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Democrat May-June 2010 (Number 118)

Fighting for rail safety

Demonstration at Lille outside European Rail Agency

Demonstration outside EU Rail Agency

Around 200 RMT activists marched out of Lille station in France earlier this month to be cheered by trade unionists from across Europe to protest against EU-led privatisation of rail networks.

   Rail unions from Belgium, Portugal, Hungary and many other countries gathered outside the headquarters of the European Rail Agency, an EU institution that oversees the implementation of various EU directives and rail packages that open up rail services to the private sector.

   They were joined French by rail workers from the SUD union who were in their seventh day of strike action over continued liberalisation of the French rail network.

   Just outside of Lille is the Somain rail freight yard where over 300 jobs are threatened by the continued dismantling of France's freight industry which is being ‘liberalised’ as demanded by the second EU rail package.

   RMT general secretary Bob Crow told the noisy protest that unions across Europe were uniting against the systematic destruction of national rail networks, jobs and safety standards brought in by EU diktats.

   “Liberalisation might sound harmless, but we have already seen fatal crashes like the one between commuter trains in Belgium in February, and now there are demands to dilute the Channel Tunnel’s safety rules to allow competition.

“Millions of people across Europe believe that railways should be a public service not a commodity to be smashed up and exploited by privateers who, ultimately, are only interested in profit.

   “Big business and faceless eurocrats are implementing this dangerous experiment without any democratic mandate to do so whatsoever,” Bob Crow said.

   Jeronimo Prieto of the Basque LAB Trade Union said it was “absurd” that different private companies could now operate on the same tracks from this year as outlined in the third rail package.

   “The companies have brought in contracts where workers are employed on just a temporary basis which has led to lower standards of safety and an increase in accidents," he said.

   He said that the travelling public in the mountainous Basque region were also paying the cost of EU rules.

    "The companies care more about shareholders than providing a good service, less profitable services in the higher less densely populated area have seen less investment in track maintenance.

   “This has seen the cancellation of trains that people rely on in rural areas," he said.

   A similar picture was painted by Hans Gerd Ofinger representing a German pressure group Bahn von Unten, (Railways from Below).

   "The process of privatisation started in 1994 when the Deutch Bahn was transformed into a stake holding company and since then it has been split up into 300 subsidiaries.

   The drive for profit has meant that there has been less investment for infrastructure and safety. As a result the intercity express trains to Berlin had problems with the wheels and axles.

   The number of jobs has halved since the privatisation started and contract Labour is almost slave labour.

   “Recently we had a very harsh winter and it was revealed that a sub-contractor hired Bulgarian workers who were paid just two euros an hour to clear the snow from the tracks," he said.

   He said that the German state railway Deutsch Bahn was trying to create a feeling of competition between German and French rail workers as the two countries battle for control of Europe’s rail networks.

   “They are trying to tell the German workers that the French are their enemies but what we need are rail networks under democratic control operating on the basis of cooperation not competition," he said.

   Informal discussions took place with several delegations in more relaxed surroundings in Lille Town Square. Leaflets were distributed to passers by and material taken by delegates included the Democrat and Democrat Broadsheet.

   RMT has produced a DVD about EU rail privatisation and is available at Unity House, Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD or by e-mailing