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Europe's workers unite to fight EU rail sell-off

Strasbourg protest takes aim at plans to franchise rail across Britain and the continent

Workers from across Europe took to the streets of Strasbourg yesterday to fight off EU plans to sell off the continent’s railways.

The TUC, RMT, Aslef, TSSA and Unite joined comrades from abroad to protest against European Commission scheming to force member states to privatise passenger rail services.

MEPs in Strasbourg will vote today on the Fourth Railway Package, which would force governments to let privateers bid on rail services and separate train operations from infrastructure.

It would impose rip-off rail franchising across Europe and let companies gobble up even more of Britain’s network.

“This rail package demands that the disastrous rail privatisation experiment that started in Britain 20 years ago is now imposed on the rest of the EU,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

“As a result of this EU business model, Britain now has the highest rail fares in Europe, a culture of cuts and profiteering and the growing use of contract labour and zero-hour contracts.”

It would also make it impossible for any British government to challenge privatisation.

“We have real concerns that if these proposals are adopted future UK governments will be unable to create a publicly owned railway that puts passengers and public first, like the successful East Coast Main Line,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

East Coast passengers rate the service highly. It has raked in 35 industry awards since 2011 and has handed the Treasury £800 million in profit.

But the Con-Dem coalition is pressing ahead with plans to hand it back to a private company.

If the Fourth Railway Package passes it will be impossible to build publicly owned train companies to reverse the growing trend of foreign ownership, rail unions said.

Of the existing franchise holders, Arriva is wholly owned by German state rail firm Deutsche Bahn, which has creamed off millions made in Britain.

And both the French national rail operator SNCF and the Dutch Nederlandse Spoorwegen have stakes in British privateers.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan pleaded for MEPs to make the right decision, while TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said it would be “economic madness” if the rest of Europe adopted Britain’s “dysfunctional system.”

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