Campaign Against Tube Privatisation
from Tubeworker, by tubeworkers in the Alliance for Workers' Liberty
14th Oct 1999
Public railways under workers' control
Following the crash at Ladbroke Grove, everyone now knows that more money needs to be spent on safety on the railways; that Railtrack and the Train Operating Companies have neglected safety in pursuit of fatter profits; that the government has not pushed safety because their strategy for public transport relies on private cash leading to private profits. But what you will not read in the bosses' newspapers is that profit's disregard for human life is inseparable from their Capitalist system.
There are 'accidents' and 'acts of nature' but what makes them disasters is production for profit. In Turkey and Taiwan it was not a disaster that the earth shook, it was the fact that builders who cared more for their pockets had built shoddy buildings which could not withstand an earthquake. The fact that people starve in the Third World is not because it is impossible to produce enough food for everyone, but because it is not profitable to do so. A train going through a red signal is not an uncommon occurrence, but what made it a disaster was the management caring more about their profits than about safety. Even without Automatic Train Protection, simply reviewing more carefully the siting of signals which have been repeatedly passed at danger could have made a difference.
We want the railways re-nationalised. We are against privatisation. But we need more than this. We are in favour of nationalisation because it reduces the profit motive, but it does not eliminate it. The report into the Clapham crash ten years ago recommended that ATP be introduced on the entire railway network; this was rejected by the Tory government on the grounds that it would cost too much.
So re-nationalisation should be accompanied by workers' control. It is railway workers who know what is safe because we are at the sharp end operating the railway - as at Ladbroke Grove, railworkers died too. But also, railworkers are not interested in profits for the bosses - we are interested in running a safe railway. We need a more rational way of organising public transport, as part of a more rational way of organising society. Socialism means a society where the needs of people not profit are paramount. We need a government which fights for the interests of the working class as hard as Tony Blair et al fight for the interests of the bosses and their profits. We need a workers' government.
Even before the Ladbroke Grove crash, it was hard to find anyone who supported Tube privatisation. Now, the very idea that Railtrack and the other private companies whose murderous greed caused the crash should be given the chance to do the same to the Tube fills most right-thinking people with horror. But it takes more than unpopularity to stop a crap policy: it needs a fightback.
There are some good signs. ASLEF have finally realised that they should oppose privatisation rather than supporting it. Together with RMT and TSSA, they are running a campaign, Listen to London, opposing the sell-off. Two things that Tubeworker has consistently argued for - cross-union unity and the need for a political campaign - seem to be coming to fruition. But while Listen to London's surveys, T-shirts and glossy packs are welcome, where is the role for the rank-and-file member? Or the enraged passenger?
A 'political campaign' is not just a matter of Knapp, Rix or Rosser talking to Ministers. An effective political campaign needs to mobilise thousands of people: it needs grass-roots involvement and democratic control; it should be about action. The unions should run a crusade for safe public transport: immediately, they should call a national demonstration. Our fight should also be linked to issues such as the proposed privatisation of Air Traffic Control, described recently as a 'Railtrack of the skies'. But union leaders will only put up a fight if workers force them to: so it is down to each of us to get active against privatisation.
If ASLEF and RMT took strike action together, we could bring London to a halt. So when our industry is being privatised, why are we not using that power? There are various ideas about the way forward industrially. Many P-way workers feel they need to strike for at least 5 days for the effect to be felt. They could heighten the impact by picketing out other grades, and PSD staff could find safety reasons to refuse to work during a P-way strike. Or other grades could strike at the same time but for a shorter period. Some people suggest an overtime ban or a work-to-rule.
The point is that these ideas need to be discussed. The unions should jointly call a meeting at which rank-and-file members can thrash out the issues and the strategy. A meeting not for bombast and electioneering, but for open, democratic debate.
Action website: http://www.actionforsolidarity.org.uk
Workers' Liberty, PO Box 823, London SE15 4NA Phone +44 171 207 3997/0706/4774 Fax +44 171 277 8462 Web http://www.workersliberty.org, firstname.lastname@example.org