressures and hardships of workplace labour but he/she becomes financially divorced. No official must get more than that of a skilled worker, plus reasonable expenses. These must be vetted by the rank and file.
The sovereign body of the union is the Annual conference. It is here that our policies are decided for the whole union. Representation is limited.
But in the RMT and ASLEF not every branch is represented, thereby seriously hampering the fullest possible discussion of branch views. Relatively small conferences represent 55,000 and 15,000 members respectively. At this stage, where the industry is split up, we need the maximum unity and representation in our policy making conferences.
The EC of our unions must be under the control of the membership. Election should take place on a regular basis, with no restrictions. The 3-year rule in the RMT should be abolished, which merely strengthens the hand of the full-time officials. Changes in the rule book along these lines would serve to strengthen our organisations.
* All officials to be elected every three years, to be subject to recall
* All officials to receive the average wage of a skilled worker, plus necessary expenses
* All branches to be allowed to send delegates to all policy making conferences
* Elections to the EC to take place on a regular basis, with no restrictions on those wanting to stand.
"For management, the split between the rail unions had provided a classic example of how to succeed by a policy of divide and rule."
(Nicholas Jones, BBC's industrial correspondent)
"What made this time particularly dangerous was that the separate negotiations with ASLEF and NUR were racing in parallel and it was absolutely essential they be kept apart: a combined attack by both unions would have been hard, if not impossible, to resists."
(Sir Peter Parker, former chairman of British Rail, on the 1981 dispute)
It was the importance of combining together to fight ruthless employers and anti-working class governments that led in 1913 to the formation of the NUR. For the first time in history the majority of rail workers were enrolled in one trade union.
Now, once again, under privatisation, new battles are looming between workers and bosses. It is a cornerstone of the Labour movement that unity is strength. The past differences that have existed between the RMT, ASLEF and TSSA, should be discarded to allow us to concentrate all our forces on fighting the real enemy, the bosses. Faced with a new struggle within the industry, these differences must be swept aside. The instinct for unity by workers in struggle must be encouraged at all levels.
The bitterness that exists has largely been based on historical events and fostered by personal animosities. The past sell-outs by one or other of the unions serves to create divisions. However, with the election of Mick Rix as general secretary of ASLEF, who stands on the left, co-operation between ASLEF and the RMT should be put on a more organised footing. It could be the beginning of a new relationship between the unions. This opportunity to promote the idea of one railway union must not be lost. The proposal of a federation of the three unions should be put back on the agenda.
In the past, the political rivalries between ASLEF, on the left, and the old NUR, on the right, are now redundant. The shift to the left by the RMT provides the opportunity for taking the issue of trade union unity forward.
Our slogan remains: "Unity is strength!" The alternative is division and defeat, as the bosses know full well.
*Unity is strength!
* For joint union bodies
* For a federation of RMT, ASLEF and TSSA
* Fight for one rail union
One hundred years ago, our rail unions played a leading part in the creation of a Party of Labour - distinct from the Tories and Liberals, who represented the interests of the ruling class. Experience had proved that purely industrial struggle was not enough. The legal action of the railway owners against the funds of the ASRS, over a strike involving the victimisation of a signalman in Taff Vale in August 1900, pushed the trade unions to build the Labour Party.
A political solution was absolutely vital to defend gains from hostile governments and employers, to fight for further improvements in living standards and ultimately carry out the socialist aspirations of the working class. Under the impact of the Russian Revolution, the Labour Party adopted Clause 4, which enshrined the socialist objectives of the party.
At the very time the "market" i.e., capitalism, is exposing its weaknesses, the Labour leaders are hailing its virtues! The Blairite leadership has adopted all the nostrums of Thatcherism, demanding the "reform" (i.e. dismantling) of the welfare state, and total flexibility of labour. That is why they forced through, by means of blackmail, the repeal of Clause 4 of the party's constitution.
Despite the claims of the Labour leaders, the boom slump cycle of capitalism has not been eliminated. Profit, as Marx explained, comes from the unpaid labour of the working class. The fundamental contradiction of capitalism remains the inability of the working class to buy back what it produces. At a certain stage, this leads to over-production and crisis.
Despite the massive rejection of Toryism in May 1997, the Blair government has largely continued where the Tories left off. Brown has kept to the Tory's spending limits. Public schools are to remain ("read my lips"), performance related pay for teachers is to be imposed, and the NHS internal market is to remain. Their promises to keep the railways in public hands have come to nothing. They are now adopting Tory privatisation policies, with the privatisation of air traffic control, and the partial privatisation of the tube and even the post office. No wonder the government has seconded a whole swathe of big business people into government. Big business regards Blair - at least for the moment - as "their" man. Blair has declared New Labour a "party of business".
At the same time, the bulk of the Tory anti-union legislation is still intact, and the rights at work proposals have been completely watered down. The minimum wage remains at a pathetically low level - a sum no Minister would contemplate living on.
Blair has gone even further. He has announced that the founding of the Labour Party was a mistake! He is keen to break the trade union links, and to join up in a coalition with his friends in the Liberal Democrats and on the left of the Tory Party. The so-called Blair Project is to transform the Labour Party into a capitalist party.
However, he has met with big opposition. The Livingstone affair reveals an enormous amount. Despite the rule changes and undemocratic manoeuvres and stitch-ups of the Blairites, there has been a backlash of opposition amongst the rank and file. In the ballots of members over the London mayor, Ken Livingstone won 80,000 votes! This figure represented a groundswell of opposition to Blair and his policies.
The Blairites are taking the Labour Party on the path to ruin. Their pro-capitalist policies have created wide-spread disillusionment in the working class. In by-elections, local elections, Euro elections, and those to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, there have been massive Labour abstentions and protest votes against Labour. In Wales, the Blairites imposed Alun Michael on the party, as they have done with Dobson in London. This created a backlash. Labour ended up losing the strongholds of the Rhondda, Llanelli and Islwyn to the nationalists! Seats Labour had held since its formation. In the recent Ayr by-election, Labour lost the seat and was pushed into third place!
The Blairites have got away with murder because the bulk of affiliated trade unions have sat on their hands. They have even supported Blair's counter-revolution within the party. Nevertheless, today the unions still hold 50% of the votes at conference. Together with the constituencies (which are being pushed to the left), they could change the lot! The 80,000 people in London alone who voted for Livingstone, shows the tremendous strength of opposition feeling. All it requires is organising.
Unfortunately, frustration with the right-wing stranglehold has resulted in people abandoning the party to Blair. Arthur Scargill walked out to form the Socialist Labour Party, but this has made no impact whatsoever. If Scargill and his supporters had stayed and fought, they would have provided a focal point for this growing opposition. Bob Crow and Mick Rix are both members of the SLP. How more effective they could be if they headed the opposition to Blair inside the Labour Party. To abandon the struggle simply strengthens Blair and the right-wing. They were overjoyed when Scargill left. You don't have to be a genius to work out why.
Frustration is never a good guide. We need to think with our heads, not with our hearts. For decades the NUR was under the domination of the right-wing. People like Jimmy Thomas, Sir Sidney Green and Sir Sidney Weighell - past leaders of the NUR - epitomised the Neanderthal right-wing of the Labour movement. But should militants have left the union out of disgust and set up another union? NO! The lessons of history prove that this would have been a disaster. It was necessary to stay in the union and fight for left policies and leadership. The RMT now stands on the left of the movement. As a fighting union, armed with a militant programme, it is destined to play a key role in the future.
The same approach is needed towards the Labour Party. It was founded by the unions, financed by the unions, and supported by the unions. The bedrock of the party still remains the unions. Every attempt to set up an alternative outside of the Labour movement has failed dismally. Let us learn from history. The grip of the right-wing on the party has been broken before and can be broken again. If you have nofaith in the ability of the working class to take back its own organisations, and that goes for the right-wing unions as well, how can you expect it to change society? The removal of the Blairites is a far simpler task.
There are some who are attempting to challenge the Labour Party in the London Assembly election, standing on the single issue of Campaign Against Tube Privatisation. But this is a blind alley. Even if these candidates won, they would not control the Assembly. Only by defeating the Blairites within the Labour Party will the issue resolved. To believe in any other course of action is to waste our efforts and deflect away from the real struggle.
The calls for unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party is also counter-productive. It is an impotent protest. The real answer is for the unions to take back the party from the Blairites. Why should we give up the party we founded to this gang of Tory/Liberal carpetbaggers? It doesn't make sense. The opposition to the Blairites is widespread amongst the rank and file of the party. It needs to be organised! There has never been a better time. Don't contract out! Contract in! Take up the fight where it counts - inside the Labour Party. If they were worth their salt, the rail unions would launch such a campaign. Unfortunately, they appoint right-wingers to the party's ruling bodies. The RMT traditionally appoints the senior assistant general secretary - whatever his political views - to the NEC of the party. It is about time this was changed! This must be open to election by the rank and file.
* Reject New Labour's Tory policies
* Remove the Blairite carpetbaggers
* Trade unions must take back the Labour Party
* Don't contract out! Contract in!
Combined with a fight against Blairism must be the fight for socialist policies. The government's pro-capitalist policies have led to disaster for working people. Millions have become disillusioned with what has happened.
Labour's core vote is threatening to stay at home, which has even put in doubt the outcome of the next election. The Blairites have brought us to the edge of ruin. Their policies are threatening to bring back the Tories!
The massive vote for Labour in 1997 was a vote for change. Unfortunately, apart from minor changes and concessions, we have got more of the same. The Blairites have attempted to out-Tory the Tories, in accepting privatisation, the market, a continued squeeze on spending, and graciously accepting the dictates of big business and the City.
The continuing "boom" of the British economy, which it benefiting from the boom in the USA, has served to keep the government afloat. Despite the image of "booming Britain", millions of workers are facing hardship, while the rich are becoming super-rich. But when "boom" turns to "bust", the bottom will fall out of the government's finances, and the screws will be turned further on the working class. There is no way out on the basis of capitalism for working people.
Under capitalism, the state sector - which has been hacked back over the past 20 years - will continue to be starved of cash. Public services, including transport, are always the first to go in the capitalist squeeze.
The shareholders' dividends must be maintained at all costs - at the expense of all else. That is the attitude of the capitalists and the City of London. This is the very foundation stone of their system. That is why slowly chipping away at it will not solve the basic underlying problem of who owns and who controls society. You can't plan what you don't control, and you can't control what you don't own. It is as simple as that.
Today, Britain is one of the most monopolised countries in the world. A mere 150 monopolies, and banks and insurance companies control our lives.
Instead of tinkering with capitalism, the Labour government should be putting the interests of ordinary working people first.
Not only should the transport industries be brought back into public ownership, but the key industries, banks and insurance companies should be nationalised to allow us to draw up a national plan of production. This would place the "commanding heights of the economy" in the hands of a Labour government. Rather than the "market" dictate to us, working people can dictate to the economy. A rational plan of production can be drawn up involving the bulk of the population, involving committees of workers, specialists, small business people, pensioners, and so on. The advent of computer technology has never made planning so easy and so accessible.
For the first time, the control of society will be in the hands of ordinary working people. While a real socialist government will direct the national economy, the day to day planning and control must be in the hands of those who create the real wealth of society. Unemployment would be eliminated as all the talent and resources of society are used to benefit the majority, not the interests of a clique of billionaire capitalists and financiers.
The boundless ingenuity within society, and the tremendous advances in science and technique can be utilised in everyone's interests on such a socialist basis.
Such a socialist planned economy would be a beacon to workers of all other countries. Rather than a capitalist Europe as at present, we would see the development of a Socialist United States of Europe. In its turn, this would pave the way for a World Federation of Socialist States, and put an end once and for all to the horror of world poverty, hunger and war. All this is not only entirely possible but historically necessary.
We hope RMT, ASLEF and TSSA members will take up these ideas and assist us in building a fighting socialist trade union movement. We must clear aside those who attempt to deflect our movement down a sectional and pro-capitalist path. Let us above all fight together in the mass organisations - in our unions and in the Labour Party - for the implementation of the socialist policies outlined in this pamphlet.
We end this pamphlet with the words of our forefathers, the pioneers of our movement, who recognised that trade union activity could not be separated from the political struggle. This is enshrined in the RMT rule book, (Rule 4, Clause B) committing the union "to work for the supercession of the capitalist system by a socialist order of society." The ASLEF rule book also states its objective is "to assist in the furtherance of the Labour movement generally towards a socialist society." These aims are no sentimental attachment, but represent the desires of working people for a new society where the exploitation of capitalism is ended once and for all. There remains no more urgent task today.
*End the anarchy of the market economy.
* For a socialist plan of production.
* Nationalise the major monopolies, banks and insurance companies that dominate the economy under democratic workers' control and management. Compensation on the basis of proven need only.
* Socialist internationalism the only way forward! For a socialist Europe as a step to a world federation of socialist states.