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Oppose the government’s attack on railway workers: renationalisation now!

The Workers Party of Britain denounces the threat to rail workers and the travelling public that are contained in new government and industry proposals.

Britain’s railways are facing job cuts and changes to terms and conditions in what is set to be the biggest shake-up since privatisation. This attack on working people is coming on two fronts – from the privatised train operating companies (TOCs) and from the government.

The TOCs set up the Rail Industry Recovery Group (RIRG) to deal with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Passenger numbers are still low compared to pre-Covid levels and are unlikely to bounce back in the short to medium term.  Combined with the fact that the current levels of government funding are likely to dry up soon, the TOCs are seeing this as an opportunity to push through their long-held aim of attacking railworkers’ jobs, pay and working conditions.

The government, on the other hand, recently published a white paper – the Williams review – which has now been endorsed by transport secretary Grant Shapps. This, too, is proposing changes to jobs, pay and conditions, but its recommendations go deeper into the restructuring of the whole system, including a proposal that main responsibility for running the railways should be handed to a new umbrella organisation, GB Railways.

The TOCs are proposing cuts to try to save their own skin (and their profits), but the government’s proposals are more about the long-standing aims of the ruling class, which include the continued privatisation of public services and breaking the power of the trade unions.

Both these groups talk about ‘efficiencies’ and ‘cost savings’, but they don’t mean ending the extortionate leasing of trains by the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs) or ending the siphoning off of huge profits for shareholders. What they mean by ‘efficiencies’ is cutting the jobs, the pay, and the terms and conditions of the men and women who staff our railways – and who have worked especially hard to provide a service to key workers throughout the pandemic.

The Williams review recognises the economic power (and necessity) of passenger and freight services, and also that the railways will play a huge part in any ‘green revolution’. But it still insists that privatisation should remain a key element in future restructuring.

This is nonsense.

The railway trade unions have signed up to a process that will examine how the proposed cuts and changes might be implemented, but it’s a fragile accord. Trade unions must resist any attack on their members for the profit of the privateers: the terms and conditions that are enjoyed today have been hard-earned and should be protected at all costs.

The Workers Party of Britain believes that our railways should be owned by the people and run for the people. The sane, socialist society we want to build would have no problem in making sure that there was long-term investment in rolling stock and infrastructure, and that rail travel was made accessible to all through cheap fares, the reopening and expansion of branch lines, and the plentiful provision of services.

While Boris Johnson makes a big parade of his ‘green’ credentials by trying to coerce workers into shelling out for electric cars (and binning their old ones), a real green approach would have at its heart a rebuilt, expanded and renationalised railway and bus service, helping workers out of their cars altogether and making all our lives more pleasant in the process.