The rail industry featured prominently in the opening session of this year’s TUC Congress, with policy from TSSA being passed calling for greater investment in rail as part of the climate and post-pandemic recovery.
Composite motion 3, titled ‘Rail cuts, climate change and a post-pandemic recovery’, was the second debate of the opening session of this year’s virtual TUC Congress.
Speaking to move the motion, Lesley Atkins-Smith from train drivers’ union Aslef called for investment in green infrastructure, saying: "Now is not the time to cut, it’s the time to invest."
Lesley made a strong case for increased use of rail for both passenger travel and freight. "It’s quick and easy to cut rail capacity, but it’s very hard to increase it," she warned.
TSSA delegate Sarah-Jane McDonough made a rousing speech which outlined what is at stake in the climate crisis – floods, fires and extreme weather. She put the need to act squarely on the government and the rich.
"The poorest in our society aren't wasting energy, because they cannot even afford to heat their homes. The working class do not have a choice. But the Tories do."
Explaining rail’s position as the lowest contributor to transport climate emissions, accounting for only 1.4% of total UK carbon emissions, Sarah-Jane lamented that “so many people are forced on to the roads, when they could be using a low carbon alternative.”
"This government has the choice to invest in a transport system which could see people in this country having a better choice of jobs if they can afford to travel outside of their area," she said. "They could ensure that our domestic travel industry is boosted after the pandemic. And they have the opportunity to secure jobs for the key workers in the rail industry who kept this country moving during the pandemic. Instead, we hear that their solution is to cut back on support and cut back on jobs in the rail industry."
As Sarah-Jane made the case for action, she threw out a challenge:
“Let's not let this argument be dominated by the rich. Boris Johnson and billionaires like Bezos and Bill Gates spout their nonsense about unproven techno fixes, carbon trading and greenwash."
Instead, argued Sarah-Jane: "Let's fight for a people's railway, climate justice and the 21st Century infrastructure we need. We need urgent and radical plans to decarbonise together, with a just transition. A Green New Deal cannot wait any longer."
The motion, proposed by Aslef and seconded by TSSA was passed without opposition and set policy calling on the TUC’s General Council to:
- campaign for more rail investment, not cuts
- draw attention to the government’s inconsistencies on rail and climate change
- centre investment in low-carbon transport to ensure a future green economy
- campaign for the safe return of passengers to public transport.
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said he was "delighted" with the adoption of TSSA policy by the TUC.
"This was an important debate for our union and our members," he said. "It’s blindingly obvious to anyone who looks at the dual challenges of the climate crisis and coronavirus pandemic that investment in clean, affordable public transport has to be central to our recovery. We need a huge shift in travel habits away from polluting forms of transport and onto a decarbonised public transport network which links up our communities across Britain and beyond."