Just over two weeks ago a document was leaked from the Department for Transport containing plans for the future of two railway franchises in the North of England, Northern and Transpennine Express. The plans contain savage attacks on services as well as the way the railways run, all of which socialists will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the RMT and other transport unions in fighting.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Most concerning of all is the requirement for those bidding for the Northern franchise to “set out how DOO may be introduced onto suitable services.” DOO is driver only operated trains, which mean removing guards from trains which poses huge safety issues. On Transpennine Express this is to be “left at the bidders’ discretion”.
Yet this is not the only attack. Through trains to places such as Scarborough (where Tory under-secretary of state for transport Robert Goodwill is MP), Cleethorpes and other spur lines will cease.
The document also states that “Bidders will also be invited to set out how they will introduce more modern approaches to ticket retailing: making greater use of new technology, reviewing the opening hours of ticket offices and considering how best to deploy station staff and the duties they perform.” This is a recipe for ticket office closures to be replaced with machines, for de-staffing of stations – indeed it is entirely the same battle that unions on the underground have been fighting since the beginning of this year.
Perhaps most shockingly, at least for many trade unionists, is that this document has been co-sponsored by Rail North, a group of 33 local transport authorities in the North of England. Rail North’s address happens to be the same as that of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority which supervises transport in the area and is led by the Labour Party, just like in many other areas.
That Labour councillors will conspire to attack workers jobs, as well as local services, comes as no suprise to socialists. Many of us have spent the last four years fighting Labour-run councils closing services such as libraries, day centres, care homes as well as redundancies for council workers and evictions due to the bedroom tax. It should also come as no suprise given the announcement by the Labour leadership to stop even paying lip-service to the idea of re-nationalising the railways, instead advocating that that can be a public sector bid for franchises, despite the nationalised East Coast line out-performing the rest of the privatised rail network.
The Socialist Party fully supports the campaign to renationalise railways, and is working with the RMT to build the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to challenge the Tory-lite policies of Labour on this and other issues. But even a nationalised rail network can’t be left in the hands of the same people who are proposing these attacks on our local services. Public transport must be democratically controlled by railway workers and service users so that its provision can be planned to meet our needs.