Union leaders renewed their call yesterday for the rail industry to be renationalised, despite the creation of a not-for-profit successor to Railtrack. The Trades Union Congress backed a motion welcoming the formation of Network Rail only as a step towards the return to public ownership of the former British Rail.
The motion, on the final day of the TUC's Blackpool conference, blamed privatisation for the appalling tragedies at Ladbroke Grove, Southall and Hatfield. It said the public- private partnership for the London Underground would endanger workers and travellers.
TUC leaders want ministers to do more to promote public transport and revise their 10-year transport plan to set "significant" local and national targets for reducing "environmentally, socially and economically damaging levels of congestion". Delegates also attacked working conditions on bus services and condemned "the culture of long hours and low pay fostered by unscrupulous employers". Mick Rix, general secretary of Aslef, added: "The political decision to privatise our industry has led to disaster and tragedy and lives needlessly lost, including those of our members."
He said an investment of only £60,000 to move one signal would have prevented the Paddington rail disaster. "The chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority thinks he has identified the problem: it's the unions and greedy workers asking for pay. Let me tell Richard Bowker a thing or two. It's not my members who are doing difficult or often dangerous jobs who are the problem. It's the greedy and incompetent fat cats who have wrecked our industry and awarded themselves millions in the process."
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union, contrasted the Government's attitude to the railways with the £410m loan to British Energy. "If you can bring the lame ducks back into public ownership why can't we take the white swans," he told delegates. "We can't blame the Tory government for privatising the London Underground. It has been privatised by a Labour government. Those who say the railways under the Tories were a mess, then privatise the London Underground should be ashamed of themselves."
Union leaders also attacked the part-privatisation of air traffic control. A motion passed unanimously warned of increased delays and breakdowns at Nats, saying "professional controllers are being put under additional strain". Graham Fowler, of the British Airline Pilots Association, called for more government investment in air traffic control technology. He said: "In the skies where our members are at the sharp end of air traffic control we are deeply concerned."
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