Ted Grant

Railwaymen—Stand firm!

Source: Socialist Fight,Vol. 4 No. 10 (November 1962)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009

The one day strike of the railwaymen closed the railways and the London tubes completely. This mass gesture of solidarity and determination was a warning to the government and the employing class that the railwaymen will not allow themselves to be treated with the cold calculated cruelty with which the ruling class regards the “hands” on whose labour their profits depend.

Dr. Beeching, the representative of big business who has been put in charge of the railways to serve the interests of the capitalists, at first attempted to maintain the stand of implacability. The Daily Herald of 16th October said that the Railway Commission’s policy was “No retreat on sackings” and “In broad outline his plans for closing down 12 railway workshops must go ahead”. These plans involve the sacking of 159,000 railwaymen over the next 5 to 10 years. As a foretaste of the future, 12 railway workshops are to be closed down next year with the sacking of 18,000 to 20,000 men.

It is the announcement of this plan that provoked the justified anger and indignation of the railwaymen. Systematically, rich contracts that could be fulfilled in the railway workshops are being given to private firms. Despite the fact that the equipment is there the railway workshops are not allowed to make any goods for sale outside the railways as this would compete with private enterprise! The commission then announces that the workshops do not pay and prepares to close them down as if they were to be discarded like empty cigarette packets.

Fobbed off with a pittance

The railwaymen in the workshops understand that they are regarded as the least important part of the machinery in the workshops. After a lifetime of service they are to be fobbed off with a pittance in compensation for their lost jobs. Others will be unceremoniously bundled out and told to “find” other jobs elsewhere.

The Executive of the NUR has stood firm. Greene, the general secretary, faced with the bitter mood of the men, warned Dr. Beeching “The whole workshop plan must be withdrawn or there will be a strike”. He also declared “They wanted him (Dr. Beeching) to scrap the present proposals for closures of railway workshops and start again in consultations with the unions”.

This is a bit weaker than the previous declaration. The whole of the press recognised the strength of the railwaymen’s determination and the sympathy of the organised working class for the railwaymen’s wishes, and tried to enmesh and ensnare the unions involved, into “consultations”, not on policy but to make the sackings as painless as possible. It is like suggesting to a man that he “co-operate” in cutting off fingers and toes rather than lose a whole hand or foot.

Worn out parts!

The attitude of the workers was expressed by Harold Poole, vice-president of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, who have 50,000 key craftsmen as members in the railway workshops. “We are not going to see our men thrown out as though they were worn out parts in a workshop”. A new strike involving not only the NUR members on the railways, but the docks, provincial buses and support from other transport unions has been suggested. Not a strike for 24 hours but a week or more. This would hit Britain’s economy hard and cost far more than would be “saved” by railway sackings. Yet in pursuit of their class interests the ruling class is prepared to risk this.

For the moment there are “consultations” taking place between the railway unions and the railway commission. Dr. Beeching admitted the mistake of non-consultation with union representatives. Consultation for what? Consultation for the sacking of thousands of rail workers! The rank-and-file must continue to exert pressure in their branches and demonstrations demanding no retreat from a policy of no sackings.

Cut compensation

Railway workers should demand no sackings or full pay till appropriate alternative work is found. The compensation offered is an insult. If money is to be saved cut the compensation to the parasites who got paid out on watered stock for a bankrupt industry. The interest burden amounts to terms of millions of pounds a year. Let the compensation be on the basis of need only! The railwaymen have contributed to society, the owners have been a burden to society.

Co-ordinated plan

At the same time transport needs a co-ordinated plan. A plan which will involve all transport and air. The government in the interest of private profit has given many rich routes to private airlines thus resulting in losses to the nationalized airlines. Road transport was handed over as a rich plum to “private enterprise”.

Above all the lesson should have been driven home that nationalization is not enough. The workers in the industry must participate from top to bottom in control and deciding policy for the industry. Instead of the Dr. Beechings and other representatives of big business the trade union movement through the TUC must be brought into the management of nationalized industries.

Railwaymen do not be fobbed off by a slower process of attrition in the war on the railwaymen. Stand firm on the demand for no sackings! Workers in the trade unions and Labour parties send resolutions of sympathy and support to the railwaymen!