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Fighting our corner in Europe

31 March 2014

TSSA president Mick Carney reports on the campaign against the European Commission’s plan to require rail ‘liberalisation’.

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The general secretary and I recently visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg, joining with our partners in the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) to protest against the set of proposals known as the ‘Fourth Railway Package’. Thanks to some excellent work by our union’s political officer, Sam Tarry, we were given the opportunity to lobby the British Labour Party’s European Parliamentary group and Brian Simpson MEP, the chair of the parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee.

So what is the Fourth Railway Package?

In a nutshell, it’s about liberalisation of the rail industries of all member states to ensure ‘competitiveness’. This all sounds alarmingly similar to the language used by the Tories back in the early 90s to justify the highly unpopular privatisation of Britain’s railways. Some of what is proposed we would not necessarily be against: it makes some sense to have a single technical specification across Europe. It is right that it would open the markets to far more cross-border trains. But as ever the devil lies in the detail. The European Commission, who drew up the plans, sit firmly on the right politically. As people on the right the world over know, ‘liberalisation’ creates opportunities for quick capital gain. Privatisation. And, as ever, the need for ‘efficiencies’ to be made and corners cut to make money. In this country we have seen the tragic consequences of cutting corners at both Hatfield and Potters Bar.

Why are the European Transport Workers’ Federation opposed?

The ETF are well aware of the failings of the British model. Fragmentation has led to a massive hike in the subsidies paid out to often failing rail companies. Fares have increased massively over the years, with even Tory supporters of privatisation describing our railways as a ‘rich man’s toy’. A replication of much of this would be the result of the details of the report.

And our objections?

The TSSA objections are simple. We see this further liberalisation as a dangerous proposal. It is simply incredible that after seeing the mistakes the British made, some want to force the European market down the same route. But the most important aspect for us is the proposed separation of wheel and rail. The train operator and the track operator would have to be owned independently of one another. To put it simply, our long standing policy of renationalisation would no longer be possible.

A further clause in there would have made strike action far more difficult. This was actively opposed by Labour MEPs and subsequently dropped at the main vote.

Sections of the proposals were defeated at the vote, as, to put it simply, if the French and Germans are opposed to something, it doesn’t happen. But much of the plan remains on the table. A shift in the political make-up of the European Parliament is expected after the May elections, but the Fourth Railway Package remains a dangerous proposal. Bad for the railways and bad for our members.

The meeting with the Labour MEPs was fascinating. I learned much about the intricacies of the process, the various deals which need to be done and the factions that exist. For all its faults, Europe does offer a lot of legislation that protects workers’ rights. Legislation the Tories would be only too happy to overturn if they could. There are European Parliament elections coming up on 22 May and I would encourage you all to participate. In Yorkshire at the last election 7,000 votes went to a well- meaning left-wing anti-EU party (so not UKIP then). These were enough to let Andrew Brons, a fascist, get elected by just 3,000 votes. These bastards must never gain a foothold in power and must never be awarded any undeserved credibility. They are Nazis pure and simple – use your vote to stop them.

At the start of March I also attended the FutureTSSA meeting in York and I must say I was very impressed. There was a good level of debate and discussion, plus a willingness to get involved in the union as a whole. Any members under 35 who wish to get further involved should contact the secretary Al Stoten on alexanderstoten@yahoo.co.uk.

 

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