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Crazy Train

By Alan Hindle

Friday November 19, 2004

UK’s Black Prince comes to privatise our souls

Last April, Lew Adams, former secretary general for the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the British train operators’ trade union, gave a speech for the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnership. He described how he had “moved 17,000 resistant public sector union members into the position of understanding the benefits of working for the private sector”. The CCPPP, which claims to be a national, nonprofit, non-partisan organisation encouraging the idea that government best meets its public obligations through the privatisation of Crown industries and services, invited him back for the Vancouver Board of Trade’s Greater Vancouver Leadership Summit, “Preparing to Meet the World 2004” on November 26th. Entitled “A Pragmatic Perspective on BCs Public Private Partnership From a Union Leader’s Viewpoint”, this speech will likely follow similar themes.

Adams is billed as a union leader who convinced his entrenched socialist constituency of the advantages of capitalism. The ousted ex-secretary general has been a fan of PPP for some time. In March, 1998, in a piece for London’s Evening Standard headlined “Only Private Sector Cash Can Stop Tube Going Under”, Adams (nicknamed “The Black Prince” by Underground staff) wrote, “As a union we cannot stand by and issue bland statements that London Underground must be both publicly owned and fully paid for by the taxpayer.” Given that “publicly owned” means nothing else but “paid for by the taxpayer”, it can be assumed Adams meant the public can’t own the railways and avoid paying taxes for them, it being implied taxes are undesirable. Adams then placed adverts in labour movement newspapers welcoming the Conservative government’s plans to privatise public industry. On the eve of the most successful series of strikes in living memory, Adams sold his members out at the eleventh hour, creating rampant confusion and misery, not only amongst union member but the citizens of London, who overwhelmingly supported the strikes, despite the inconvenience and disruption.

Margaret Thatcher’s recasting of British Rail in 1982 has led to a weird corporate culture in which twenty five companies compete by making strangely successful low bids for slices of action, then have to be given bail-out grants of taxpayers’ money without returning equity, or repayments, while claiming huge salaries for CEO’s and dividends for shareholders but increasing fares and failing to improve services. Years of investment neglect, in fact, allowed British railway systems to crumble to a lethal substandard.

In 1999, outside Paddington station in London, a Thames Train passed signal #109 at red, and crashed head-on with a Great Western Train. Thirty one people, including both drivers, died and four hundred others were injured, some with horrific, disfiguring burns caused by the fireball which engulfed several carriages. Thames Trains had decided against installing the new Automated Protection System halting trains passing a red signal, having calculated the cost per life saved was too high. At the time, Railtrack, the private company with responsibility for Britain’s rail networks, was declaring profits of £1.2 million ($3 million CDN) a day. Two days after the collision London Underground Ltd announced their shortlist of PPP bidders, the majority of whom had documented miserable achievement and safety records, dubious business practice histories, lawsuits pending regarding cases of criminal neglect, accusations of environmental wrongs and investments in countries and companies with records of employee and human rights abuses.

Crashes and derailments later occurred in Hatfield, October 17 2000, four dead, Selby, February 2001, ten dead, and most recently at Potter’s Barn in Hertfordshire, May 2002. Four safety-critical bolts were missing from a joint in the track and the last carriage left the rails, smashed into the bridge and slid to a stop across Selby station platform, leaving seven dead and numerous injuries. RailTrack’s chief CEO, Gerald Corbett and two other execs were charged with corporate manslaughter, however Judge Mr. Justice MacKay accepted their applications to have the charges dropped. Corbett was released from his position with a £1.4 million pay-off and RailTrack became Network rail, no longer liable for the actions, or inactions, of its former incarnation. Jervis, the construction firm responsible for the track in that area, are set to make a £21million windfall from refinancing borrowings to pay for their PPP bid for London Underground.

Mr. Lew Adams is confident the UKs PPP will do just as well over here.

Other topics being discussed at the BC Liberals’ seminars include the Safe Streets Issue (“all that evil needs to be nasty is for decent folks to do nothing! Do you feel EVIL squeegee kids and homeless creatures are winning? Join Safe Streets and take back the night!”) as well as selling off health care, education, and old people for fertiliser. Check out the itinerary at the Board Of Trade.

One thing is true: It is your city. Do something about it.