The battle over New Labour’s plan to privatise the tube in London was coming to a head this week. Tony Blair met Gordon Brown and John Prescott on Monday, and refused to abandon the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme which means breaking up the tube and handing it to private companies such as Balfour Beatty.
They decided to press ahead just as the RMT rail union began reballoting its members on the tube for a strike over the threat privatisation poses to safety and workers’ conditions.
John Prescott’s plan for the tube is almost identical to the disastrous privatisation of the mainline railway. It is so unpopular that even the Tories, who pushed through rail privatisation six years ago, were moving to drop their own version of tube privatisation this week.
A top Tory told the Financial Times, ‘We have to accept that 83 percent of Londoners are totally opposed to privatisation of the tube.’ Ken Livingstone tapped that anti-privatisation feeling when he won the election for London mayor last year. At the start of this week he was threatening the government with court action if it pushed ahead with its scheme.
Livingstone was furious that New Labour had dismissed his alternative plan for bringing private money into the tube. Much more is at stake than rival financing plans for London Underground. Blair is digging in because privatisation through PPP and PFI schemes is central to New Labour’s plans for health, education, transport and the whole of the public sector.
Mass opposition to privatisation fuelled public support for the one-day strike by tube workers on 5 February. Thousands of RMT union members, who were banned from striking by a judge, broke the anti-union laws that day by not crossing picket lines set up by drivers in the ASLEF union.
That kind of action is needed urgently. Tube workers have the power to kill privatisation stone dead. That was the message from a meeting of union activists on the tube last week. It launched a campaign for an overwhelming vote for strike action in the RMT. Ballot papers are due to be returned by the end of next week. New Labour’s only hope for getting privatisation through is stringing out negotiations between the unions and tube management, and between Prescott and Ken Livingstone, until it gets a compromise. The tube unions should not let that happen.
His treatment exposes the British state