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The New Tube
The New Tube

Mind the Gap:

- between what is Possible and what Capitalism allows

The privatisation of British Rail has been an expensive disaster. While Railtrack and all the other private rail companies are making huge profits, public subsidy has risen to three times the level BR got. Delays and fares have both increased, while investment in infrastructure falls far below targets.

Despite this Labour is now trying to privatise the tube network.

All studies have shown that privatising public transport costs more than keeping it under state ownership. Just for a start there is a huge cost in consultants' fees - well over £100 million has already been spent. Privatisation turns a public monopoly into a private monopoly. Legions of extra accountants and managers are necessary to run the market mechanisms. The private investment that is attracted requires a higher rate of return than government investment and has to be paid for by higher fares or higher government subsidies.

But the costs of privatisation can be more than money. When the primary motivation is profit, corners are cut on health and safety. For example on the Jubilee Line extension, largely funded by private finance, the pressure to meet deadlines meant sacrificing safe working conditions, leading to injury and death.

Obsessed by Privatisation

With all these problems, why is the government so determined to press ahead with the privatisation of the tube? Blair has declared he is determined to continue the Thatcher Revolution. Labour wants to show that it has embraced the market and that it is a totally modern business-friendly party. The essential point about privatisation is that it extends the logic of the market to all areas of life - passengers become customers, people's need for transport becomes customer demand, and the only needs that are recognised are those of punters with the money to pay.

The main target of privatisation is the pay and conditions of workers. Privatising state-run services has been one way that job cuts and attacks on pay and conditions have been imposed on workers.

Transport workers have remained willing to stand together to defend their interests against the casualisation and intensification of work that others have had to endure. Their "old-fashioned" work practices are the target of Labour just as they were for the Tories. The willingness to strike is exactly what the Government hopes privatisation will eliminate. It will attempt to break up the work force into separate enterprises whose workers can then have their pay and conditions attacked in a piece-meal fashion. By intensifying work, cutting corners on health and safety, axing jobs and squeezing pay, new layers of management will skim off more profit to pay their salaries and satisfy the demands of shareholders.

Privatisation re-enforces the message that in this society people are treated as objects, while money is what really matters.

Public & Private Transport:
Two Forms of Misery

We all have a need for transport, but how that need is felt and the way it is met are determined socially. Reclaim the Streets (RTS) and the wider anti-roads movement have opposed the car culture in which more and more cars on more and more roads were seen as the only way forward. There has been a shift: new and bigger roads are no longer seen as the solution to traffic congestion. Seeing an easy target, the Government has increased taxes on motorists and there is talk of shifting investment onto public transport, but in partnership with the private sector at the expense of transport workers. In supporting the tube workers' fight against privatisation we want to show that we are not taken in by the new green face of state transport policy. While RTS has criticised the atomised existence that car culture represents, we are under no illusion that capitalism can offer any decent alternative. Packed together at rush hour, miserable faces, nobody talking with anyone else, hiding behind newspapers and personal stereos, or looking at the adverts for products that never satisfy, the tube is as alienated an environment as the traffic jam.

While we know that privatisation will make things worse, we are aware that the status quo is bad enough already. Even under public ownership London Underground is run as a business and its fares are the most expensive in Europe. For many of us paying for the tube is a luxury we can't afford. By the imposition of penalty fares, barriers, and the other anti fare-dodging measures, London Transport and its police force have made the free travel that many of us need less easy.

All the choices we are given - car or tube, traffic jam or over-crowded train, PPP or full privatisation, public or privately run misery - are bad. Why should we be paying to travel? Open the barriers and let everyone travel for free!

We want to reclaim our stolen time: time stolen by commuting, time stolen by work, time stolen to pay for fares or in trying to avoid them. We want another world.

How to Get There by Tube

If we want another world we've got to stop maintaining this one through our action and inaction. The power of our rulers is based on the fact that they have separated us from each other, and we act as alienated individual workers and as passive consumers. By endlessly repeating the same patterns - paying our fares and bills, going to work, watching the world unfold on TV - we recreate this world every day.

Strikes to end the misery

Whenever transport workers go on strike newspapers write about misery on the roads and on the rails. The reality is the opposite. Strikes are good for the spirit, commuters get the day off work, and tube workers get to socialise on the picket lines and down the pub. They also remind our rulers of the power that workers have. Business leaders talk of damage to London's economy, but what is that economy really about? It is about working hard just to survive while making profits for others to live at our expense. The economy is human misery.

Anyway, only by using their economic muscle can tube workers defend their own interests against the attempts to make them work harder for less. However, they need to consider their tactics. In the past wildcat action by tube drivers has been more effective than official actions. London Transport has used the anti-strike laws to make the unions call off some official strikes. Unions, concerned for their bank accounts, obey and enforce the anti-strike laws. By maintaining the division of workers into different unions, they reduce the possible effectiveness of strike action. In their fight with their private management, electricians and other workers on the Jubilee Line extension showed that by acting outside the union, workers are able to win. Understandably workers often feel that only by taking official action can they be safe. But the only real safety lies in sticking together. If strikers respect the union laws they are unlikely to win - that is what the laws are all about. Workers need to take action without following official rules, they need to break the law and spread actions from one section of workers to the next, and they need to link with others outside the workplace to challenge this society.

Transport for London