Safety demands workers' control
Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, has finally gone. He has left behind a rail industry in total crisis and near collapse. Train services across the country are chaotic. Even the operating companies are advising passengers not to travel.
The worst route is Kings Cross to Scotland. Numerous 20mph emergency speed restrictions, some more than two miles in length, have been imposed due to gauge corner cracking in the rails, the cause of the Hatfield derailment. They have reduced frequency and increased journey times. This is replicated over the entire system.
Corbett's final parting shot was to blame the wrong kind of trains for gauge corner cracking. What he failed to mention was Railtrack's complete failure to lay the correct type of rail. In Europe a different, stronger rail, known as 'UIC 60 Standard Rail', is used. This is more expensive but longer lasting and does not suffer from gauge corner cracking. European Trains travel at up to 200mph without falling of the track.
Privatisation has been a spectacular and deadly disaster. Billions of pounds have gone into shareholders' pockets from public taxes. The same amount invested in the railway would have bought a completely new system, fully electrified and with Automatic Train Protection.
The replacement of Corbett by an accountant will hardly improve matters. Labour, however, will not take the logical step of renationalisation, preferring to throw yet more millions at the private companies.
The rail unions have also been unusually quiet at a time when the public would be extremely receptive to any campaign for renationalisation and putting safety before profit. They would rather hide for fear of jeopardising Labour's chances at the coming election. Once again class collaboration is the order of the day. Railworkers, however, do not want to wait for a golden Labour dawn that never comes.
Of course we must be clear that 'public ownership' is not a panacea. British Rail was hardly the epitome of safety, efficiency and workers' rights. But it is correct to demand that the government acts. We do not fetishise state ownership, as opposed to private ownership, under capitalism. Either way, capital, personified individually or collectively through the state, remains at the helm.
That is why we complement our demand for renationalisation with the call for workers to take action themselves. We cannot afford to leave things to Blair, nor to the union leaderships. Only workers' control can ensure safety. Workers, alongside passengers, have a direct stake in doing so. Without fighting to run industry ourselves, the demand for renationalisation is an empty one.
At a meeting in Manchester called by the local RMT on November 11 a campaign was launched for renationalisation. This also had the support of Reclaim The Streets and Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance. This campaign needs to be built nationally and link up with support for the candidates of the Socialist Alliance fighting for an alternative.