YESTERDAY, the Tories introduced emergency measures to save the private rail companies from complete collapse.
The Department for Transport announced it is suspending all the rail franchise agreements and taking on the risks for operating trains for at least six months following the collapse of rail operators income as demand sharply falls. In effect, the Tories have nationalised the railways to prevent these companies from going bust.
Instead of the rail companies facing a catastrophic crash in income, the state has stepped in to save them with the taxpayer shouldering all the losses while the government is committed to returning the industry back to the privateers once the emergency is over.
The railways will not in fact be open to everyone, as the government made clear in a statement by transport secretary Grant Shapps.
Shapps wrote: ‘Today’s offer will provide greater flexibility to the train operators and the government and make sure the railway can continue to react quickly to changing circumstances and play its part in serving the national interest. It will ensure vital services continue to operate for key workers who are keeping the nation running and that we are able to reinstate a normal service quickly when the situation improves.’
He concluded: ‘We are operating in extraordinary times, but today’s announcement will make sure key workers who depend on our railways are able to travel and carry on their vital roles, that hardworking commuters – who have radically altered their lives to combat the spread of coronavirus – are not left out of pocket, and it will provide certainty to the industry’s staff who are still working hard every day to make sure the railway plays its part in tackling this crisis.’
In other words, the Tories are rescuing the private train companies and at the same time ensuring that the only people allowed to travel on trains are those it considers vital to the capitalist state.
This announcement is not about providing a public service but the Tory determination to exert full control over who travels where and when in preparation for a lock-down in the UK.
After years and years of violently opposing and denouncing demands that the railways be taken out of the hands of the private rail companies and returned to national ownership, the Tories have suddenly decided to step in and renationalise the rail system.
Of course, this is only intended to be a temporary measure and once profitability is assured they will be returned to the privateers.
The railways are by no means unique – in times of capitalist crisis the state always steps in and takes over to preserve a bankrupt system and safeguard the future profits of these companies.
While Shapps was guaranteeing the survival of the train operators and their future profits, there was nothing for the rail workers who are expected to keep the railways running.
Railway workers union (RMT) general secretary, Mick Cash, in a statement on this announcement, demanded that ‘the rail workforce get the same guarantees and assurances that the government are offering the train operators.’
He said: ‘RMT has been inundated with calls from members fearful that they are being left exposed and left behind. Their health, safety and livelihoods must be protected as the top priority.
‘The union wants absolute and cast iron guarantees from the government, the train companies and the contractors that wages, jobs and pensions will be protected across the board for both directly employed and contracted staff with no exceptions.’
Railworkers will never get these guarantees from a Tory government that has no interest in safeguarding the health, safety, jobs or working conditions of a single worker. It is only interested in safeguarding the profits of the owners and bosses.
The RMT must demand that the TUC take action and call a general strike to bring down the Tory government and go forward to a workers government that will nationalise the railways along with all major industry and place them under the control of the working class as part of a socialist society.
This is the only way forward for the working class today.