Unions step up pressure for nationalisation of rail network

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The Independent Online

The Government will be forced to put the renationalisation of the rail network into its next election manifesto under a resolution almost certain to be passed at the Labour conference this month.

It is understood that ministers are trying to "buy off" unions, which still command half the votes at the party assembly, but they have been rebuffed.

Speaking at the TUC conference yesterday Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the moderate white-collar transport union TSSA, said he was determined to press ahead with the amendment which will cause the Government serious embarrassment.

Mr Doherty said: "We are not doing it for dogma, we are not doing it for ideology, we are doing it because it is right."

Some cabinet ministers concede privately that the Government should have taken the industry back into public ownership as soon as Labour was elected in 1997, but they are now committed to fighting the proposal tooth and nail.

It will be very difficult for the Government to ignore the expected conference decision because of the party's constitution. The renationalisation policy received more than a quarter of the votes at July's national policies forum which has an in-built loyalist majority and sets the manifesto strategy. The controversial proposition will be tabled as an amendment to an officially approved document at the party conference. Ministers admit privately that it is certain to attract a majority vote.

The resolution will commit the Government to introduce an "integrated, accountable and publicly owned railway".

Under the model favoured by the TSSA, Network Rail would become more accountable to the Government and the train franchises would be brought under state ownership as they expire.

Aware that the companies have a reputation for making unacceptably high profits, the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, is already planning to regulate them.