"Great British Railways": rail workers need a central plan

Autumn 2021

Twenty-five years after the privatisation of the state-owned British Rail, the government is undertaking a major reorganisation of the system. Railway management and control - in England, Wales and Scotland, will now be “taken back” by the state and re-centralised under a new public body called “Great British Railways” (Railways in Northern Ireland which were not privatised in the same way are excluded). 

    Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called it ”the biggest change to the railways” since 1996... ”ending the fragmentation of the past and bringing the network under a single national leadership”, when he presented the proposals to parliament on 21 May 2021. His White Paper is entitled the ”Shapps-Williams Plan for Rail” and is the basis for legislation, to be passed by the House of Commons by 2023. 

    Insofar as his “Plan” centralises railway control, recreating a state entity to take charge, this is a major change. It is also an admission by the ”public bad, private good” Conservatives that their rail privatisation has finally hit the buffers. But the change is in form, not content: the government has no intention of kicking private companies or profiteering out of the railways. And of course, it is not by any stretch of the imagination “renationalisation”. 

    Nevertheless, Transport Minister Shapps was subject to jibes accusing him of turning “socialist” and stealing Labour’s clothes, since under Corbyn of course, rail renationalisation was a popular policy. Presenter Kate Garraway, on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain”, told him that he was repeating what Labour had said for years, asking: ”is it an admission that actually Labour were right all along?”. She then accused him of trying to ”reinvent the wheel ” by creating a public body to run a public service, ” you have capitulated to that finally and admitted failure”. 

    Shapps replied that all he really wanted was “a simplified system” and for “trains to run on time”. And in that, one can probably take him at his word, since he has more than once been caught on camera, stranded on a platform, waiting for a train which does not arrive... 

    As for ”what Labour had said” , this illusion belongs not only to ITV’s Kate Garraway, but many others, left and right of the political spectrum. This is from Labour’s 2019 manifesto: “ [We] will deliver improvements for rail passengers by bringing our railways back into public ownership, using options including franchise expiry” (our emphasis). In other words, franchises would not have ceased thenceforth and indeed the same system would have been allowed to continue for the duration of franchise agreements. Which is important, since, in 2010 the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition government increased the duration of these agreements from the usual 7 years to 10 - 15, and in some cases, even 22 years!

    But Garraway was right to accuse Shapps of “reinventing the wheel”, since this Plan for Rail is really a “new model privatised railway” which has in fact been on the cooker for years due to the dysfunctionality of the old one.

    So what about the workforce? In the plan itself, the fact that the system relies on 240,000 railway workers, gets little mention. Shapps claimed it does ”not disguis[e] cuts of any type”. But he was at pains to emphasise the extra £12 billion spent during the pandemic to keep the trains running and that ”efficiency [has] become not merely desirable, but essential. Indeed existential” (!) and that ”the current sums being paid to operate and maintain the railways are not sustainable”. He called for ”new transparency requirements on productivity and pay”. And as this article highlights below, the Department of Transport (DfT) has already got the railway unions to sign up to an agreement to “help” decide where and how these “new requirements” will be introduced. As for pay - a freeze across the whole network has already begun.

Why Williams?

The ”Shapps-Williams Plan for Rail” is based on a railway review begun in September 2018 by coauthor, Keith Williams. 

    It is easy to see why he was chosen. Having worked for British Airways for 18 years, first as finance director and then as CEO (2011-2016), his CV includes a long list of non-executive directorships: Boots, Apple Inc., Reckitt and Colman, John Lewis, Aviva, Halfords - and in May 2020, he became the non-executive chairman of the recently-privatised Royal Mail. In other words, he is typical of the (mostly) men who get appointed by government to undertake such reports. But in addition, Williams is supposed to have “smoothed over” industrial relations at BA after a series of cabin crew strikes, in 2011, which earned him much praise from his fellow bosses. (Ironically, just after he left, the longest cabin crew strike so far seen in BA, broke out among mixed fleet workers. Indeed, their creation as a permanent 2nd tier workforce fl ying BA’s “cheaper” shorter haul flights on worse pay, terms and conditions, happens to have been presided over by Williams.)

    So, coming up with a way for the railways to be less of a drain on government fi nances - and all the more so, since the pandemic turned this drain into a black hole - is something Williams should be well-qualifi ed to do...

    In 2018, his brief was ”to recommend the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks to deliver the government’s vision (...) A railway that is able to offer good-value fares for passengers, while keeping costs down for taxpayers.” His interim reports had already proposed an end to the private train operating franchises, so this came as no big surprise.

So what's the Plan?

Today’s final “Plan” is presented as a purely “structural” change. In the introduction, the authors write: ”What needs to change... is not the ownership of the railways, but their complexity. The sector today is too complicated, too confusing for passengers, too expensive to run and improve, too difficult to lead, and too hard to reform”.

    Never mind that it is precisely the “ownership” which needs to change, or that one can wonder why, if the sector is “too hard to reform”, the government is reforming it! The first line of the foreword reads: ”We want our trains to run on time...” And it continues: ”The chaotic timetable changes three years ago showed all too clearly that the old ways were not working...”.

    So the new public body, Great British Railways (GBR) will now take over responsibility for setting most timetables, while promising to provide a more joined-up service across the country. It will also receive most of the revenue from passenger fares - instead of this so-called “farebox” forming part of private train operating companies’ (TOCs) income, as has been the case up to now.

    The individualised franchise agreements (of varying lengths), under which the TOCs provide train services on the different lines are to be terminated and replaced by Passenger Service Contracts (PSCs), which will be put out to tender to private bidders. How many “takers” there might be for these new PSCs is another question. Apparently when the franchise system was put in place 25 years ago, rail expert and former consultant to the private rail sector, Roger Ford, recalls: “At one stage a transport minister assured us there was a fi ling cabinet in his Department holding 150 expressions of interest in taking on a franchise. But when franchising went kinetic, it turned out that the true number was 37...” He also points out that since, to quote the White Paper, ”Great British Railways will aim to compete all contracts, foster more competitive bids, and attract and then retain new partners”, that the plan is to (yet again!) have a multitude of small private contracts with a multitude of small private companies... which is hardly going to remove complexity nor simplify anything!

    Yet the government maintains this simplifi cation is precisely its aim, admitting that ”Today’s railways are a maze of agreements between hundreds of different parties, drawn up and policed by battalions of lawyers and consultants, including an entire staff dedicated to arguing about who is at fault for each delayed train”. This results in a ”blame culture” and a giant ”contractual spider’s web”. Of course, deciding on who takes the blame also decides who gets the compensation, so there is a point to this! Anyway, the Shapps-Williams solution is to spin a new spider’s web, with a new thread... and end up with new complexity!

Profits with even fewer “risks”!

PSCs will, however, improve things markedly for the new (or same old, more likely) private contractors. Because they will now have a fi xed and predictable income into the future. The risks formerly attached to franchise conditions, will be transferred entirely to the government’s Department of Transport. These contracts will specify an agreed fee to operate the service. Private companies which sign up to them will be expected to meet targets of punctuality, but if they do OK, they will get additional rewards, or “incentives”. In fact this type of contract is already in operation - the private company Arriva (owned by Germany’s Deutsche Bahn) runs part of the London rail network - London Overground - on behalf of the public body, Transport for London. Southern Rail (owned by Govia Thameslink Railway, GTR) was also switched to a management contract after the 3-year long strike (over removing guards from trains) ended in 2017. However, the description of how the new PSCs will work does not bode well for simplifi cation! To quote the Plan: ”Passenger Service Contracts will be different across the network and will not take a one-size-fi ts-all approach”. They will be tailored by the 5 GBR regional divisions and will even vary in length. On some routes, operators will be able to set their own fares and ”act more commercially”. Multiple smaller operators are envisaged to ”coexist efficiently in a way that has not previously been possible” (!). The current “open access” contracts will continue to be offered. These already allow companies to share the same track as an existing service, and indeed compete with them, by offering cheaper fares - as with Hull Trains and Grand Central and the new “Lumo”, which all run trains on the East Coast mainline, along with the main regular service, London and North East Railway, LNER. In other words, GBR will “tailor in” even more contractors... And all for the sake of splitting the offering among even more little sharks... Shapps promises that there will be additional affordable turn-up-and-go fares and flexible season tickets. If so, it would be a great relief to passengers who are currently paying among the highest fares in Europe. Another point to be made, is that monopoly of the fully private, 3 Rolling Stock Companies (ROSCOs) which lease locomotives and carriages (at signifi cant cost), to the TOCs, will remain untouched. For them profit has always come

    before investment and their respective “fl eets” are ageing and include 75 different types of train! In fact it was the government which paid £5.7 billion(!) for the Class 800 Hitachi high speed trains needed to modernise the East Coast mainline fleet.

Privatisation already damned in 2002

So what about the infrastructure, tracks and signalling? The White Paper says that GBR will “absorb” the already publicly-owned “arms-length” body known as Network Rail (NR). In fact (and who could forget?) NR was set up after its privatised predecessor, “Railtrack”, which had been fl oated on the stock exchange in 1996, scandalously collapsed, in 2001. It was the first casualty of Tory prime minister John Major’s rail

    privatisation. The company lasted a mere 5 years before going belly-up, after having paid its big shareholders huge dividends out of a combination of direct state subsidies and borrowed money. Railtrack invested next to nothing in tracks and signals and sacked its skilled and experienced “old British Rail” senior engineers. In the 5 years of its existence, there were 3 fatal train crashes - among the worst in British railway history: the Southall crash in 1997 which killed the driver and 6 others, the Paddington crash in 1999 when 31 people were killed (many burnt to death) - both due to signalling failures - and the third at Hatfi eld in October 2000, due to a derailment caused by lack of rail maintenance, killing 4 and injuring 70. These catastrophes should have been enough to send the whole privatisation disaster into the long grass forever. 

   But not for Tony Blair’s Labour government - adamant as it was to be seen as a loyal servant of the capitalist class. So Network Rail - initially set up with a board mostly consisting of the bosses of the train operating companies (the foxes in charge of the henhouse!) - came into existence as an arms-length government-financed, but still “private” body, so that its huge debts did not have to be added to the national debt. It was only in 2014 that it was officially reclassified as a public, “government body”!

    Today, NR is mainly financed through direct grants from the government. Access fees, paid for the use of its network by its users - the private train and freight companies - only make up 11-14% of its income. These are deliberately set very low, acting as an additional state subsidy to the private train operators. (More of this later.) Its integration into the new state body, GBR, will now see its boss, Andrew Haines, pushed into a top position.

How the pandemic was a dry run... or not?

When Covid hit, the subsequent lockdown meant that train journeys initially went down to around 4-5% of pre-pandemic levels. This made the running of a for-profi t system, where private train operating companies derive most of their revenue from (exorbitant!) passenger fares, non-viable. The legal onus to keep the service running - as “Operator of Last Resort” was on Johnson’s Department of Transport. It took over in true-blue fashion, while making sure its capitalist friends would not be out of pocket - in fact quite the contrary!

    Franchise agreements were temporarily replaced with “Emergency Measures Agreements” (EMAs) - as one journalist put it, a “dream ticket” for the train operators, because this not only meant all costs were paid on their behalf, but they received a guaranteed rate of profi t of 2%! And as the pandemic continued, by September 2020, when services began to ramp up, the measures were renewed as “Emergency Recovery Management Agreements” (ERMAs), with a mark-up of 1.5%, ”provided operational quality targets were met”.

    According to the main rail union, the RMT, as of 17 June 2021, private train operating companies made £88 million in profits between March 2020 and September 2020! They stand to make a further £210 million in profits over the 18 months of the ERMAs. And this windfall can of course, be turned into dividends for shareholders. The nationalistic (and pro-Brexit) RMT proclaimed with horror, that ”around half of this is likely to go to overseas parent companies”. .! Of course, since foreign state railways and foreign companies have taken opportunity, over the past decades, to grab a slice of the British privatisation pie - just as their British counterparts have bought into transport, mail delivery etc., in Germany, the Netherlands, France, etc...

Making workers pay: rail unions’ collaboration

The RMT, while giving good advice to the government on how better to run its business and displaying its predictable, but reprehensible xenophobia, has neither said nor written anything on precisely how the workforce can resist the very explicitly planned degradation of its conditions and the job-cutting which is set to accompany the launch of GBR. Worse than that, it has agreed to help make the cuts. On 15 June this year, along with the other rail unions, ASLEF (the drivers’ union) and TSSA (the white-collar, staff union) it signed an ”Enabling Framework Agreement” with the DfT and the private train companies, setting up a socalled “Rail Recovery Group” (RRG).

    The framework covers a period up until the end of 2021, during which their RRG is meant to come up with a programme of “effi ciencies”. The pretext is the need to recoup the “pandemic losses” (which include the huge and free handouts to the private rail bosses, as exposed by the RMT itself!) - but also, to make annual cuts of £1.5bn to cheapen the cost of the railways into the future. 

    The agreement the union leaders signed is explicit: ”Whilst passenger revenues have declined to critically low, unprecedented levels, the industry’s pre-Coronavirus operating costs (excluding capital investment) have remained broadly unchanged with staffing costs making up circa 30%. (...) This has created a major gap in the industry’s finances currently estimated circa £2bn per annum. This gap has to be addressed urgently to make the industry financially sustainable in the future. Workforce reforms and cost savings need to be identified as part of a rail industry-wide review.” A host of attacks on railway workers’ jobs, terms and conditions are clearly specified: first, actual job cuts: the bosses claim there is much duplication of roles and anyway, in the future, there will be a reduction in the required number of workers, since they envisage that demand for rail travel will fall, with more “working from home”. 

    They intend to introduce “new and enhanced” ways of working - more flexibility, and the taking on of multiple tasks by each worker. To cut the cost of training (and paying!) drivers, their training will be shortened, a younger age group engaged and retirement age extended. (Do ASLEF leaders really agree to that?)

    There is only one solitary concession which all the leaders claim as a great victory - that there should be no compulsory redundancies before December 2021. And afterwards? More importantly what about other varieties of job-cuts, like “voluntary” redundancies..? In fact they have always helped facilitate them!

    They have de facto also nodded through the wage freeze and the recruitment freeze, which have both already been implemented and will last, again, till the end of 2021... Only the lowest paid, on less that £24,000 per year will get a rise of £250.

    Nevertheless, the new leader of the RMT, Mick Lynch, declared on the union website his disagreement with the very same cuts he’d just signed up to: ”We don’t accept the notion that the future of the railways should be based on job cuts and attacks on safety, pay, conditions and pensions. In participating in these discussions RMT has ensured that there will still be scope to ensure security of employment measures whilst also pursuing pay awards, coupled with a framework that allows the union to pursue long standing objectives such as a reduction in the working week, travel facilities for all rail workers and bringing catering and cleaning work in-house.”

    Just what are RMT members meant to make of that? Some had even hoped that there might be a strike against the pay freeze, which could have united all workers from different companies in the first truly national strike since the 1980s.

    Yes so far, all the RMT has come up with is a “petition” against job cuts. No plan of action has, to this day, been proposed to fight the multipronged attacks which have already begun! And worse than that, workers on the ground - who worked all through the pandemic - are struggling every day to do their jobs because they are short of hands, in the face of a very long-standing and now continuing, recruitment freeze.

    The justification from Mick Whelan, ASLEF’s general secretary, was no better : ”We are engaging with the government, the other rail unions, and all the other stakeholders in the rail industry, to protect our members and to protect Britain’s railway. (...) [It] is a vital artery for the body of Britain and we are determined to ensure it has a sustainable future – not just in the next few months and years, but down the decades in this 21st century.”

    For sure, protecting the future of drivers’ conditions comes second to protecting the interests of the “great” British rail industry, into the unknown future... While the known future - ripping up tried and tested safe working and training regimes - is proceeding unopposed. Whether union members will swallow these “have our cake and eat it” words, as the top union bureaucrats enjoy their top-level talks, pretending they are defending workers, is another question.

The train robbers

It is worth recalling, in the context of the relaunch of this “different profi t system”, how and why the railways were taken in hand by the government after WW2. Of course, during both wars the whole economy - including the railway - was de facto “nationalised” and run as one great war machinery. However, came the end of the war and it was clear that the arrangement would have to be continued: it had already been evident after WW1 that the multitude of railway companies were unable to sustain themselves, which was why they were amalgamated by Act of Parliament into the “Big Four”. Running a proper passenger and freight service on the scale of the whole country required enormous investment and outlay, leaving nothing over for the private capitalists to pocket for themselves. So if there was to be a viable national rail transport network, there was no choice but to formally nationalise the railways, and for the government to pay for it.

    Hence the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway and Southern Railway were duly nationalised and modestly renamed “British Rail”, while the shareholders of the Big Four were handsomely compensated by Atlee’s Labour government... 

    Fast forward to today, and history repeats itself most dramatically on the East Coast mainline - today boasting the same acronym as it had in 1945: LNER. 

    This line has never managed to make a commercial profit in private hands - despite the fact that it should, in theory at least, be the most lucrative money spinner of all. It is the fastest land route from London to Edinburgh passing through all the major cities of the North East and it never runs empty! 

    But things were so bad under its private franchise, that it has twice had to be taken back into government hands, when franchisees - National Express (2007- 2009) and then Richard Branson’s Virgin-Stagecoach franchise, did not meet their pledges to pay the government a proportion of their profits, claiming there were none! 

    In fact even its very first privateer, Sea Containers, which ran trains under the name Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), was stripped of the franchise in 2006 after failing to meet its payment pledges. In this case it was refranchised to National Express, (NXEC) which took over in December 2007. NXEC cut staff and stripped the service down to the bare bone. But nevertheless, it only lasted another 2 years before collapsing - and this time, the government’s Directly Operated Railways (DOR) took over, running the show for the next 6 years. 

    Not only did DOR refrain from restoring workers’ jobs and conditions, but within 2 years, it closed down the famous silver service dining car, claiming that the catering operation was losing £20m a year. 

    In 2015, DOR put the franchise out for tender again and it was won by Richard Branson’s Virgin (10%) and Stagecoach (90%) in a joint bid, creating Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC). The franchise was meant to run until 2023 and VTEC agreed to pay the government £3.3 billion in premiums over the period. But, having met the fi rst payment, it defaulted on the next, claiming the premiums had been set too high. In May 2018 the government terminated VTEC’s franchise. But its bosses were completely let off the hook, walking away and leaving the government to once more pick up the tab and run the service, now under the new name, London North Eastern Railway, LNER. Since then, and before Covid struck, the government “turned a profi t” (£41m in 2019), retaining high fares and maintaining the screw on the workforce. Today, an anytime single ticket, London to Edinburgh (2nd class), costs as much as £170, and 1st class, £263! Booking in advance brings this down to £76 for a 2nd class single. More than the air fare... 

    Today’s LNER workforce remains overstretched and underpaid (an onboard catering “host” earns just over £17,000 per year after tax; £425/wk, which is £200 below the average wage). 

    But never mind that! For the “left”, the “successful and profi table” LNER remains the poster-child for nationalisation, and is still used by the RMT union leaders and left-wing organisations who do not even care to know better, to bolster their argument for renationalisation - which, paradoxically, they claim can be “profitable”! 

    And by the way, the government takeover of East Coast never conferred direct government control - its management is subcontracted to a private consortium led by the services consultant group, Arup! Another excuse for a handout to the private capitalist class.

Subsidies and profits galore

Given the scale of government generosity to the private sector, it is hypocritical to say the least, to complain that the railways are “too expensive” to run. In effect, for the duration of the post-1996 privatisation the state has been using taxpayers’ money to pay the cost twice over, for the sake of keeping the TOCs in the black, and the Conservative political project intact. It has provided all the means for TOCs to run their services, plus enough - on top - for most of them claim profits and pay dividends. If ”government support per passenger mile” is measured, as the figures reprinted below show, far more government - taxpayers’ - money has been supporting the railway since privatisation than when the government was fully and solely responsible for it, in BR days. In fact this amount is 3 times as much as the level of spending in the 1980s, while passenger numbers have only doubled. Under nationalised BR, the system was always underfunded. And spending fell precipitously after the so-called Beeching report in 1963, when Richard Beeching’s recommendations resulted in the cutting of a third of the network, the closure of over half of all stations and the slashing of 67,000 jobs!

    At the time, the chief aim was to cut government spending. But the irrational idea persisted that the railway could make a profit, when, as a public service this was never to be, if it was also adequately maintained, modernised and staffed.

    And given that there was another irrational idea prevailing at the time - that road transport would replace railway transport - Beeching’s huge cuts went ahead. And by the way, this was despite the fact that even at that time, scientists warned of the environmental consequences.

    In fact, as it happened, the Beeching cuts saved the government very little money. So cutting the cost of the workforce became the next priority. Never mind that by the 1980s railway workers’ wages were among the very lowest in the public sector. Their jobs were the next area for massive attacks, starting with the most skilled sections - the engineers and drivers. In the period 1979-90, 27,000 jobs were cut in the famous BREL workshops, (80% of the workforce!). In the same period, as much as one third of all the train and station “operating staff” were cut. 

    By the 1990s when almost everything else in the public sector had been subject to Thatcher’s privatisation drive - finally - but now under her replacement, John Major, the railways were placed on the auction block. This was now going to bring “competition” (but only in bids for running the train services, which each had a natural monopoly!), and the “entrepreneurial fl air” of private sector businessmen and women to revive the decrepit system! 

    As the Manchester University Economic and Social Research Council-funded study, entitled “The Great Train Robbery” (!) wrote in 2013 , ”Rail privatisation was promoted in the early 1990s with promises of a better, cheaper service for rail users requiring less subsidy by tax payers. Private rail companies would bring in capital and their business expertise which would transform the sector’s performance. Twenty years later, the privatised rail system requires billions more in tax payer subsidy each year and has failed to bring in adequate private investment in track or trains... It seemed that the lessons of the previous decades had been forgotten.” 

    Of course the capitalists do not learn from history. As the saying goes, they tend to repeat it - first as tragedy, then as farce. The trouble is that in this case the railway workforce and the passengers have had to pay the price for their farce. GBR is going to produce Farce.2 - and workers will pay again. 

    Although the amount of cash in direct subsidy to franchisees has decreased over the last 8 years (as fares were pushed up sky-high), the government’s money-tap was never turned off, not for any of the companies, whether they were in profit or not.

    As the Manchester University study put it, ”the train operating companies (TOCs) get a great deal at the state’s expense as they pocket politically constructed profits; while the sectoral problems arising from inadequate cost recovery are charged to the tax payer through the Network Rail balance sheet.”

    What does this mean in hard cash? It is estimated by the government’s Office for Road and Rail that the subsidy to the railways since 1996 - but that includes the funding of NR and infrastructure projects (like Crossrail and HS2) - averaged out at around £7.5 billion per year.

    So how much of that ended up as “politically constructed profits” for the TOCs? Nobody seems to have been able to do the overall sums. But one can get some idea. For instance in 2011-12, 18 of the TOCs made a total of just under £7.9 billion (before subsidy), mainly from fares (£7.2 billion). Their costs came to £5.9 billion, mainly staff, rolling stock... and charges to Network Rail, leaving a surplus of £2 billion. Then some had to pay the pledged amounts in their contracts back to the government, so profits left over were £303m - representing a (pretty good!)margin of 3.4%. But if the charges they had to pay Network Rail for access to the infrastructure (based on its maintenance and renewal cost, etc.,) had refl ected the real cost incurred, they would never have made a profit. This is where the political sleight of hand comes in.

    As the ORR explained in 2012: ”the DfT and Treasury pay a grant to Network Rail which dwarves the levels of subsidies and premia paid to/by TOCs, and were Network Rail to stop receiving this grant TOCs would face much higher access charges and would require much larger subsidies to make the provision of passenger rail services viable”. It is telling that the ORR’s answer to the unviability (i.e., unprofitability) of the TOCs without the virtually free ride from NR - was to increase their direct government subsidies, rather than draw the obvious conclusion - that since they were unviable, they should cease to exist... And now another fast forward... to the Public Service Contract of 2021-3!

Bosses’ centralisation vs workers’ centralisation

So what does this albeit, half-step backwards toward centralisation of railway management and government control signify - and why has it been proposed now? 

    Obviously, it is the unprecedented demands of the Covid pandemic which have allowed the government to get away with this very “un-Tory-like” railway reform. And it has done so without causing a hullabaloo among Tory back-benchers who subscribe to the 1980s anti-public sector Thatcherite “school of privatisation” - for whom centralisation of anything under government control is an ideological bugbear! So, while the “breaking up of state monopolies” and “decentralisation” have been Tory watchwords over the past many years, it seems that at least for now, the Covid pandemic has provided a salutary lesson in the advantage of central planning, management and control!

    So yes, it has taken the pandemic to once more prove beyond any doubt that centralisation - and indeed centralisation on a world scale (!) - is essential for the co-ordinated and effective delivery of any social endeavour. Finally, this principle is reluctantly being reapplied to the railway. 

    For rail workers however, there is no “central plan”. Quite the opposite. Divided among three main unions and fragmented among the myriad of different companies, whenever a fight against a company attack is mounted, each small section fights alone and more often than not, loses. This has been the chosen strategy of rail union leaders - which turns them into an additional obstacle in front of workers in struggle. Their latest overt collaboration over cuts, in the so-called Rail Recovery Group just amplifies the problem they pose. 

    To stage an effective, country-wide fight back, workers will have to bypass the top union leaderships and lead their own struggles, with the objective of uniting all their forces, across all sections, into “one big fighting union” in other words, they need to aim for workers’ centralisation!

22 September 2021