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TUC CONGRESS 2020 Privatised railways shown to be a sick joke

Our railways are not a plaything for the rich – they are fundamental to our country every day of the year, says TSSA leader MANUEL CORTES

AMONG the many things we have learned from this awful pandemic is that our labour movement is the beating heart of our country in a crisis — wherever we turn there are ordinary working people, true heroes, who have saved lives and kept our country moving in dark days.

Ahead of TUC Congress — this year mostly online, of course — I pay tribute to each and every one of these brave workers for all they have done. 

As trade unionists, we have and continue to rise to the challenge, as always, not for ourselves but for the good of all. 

What the coronavirus crisis has also demonstrated, without doubt, is the undeniably joined-up nature of our society. 

How, for instance, would it have been possible for our National Health Service heroes and other key workers to get to their jobs without our rail network continuing to run as it has done throughout? 

The millions who stood on their doorsteps in solidarity with our key workers week after week knew this — and there can be no turning back. 

In short, faced with a national emergency, the whole notion of privatised railways was shown up as the sick joke it has always been. 

These services are not a plaything for profiteers, they are fundamental to our country every day of the year and must be treated as such. 

Let’s face it, even before coronavirus, many train-operating companies were reliant on direct and indirect taxpayer subsidies which guaranteed regular profits. 

Some, like London North Eastern Railway and Northern, have already come under public ownership.

Faced with a house of cards toppling under the weight of the virus — and near zero passengers — the Tories came up with a fudge for England’s railways. 

This was a six-month emergency measures agreement (EMA) in which the state would take on all revenue and cost risk for running rail services while guaranteeing profits for fat-cat shareholders. 

The move amounted to a short-term nationalisation of our railways to stop private companies going to the wall. 

Now the EMAs are up for review and sadly are very likely to be extended.

There is only one realistic way forward: if the government truly respects our front-line workers, the vital role of our railways and our wider public, we must eliminate the leech of the private sector altogether from rail services by taking our trains fully into public ownership. 

Anything less would amount to allowing privateers to hold our taxpayers to ransom. 

Ridding ourselves of the failed dogma of rail privatisation is one lesson — but there are many more we need to learn from these past months. 

The government’s public-health response to the Covid-19 pandemic was calamitous, delivering the worst excess deaths rates in Europe, with Britain topping global tables for per capita deaths from Covid-19.

People needlessly died and families suffered unnecessarily because of many abject failings of Tory ministers. 

Lockdown was delayed, protective equipment was nowhere to be seen, testing was non-existent and there was a widespread tragedy in our care homes which amounted to a national scandal.

Much of this could have been avoided by a reasonably competent government with even a modicum of foresight. 

However, it’s also impossible to overlook a decade of politically driven austerity which left our NHS and our care services so threadbare there simply wasn’t the required capacity to deal with a pandemic.

It’s not just Boris Johnson, but the governments of Theresa May, David Cameron and his Lib Dem co-conspirators who are to blame. 

We must see an immediate public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic — not least because we need answers ahead of any second or future outbreaks. 

We also need to understand better how the populism of Johnson and his Tory predecessors got us into this terrible mess, with their simplistic belief in the market rather than our people. 

That is their legacy — but our labour movement knows better and will always stand together for the workers of our country, for ordinary working people, in good and bad times. 

Sadly, difficult times are ahead but our socialist principles have a world to win — let’s do it!

Manuel Cortes is general secretary of TSSA


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