Ted Grant

Transport Bill—Workers Must Demand Control

Source: Socialist Appeal, no. 36 (Mid-December 1946)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

The Tories are conducting a tremendous campaign against the Bill for the nationalisation of transport. Despite lavish compensation, and the fact that the nationalisation will assist British capitalism’s competitive struggle, the Tories and the transport shareholders, are fighting to preserve their sacred rights of private property.

The nationalisation of transport constitutes a progressive step in placing all national transport under one single control. It will eliminate part of the chaos which is the legacy of “free enterprise.” But the workers must have no illusions that it will be run in their interests.

Many capitalist states own the railways. For instance, in South Africa and Germany railways were state owned. In no case did this make any fundamental difference to the conditions of the workers employed. In the same way as the nationalisation of the Post Office in this country has meant neither improved conditions for the post office workers, nor any advantage to the working class as a whole. Instead of individual ownership, the capitalist class as a whole will own the railways and other means of transport.

Why we oppose compensation

Having drawn enormous profits on their original outlay for many years, the capital having been paid over and over again, the shareholders are to receive compensation based on the average price of railway securities on November the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, 1946. Or if it is higher, the average from February to July 1946. The stock is to be freely negotiable. The cost will be of £1,019.7 millions, according to the estimates of the Financial Times. The nominal value is £1,142 millions.

And this outlay is for railways alone. Taking into consideration that the first charge on the nationalised industry will be to pay the interest to the stockholders; that large sums will have to be spent to modernise the industry; and that there will be constant pressure to guarantee cheap freight charges, the workers cannot expect to see any real change. The amount which will have to be paid out annually before any other charges are taken into consideration will be £254 millions every year.

How the industry will be run

Transport will be run on similar lines to the mining industry with its capitalist Coal Board. A Transport Commission is to be established composed of a Chairman and four members, who will be appointed by the Minister. The overall supervision will be in the hands of this Board.

Also, four Transport Executives for the Railways, Docks and Inland Waterways, Road Transport, and London Passenger Transport will be appointed to deal with these sections.

The Railways will be run strictly as a “business enterprise”, that is, strictly on capitalist lines and with the powers in the hands of the management.

The first charge of the Board will not be the granting of improved conditions for the workers, but to ensure the compensation to the shareholders and that the industry is efficiently run in the interests of the capitalist economy of the country.

The example of the Post Office workers, where discipline is on the same lines as any capitalist firm, and where the lower strata are among the worst paid in Britain, is proof of this.

Workers need their own Board

In order to defend their interests, the Railway workers would need a Board, elected and controlled by the workers in the industry.

Every railway worker knows the inefficiency and bureaucratic way in which the railways are run. Committees of workers elected on the job, can run the industry far more efficiently and eliminate waste and mismanagement far more effectively.

The task of the workers is to demand that control is in their own hands. Not state capitalism, but nationalisation without compensation under workers’ control.