RMT Union members continuing with their action against Southern Rail over Southern’s attempts to restructure train guard’s jobs (the expected first step in removing guards from trains entirely for the purpose of increasing the company’s profits, which were £100million for the last year, declared after the Tories had given the franchise an additional £20million of taxpayers’ money to reportedly assist them in improving their services).
Putting aside the train guards’ safety roll on trains and at stations; in a nutshell, the dispute which the RMT Union members are fighting encapsulates the state of developments in the British economy, points to developments in work for the future, and, crucially, summarises the marketisation of public services in the UK. In short, the rail workers’ dispute should be of concern to all workers in the UK, especially with an eye to Tory plans to gut workers’ rights and protections in their post ‘brexit’ Britain bonfire of employment security.
Firstly, the Southern franchise operators, Govia, are seeking to increase profitability and one of the few areas where they can squeeze more money from the franchise is by reducing costs. They already run fewer services, so one presumes that well is dry, which only leaves staffing costs. Govia are a French company and the profits from Southern disappear out of the UK, ironically subsidising French rail travel. For an economy to work efficiently it must recycle its wealth and one means of efficiently doing that is through employment with good wages. If Southern halve their train workforce, they will increase the money they can take out of the UK economy but if jobs are protected then that money will be recycled back into the real UK economy.
Secondly. The ultimate aim of transport franchise operators is to run staff-less transport; driver-less and guard-less trains in this case. Even more wealth will leave the UK and the hit to the UK economy will be unsustainable. Staff-less or fully automated transport presents problems but also opportunities. Firstly, government can tackle the issue of wealth leaving the UK by simply renationalising the transport services or applying better taxation against the operators but that only deals with recycling the wealth back into the UK economy. Automating transport, whilst increasing profitability presents an opportunity to provide a stream of funding for a Universal Basic Income (UBI). I have previously discussed the many freedoms that UBI offers society.
Thirdly. Marketising public services is meant to introduce free market efficiencies, where privateers squeeze profits from efficiencies for services whilst providing better services. History has clearly shown that this myth of privatisation is just that, a myth. The reality is that privateers squeeze public services from every angle to maximize profits, heavily subsidised by governments to hide the fact that taxpayers are getting a far worse deal than if the services were simply state run and that is before you get to the nitty gritty of the exposure of public budgets to the heightened risk of fraud. Taxpayers pay privately owned companies to run public services and get poorer services for their money. The money paid to those private companies go the way of those of rail companies, out of the UK economy which, again, weakens the UK economy. The experiment of providing uncapped profits as an incentive to encourage the ‘best’ people to run public services most efficiently only encourages the ‘best’ people at getting the contracts (by whatever means). It has been a massively expensive experiment that the British taxpayer is still paying for, it has been a disaster and it really must stop.
So, as much as the disruption by the RMT Union members may cause rail passengers, their fight is one that must be won. Yes, passenger safety should not be the price of increasing Southern’s profits but there are also even bigger impacts on the British economy to consider. The question of whether the triggers for these strikes have been engineered by the government for their own ends, at the expense of the traveling public, is yet to be answered.