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THE two left-wing candidates to become general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) made their final pitches to the members today.
Taking part in a Q&A for the Morning Star as voting in the leadership ballot closed today, socialists Maryam Eslamdoust and Bonnie Craven explained why they had put their hats in the ring after the election was called following the publication in February of an damning independent report by Helena Kennedy KC.
Ms Eslamdoust, a former mayor and Labour councillor in the London Borough of Camden, said that “public transport is in my soul” as she recalled how her brother, who was born blind, has relied on train staff to exercise his freedom for his whole life, “so, from an early age, I have been campaigning alongside him on access, staffing, investment and other transport issues.”
Ms Craven, a long-standing trade unionist, pledged to hold Labour to account on its flagship railway renationalisation policies, taking aim at a lack of taxation on aviation fuel and profiteering private train operators.
“An environmentally progressive Labour government would introduce a tax on aviation fuel and ban domestic flights, using the money from aviation fuel to invest in the railways, ensuring [that they are] fully electrified and reducing the costs of tickets,” she said.
Ms Eslamdoust welcomed the party’s policy of bringing rail contracts back into public ownership as contracts expire.
But citing the news this week of Avanti’s franchise being renewed despite repeated failings, she said that short contracts should be banned and there should be immediate nationalisation and unification of the railways.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to wait until the end of their franchise contracts. We should take back our railways as soon as possible and start running them for public benefit and with proper respect and reward for transport workers,” she said.
Ms Craven said calls for TSSA to disaffiliate from Labour heard at the union’s annual conference this year “must be decided upon by the membership and I will support their wishes on this, and other issues, as a matter for the democracy in our union.”
As an external candidate, Ms Eslamdoust argued that she was uniquely well placed to draw a line under the Kennedy report.
Both candidates pledged to work closely with fellow rail unions RMT and Aslef, with Ms Craven noting: “The attacks our members face are from the government, not our sister unions, and our time is better spent defending our members’ jobs, terms and conditions from attack than squabbling amongst ourselves.”
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