DON’T PRIVATISE THE EAST LONDON LINE! – rail unions tell Livingstone

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RMT general secretary BOB CROW (holding placard) and TSSA assistant general secretary MANUEL CORTES (wearing T-shirt) handing out leaflets at Canada Wharf
RMT general secretary BOB CROW (holding placard) and TSSA assistant general secretary MANUEL CORTES (wearing T-shirt) handing out leaflets at Canada Wharf

RAIL UNION leaders took the campaign against the privatisation of the East London Line to commuters yesterday.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow, TSSA assistant general secretary Manuel Cortes and TUC southeast regional secretary Megan Dobney were at Canada Water station from 07:45 on Monday urging East London Line users to tell Mayor Ken Livingstone to scrap privatisation plans.

Campaigners will target other East London Line stations in the coming days with leaflets and campaign postcards addressed to the mayor and MPs.

‘Extending the East London Line will be good for London and the Olympics, but privatising it is completely unnecessary, and the Mayor has the power to make sure it doesn’t happen,’ RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

‘Three quarters of the people in London and the southeast want the East London Line kept in public hands – and it is no wonder, because we’ve all had a bellyfull of the disaster of rail privatisation and we don’t want the same mistake made on the Tube,’ Bob Crow said.

‘It’s a tough task to find anyone who thinks that privatising the East London Line is a good idea after the mess that’s been made of the railways and the fortunes already being made out of the Tube by contractors,’ said TSSA assistant general secretary Manual Cortes.

‘As recently as March, London Underground were still in the frame to run the extended East London Line, but suddenly, without explanation or consultation, we’ve been told that it will be run by one of four private bidders, and that is just not right,’ Manuel Cortes said.

‘The TUC congress last month called on the Mayor of London to retain the East London Line in the public sector, and we fully support the campaign against its privatisation,’ said Southern & Eastern Region TUC secretary Megan Dobney.

‘I hope that people who use the Tube will also join the campaign and urge the Mayor to keep the East London Line wholly in the public sector.’

Handing out leaflets at Surrey Quays station, Matt Minter, East London Line RMT Heath and Safety Rep., said: ‘Some staff are being forced elsewhere, some with 30 years experience on the line.

‘The private company is going to hire new people, they want to cut wages and conditions and de-unionise the line.

‘We’re concerned this will be the first of many lines to be privatised.’

The Trades Union Congress last month called on the Mayor of London ‘to retain the London Underground East London Line in the public sector and not to allow this service to be privatised as is currently being proposed,’ and to support the joint rail-union campaign to keep the line wholly in the public sector.

A House of Commons Early-Day Motion 2398, tabled by John McDonnell MP (Hayes and Harlington), has been signed by 22 other MPs to date.

It reads: ‘That this House notes that London Underground’s East London line is due to close in December 2007 in order that work on the phase 1 extension project can be completed by 2010;

welcomes the important role that the extension will play in creating a world class transport infrastructure in preparation for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games;

further notes that the East London line is currently operated by London Underground;

welcomes the fact that, once the line is re-opened, there is the option for the East London line to continue to be operated by the London Underground;

and calls for East London line passenger services to remain in the public sector.’

The East London Line is used by 10.4 million passengers a year, and is part of the London Underground network.

The line currently runs between Whitechapel to New Cross and New Cross Gate.

In December 2007 the line will close in order that Phase 1 of the East London Line Extension project can be completed.

The line will extend north into Hackney and south to West Croydon, and is due to re-open in 2010.

The trade unions welcome the important role that the extension will play in creating a world-class transport infrastructure in preparation for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, but we strongly believe that the needs of London will be better served by the line remaining in the public sector.

However, the body responsible for the East London Line Extension project – Transport for London (TfL) – proposes that the Line will no longer be operated by the publicly owned London Underground Limited but will instead be privatised to become part of the North London Railway (NLR) concession, which will also include the North London Line, part of the current Silverlink Metro franchise.

A shortlist of bidders has been drawn up and issued with Invitations to Tender – National Express, Govia, MTR Laing and NedRail.

So far no public consultation on the privatisation plans has taken place.

Additionally the invitations to tender are not in the public domain and bidders have been directed not to divulge what they are being asked to bid for in terms of service and staff levels.

Rail unions RMT and TSSA have complained to London Rail over the absence of consultation over the plan and the lack of transparency surrounding the process.

TfL’s partial justification for the privatisation is that it wishes to link the East London Line with the current Silverlink Metro services that come under TfL control from November 2007.

The whole package will be led by the TfL-controlled London Rail.

However there is no physical, technical or legal reason why this cannot be done by retaining the East London Line within London Underground control.

TfL have also attempted to give the impression that the line was always to be franchised out to the private sector, but this is simply not the case.

The decision to make the Passenger Service Operator a private-sector company was made only in April this year.

Indeed, there are ample internal documents that show clearly that senior LUL managers were hoping that the line’s operations would remain within LUL and was still in the running to be PSO as recently as March.

TfL also says that their proposal is not really provatisation, given that the infrastructure would be owned by TfL and that specification of service levels, fares, staffing etc would also remain with TfL.

However, the services will be operated by a private-sector franchisee whose main aim will be to make a profit, and the operational staff will be employed by that private operator – a situation similar to the private train-operating companies, who are also subject to franchise specification and who also do not own rolling stock or infrastructure.

There is real and strong disagreement with the Mayor’s proposals.

Opposition to the privatisation of rail services is fully supported by opinion polls and is TUC and Labour Party policy.

In September 2006 the TUC Congress passed a motion opposing the privatisation of the East London Line, and the most recent opinion poll, conducted by IPSOS Mori in August 2006, showed that 74 per cent wanted the ELL operated by the public sector.

A number of London MPs have already signed Early Day Motion 2398 supporting the campaign against privatisation.

Privately, senior London Underground managers are also opposed to proposals.

Private train operators have been a disaster for Britain’s railways. While subsidy and profits have increased, services remain worse than those provided under public ownership.

This mistake should not be repeated with the East London Line. We want all public subsidy and fare-box revenue spent on improvements to train services, not siphoned out of the network as profit for greedy train operators.

The Public Private Partnership on the London Underground has already created a fragmented network with frequent service disruptions caused by late running engineering works. It also sees around £2 million a week taken out of the network as ‘profit’ by under-performing Any moves to privatise the East London Line will exacerbate that fragmentation.

There may be a view that this is a one-off privatisation of Underground passenger operations.

However, the proposals could be the thin edge of the wedge.

If the East London Line is privatised it would inevitably become easier to argue that privatisation of tube passenger services could be extended to other lines.