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Privatisation tops rail workers’ concerns

5 August 2006

railway workers section conference*
Mac Urata holds up ballot papers during the railway workers section conference.*

Delegates attending the railway workers’ section conference yesterday pledged to continue campaigning to prevent, reverse or influence the effects of privatisation and deregulation in the railways, depending on the situation in their countries.

Their comments reflected a wide range of experiences of the ongoing trend towards privatisation. Many reported mass redundancies, deteriorating rights and working conditions, under-investment and threats to safety structures following sell-offs.

But there were positive accounts too from unions which had succeeded in preventing privatisation or mitigating its impact, and one or two cases where the union had worked to help ensure that improvements followed privatisation in some areas of service provision or workers’ pay.

There was recognition that campaigning for workers rights in the railways would increasingly demand cooperation across borders.

Oystein Aslaksen (Norway), who chaired the conference in the absence on urgent union business of Section Chair Norbert Hansen, said: “The future will bring multinational companies into the railways. Decisions will be taken far away from the unions. We know the answer: to organise globally and fight for our rights.”

Australian and New Zealand delegates testified to the success of their efforts to build up their union strength and capacity to deal with privatised and multinational companies. They had concentrated resources on collaborating with other transport sectors in the logistics supply chain. As Linda Carruthers of the Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union put it, “If these companies know no boundaries neither should we.”

Wayne Butson, of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union of New Zealand, also talked about the importance of ensuring active national and regional cooperation before moving on to the global arena.

Section Secretary Mac Urata spoke of the need to seize the initiative in campaigning, not only responding to affiliates’ disputes, but also finding opportunities to go on the offensive. Several other delegates spoke of the determination of their unions to rely more on actions than on words, and appealed to other affiliates to forge a more proactive campaigning approach.

Urata defended the ITF policy of maintaining dialogue with the World Bank, despite its commitment to neo-liberal reforms. He said, “It is still a case of talking to the enemy, but I feel confident this is not just an intellectual debate. We have the strength of our affiliates behind us when we talk to the World Bank. We are speaking softly, but carrying a big stick.”

Nikolay Nikiforov, of the Railwaymen and Transport Construction Workers’ Union of Russia, reported the efforts of his union to maintain members and provide useful services following railway reforms. Though 120,000 people had lost their jobs, the union managed to retain conditions for those still in work, and to provide benefits for the sacked workers.

He said, “We used the experience of our German colleagues, who ensured social security for those who had lost their jobs.”

Representatives of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation came forward to describe how the determination of the union had staved off repeated attempts by the government to privatise the railways. Nonetheless, Indian railway workers continued to suffer from government policies including the privatisation of non-core operations, pension reforms and “rightsizing”, which had led to the loss of 150,000 jobs since 2001.




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ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London SE1 1DR  |  +44 20 7403 2733   |  mail@itf.org.uk