Privatisation, sub-contracting, cuts - the unaffordable cost of this profit system

23 May 2018

If the newspapers' headlines are to be believed, we should rejoice at last week's announcement that East Coast Main Line has been "renationalised".  But does this mean that this chunk of the railways will now be off-limits for the profit sharks?  Not at all, in fact!

Profits out of failed privatisation

So what's happening?  East Coast's private operators, Virgin and Stagecoach, are walking away from their contract 5 years early, because they no longer find it profitable enough.
    But never fear, the government was ready for that, because already back in 2015, Cameron had found a way of allowing the profit sharks to make profits out of the failures of rail privatisation!
    Indeed, following repeated warnings against likely failures in the privatised railways, Cameron's government decided to anticipate these failures.  It set up a structure which could take over the management of failed private rail operators.  And guess what?  This new structure has been handed over to a private consortium: Ernst & Young (the accounting giant which supervised Carillion's dodgy dealings before its collapse), SNC-Lavalin (a giant service company whose executives have been at the centre of corruption and fraud cases) and Arup (a British construction consultancy).
    So, now, this private consortium which had been waiting in the wings, will manage Virgin trains East Coast - renamed "London North Eastern Railway" until 2020 - making profits for its shareholders out of the demise of Virgin and Stagecoach,and still on the backs of both railway workers and passengers!
    Then, by 2020, the government plans to re-privatise East Coast, but under a different type of contract which will give the private operator even more control over tracks and trains.  In short, another recipe for even worse disaster!

The state, a profit spinner for capital

There is method in this madness, of course: it's all about generating yet more profits for the capitalists.
    It does not matter for the government that the East Coast workforce was cut so much that some workers are rostered to hop off and on trains to cover more jobs, while others are agency temps, even on zero-hours contracts, or that guards are now also responsible for catering on top of train safety.  Nor does it matter that passengers pay through the nose.  If screwing workers and wringing passengers dry is what it takes for private operators to make their profits, as far as ministers are concerned, it’s fine!
    In fact this is the logic that presides over all aspects of government policies in this society.
    This logic starves hospitals of vital staff and equipment and threatens patients’ lives, in order to make way for a profitable private "health industry".  The same logic has produced today's "care home market", allowing investors to play monopoly with hundreds of former old people’s homes and the lives of tens of thousands of elderly residents and workers.
    The same logic too, is driving relentless cuts in "non-profitable" services, such as emergency provision.  One year after the Manchester Arena attack, ministers are trying to blame the 2-hour delay in emergency services' intervention on the fact that it was a special situation - i.e., a terrorist attack.  But the firefighters who fought the Grenfell fire had neither the numbers nor the equipment they would have needed - and it had nothing to do with terrorism!  And the reason in both cases is obvious: years of cuts in emergency service funding - never mind the cost in lives!

A matter of class

This is why the real issue is not just whether or not East Coast (or other privatised public services) should be taken back into "public” control.  In fact, East Coast was under so-called "public” control between 2009 and 2015 - and it made a profit!  Yes, because just like the private sharks, the state made a point of turning the screw on passengers and railway workers alike.
    In this society, the role of the state is to spin profits for the capitalist class - and this can only be achieved by cutting the share that goes to the working class (in wages, benefits, social expenditure, etc.), in order to increase the share which goes to profiteers (by means of tax cuts, subsidies, juicy outsourcing contracts, etc.).
    Ultimately, what defines the policy of the state - and its government, whichever party is in office - is which class is in control.  And as long as the capitalist class retains its control over the whole economy, through its private ownership of the means of production, it also controls the media and the state.
    So re-nationalisation?  Yes, but under the control of the working class, at every level, so as to end, once and for all, the capitalists' parasitism which is such a plague on society!