Socialist Worker

Renationalise: It's the only answer

Issue No. 1730

'Everything just getting worse. Health, education, transport-they all need to be in public ownership. Now they are being run down and sold off. It can't go on like this.'

That is what pensioner Janice Hunter said this week. She was one of 1,300 people who packed a meeting in London on Monday called to oppose New Labour's plans to privatise the underground. Every one of them knew that the fight to stop this disastrous sell-off is connected to the growing clamour to renationalise the mainline rail network.

Bob Crow, the assistant general secretary of the RMT rail union, was cheered when he said, 'We want every inch and corner of the former British Rail brought back together under public ownership.' The meeting launched a drive for a yes vote in a joint ballot for industrial action on the tube by the ASLEF and RMT unions. Ballot papers were to go out to 10,000 tube workers on Thursday of this week.

For legal reasons the ballot is centred on demands for guarantees from London Underground that safety, staffing, pay and conditions will not be compromised by John Prescott's Public-Private Partnership scheme.

But any strike over those issues would drive a stake at the heart of tube privatisation, and encourage calls for seizing the rail system out of the hands of profiteers like Railtrack and the train operating companies. Monday's meeting reflected the cry for unity from ordinary tube workers and the immense public anger with New Labour for allowing the rail companies to put profit before safety.

Mick Rix, general secretary of the ASLEF train drivers' union, and Richard Rosser from the TSSA white collar rail union joined Bob Crow on the platform. TUC general secretary John Monks also spoke. That showed how opposition to privatisation is so deep that even union leaders who are close to New Labour have to speak out against it.

The mood of the meeting, which included hundreds of tube workers, was for action to match those words. London mayor Ken Livingstone won huge applause when he said he would join tube workers on the picket line if they struck. He denied press reports that he is looking for a deal with the government that will allow the privatisation scheme to go through.

Livingstone's alternative plan, backed by his transport commissioner Bob Kiley, involves raising private cash to fund investment on the tube. Promised But the government is still forcing a confrontation with him by insisting on breaking up the tube into rival firms that would take over the workforce in the way the private rail companies have.

Discussions between Livingstone and the government could end up with yet more complicated proposals. For tube workers and users, however, the issue is clear-people want investment paid for by taxes on the rich, not schemes that let business make a profit from public services.

There is the same feeling over the mainline rail network. Hundreds of thousands of passengers had to pay increased fares this week, despite rail companies admitting services will not be back to normal until Easter at the earliest.

A near-miss collision between two trains outside London's Victoria station last week again highlighted plummeting safety standards. The government has effectively acknowledged that Railtrack, which owns the track and signalling, is incapable of investing in it. John Prescott wants his watchdog, the Strategic Rail Authority, to oversee the investment he has promised over the next ten years.

He is considering the government taking a 5 percent stake in Railtrack so it has someone on the board of directors. If Railtrack cannot be trusted to maintain track and signalling, why the hell does the government allow its bosses to milk a profit? The same goes for train operating companies such as Richard Branson's Virgin Trains.

Even the threat of renationalisation would send the share price of the rail companies through the floor. And there would be overwhelming public support for taking back the rail industry without handing the rail barons another penny of public money. That's why everyone should back the tube workers and join the campaign to renationalise the rail.

People see the solution

'People phone up irate, and I understand why. They simply cannot organise their lives when they do not know if they will be able to travel safely or on time. So many people now have to travel for work. The speed restrictions and cancelled services since the Hatfield crash have robbed hundreds of thousands of people of hours and hours every week which they used to be able to call their own.

Rail staff are on the receiving end of people's frustrations. But it's amazing just how many passengers sympathise with the staff. Loads of passengers blame not just Railtrack but the companies that run the trains as well. I get people on the phone or in letters saying 'we need renationalisation'.'
Rail worker in Merseyside who deals with complaints from passengers

Safety before profit...add your name

Some 95 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling for rail to be brought back under public control. Campaigners across Britain are collecting signatures on a petition backing that motion.

Tony Benn is to present the petition to parliament when the motion is discussed. Local RMT and ASLEF union representatives joined Labour councillor and ex-mayor Francis Tonks, Green Party councillor Rik Child, and Brighton and Hove Socialist Alliance convenor Tom Hickey to present the petition to the press at Brighton station on Monday of this week.

Two local radio stations and the regional daily newspaper covered the launch. The National Network of Socialist Alliances is calling for mass petitioning at rail stations on Saturday 27 January. There will also be a protest on the same day in London against privatisation of the underground.

For petitions phone 020 7987 1919.

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Article information

Sat 13 Jan 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1730
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