YESTERDAY the main rail unions held a series of protests at rail stations which involved the handing out of postcards to commuters detailing the fact that rail fares have shot up three times faster than wages over the past five years, and demanding that the railways be renationalised.
The TUC-backed ‘Action for Rail’ campaign has this week released a study showing that season tickets and other regulated fares have gone up by 25% while average pay has increased by just 9% since 2010.
These demonstrations took place on the day that rail fares were forecast to rise by a further 1% from January following the announcement of July’s retail prices index (RPI) figure (which showed an increase of inflation by 1%) which the Tories have pledged to use to determine annual regulated fare increases.
Regulated fares cover about half of all tickets sold, including season tickets and day returns. The Tory ‘cap’ on fares simply means that rail companies will be subsidised by the taxpayer for revenue losses as a result of this cap.
No shortage of public funding when it comes to keeping Virgin Rail and the rest in profit! In five years the privatised rail companies have been raking in massive profits while running the entire rail service into the ground, with the passenger watchdog Transport Focus noting that fares are still shooting up while train punctuality is going down to the extent that passengers cannot rely on the service any longer.
These private companies are presiding over a service they are wrecking in their efforts to cut costs and maximise profits, while the Tories are collaborating with them to drive fares up, making rail travel so expensive that it consumes a huge portion of takehome pay for those forced to commute to work.
One of the main targets for cost cutting had been to attack staffing levels on the service, a point made yesterday by the leader of the RMT rail union, Mick Cash, who said: ‘While train companies threaten to throw guards off their services and axe station staff who are essential for safety, turning the network into a paradise for criminals and yobs, they are milking the travelling public for all they can through extortionate fares.
‘Every penny of the fare rip-off is sucked out of the system in fat company profits, while crucial rail maintenance and upgrade works are shelved for lack of funds. That’s the price of two decades of rail privatisation and the whole rotten business needs to be swept away and replaced by a public railway under public control.’
The question now posed is what are the unions actually going to do to return not just the railways, but every public service that has been flogged off to the privateers since the days of Thatcher, to public ownership? According to the TUC leader, Francis O’Grady, all the TUC will do is to beg the Tories to renationalise the railways for them.
She made this appeal to the Tories: ‘If ministers really want to help hard-pressed commuters they need to return services to the public sector.’ Begging the Tory government to renationalise is not just pathetic but utterly treacherous. It follows the decision of the TUC leaders to completely drop their own policy of considering the organisation of a general strike to defend workers and public services at last year’s annual TUC conference.
The demand now must be for the next conference in September to not just re-instate the call for a general strike to kick out the Tories but to act on it immediately. Only by calling a general strike to bring down the Tories and going forward to a workers government that will expropriate the privateers and banks will any public service be saved.
The WRP and Young Socialists are calling for a lobby of the TUC conference on September 13th to demand the calling of an indefinite general strike – we urge every worker to come along and join in demanding that the TUC leaders either get off their knees and fight or be removed and replaced with a leadership that is prepared to.