The railway disasters at Southall, Ladbroke Grove and now Hatfield, all of which involved loss of life and many people injured, have provoked widespread calls for Automatic Train Protection (ATP) systems to be introduced on all lines and for rail privatisation to be reversed.
Usually the government makes the excuse that renationalisation would be too costly because of demands for compensation. But surely when a franchise expires, as happened with Connex, it would be possible to simply take it back into public hands instead of giving the franchise to some other private company.
By failing to do this the government has shown that it does not intend to roll-back the privatisation programme and merely hopes that it can find more efficient capitalist owners to give the franchises to when their expiry time comes round.
This ignores completely the fact that private ownership only exists at all in order to make money for investors and shareholders. By some means or another the private owners have to make a profit. This must not bejust any amount of profit but a rate of profit that is competitive with other companies seeking to attract new investment.
The profits have to come from somewhere -- and that is the pockets of the public, in the form of continuing government subsidies and in increased fares, and it comes from squeezing thejobs of rail workers.
If the railways were not in private hands the millions taken out in the form of dividends could be ploughed back into the industry and improvements made both to the service and to safety.
On the question of accident prevention both the private rail companies and the government maintain that installing APT throughout the country would be very expensive.
Yes it would. But then so is the cost of examining and repairing Britain's fleet of nuclear-powered submarines -- a multi-million pound expense that doesn't seem to have raised a single eyebrow in the corridors of Whitehall!
Indeed, money for waging war and maintaining Britain's global military might is always forthcoming -- there are no government ministers then telling us the country can't afford to foot the bill.
Of course, the- spate of tragedies on the railways has stirred up such storm of protest that the government can hardly do nothing at all. Hence the promise of a further handout to Railtrack along with more fine words about accountability.
Surely, if public funds are to be pumped into Railtrack in order to improve safety then the public should also reap the financial benefits that will eventually accrue.
Clearly Railtrack has failed to provide an efficient and safe network and has lost all credibility. The Hatfield derailment has shown that even the track itself is inadequately maintained.
Since that accident it has been revealed that miles and miles of track all over the country is in such a poor condition that speed restrictions have been immediately imposed.
While all this is going on the government claims it is concerned about growing traffic congestion and air pollution. It talks of finding ways to encourage people to use their cars less and public transport more. There will be little chance of achieving this when people fear that the railway network is unsafe.
We need a great deal more than handouts to private companies that have already sucked billions out of the rail transport industry. Our demand is for the entire rail system to be returned to public ownership with full democratic accountability and for the interests of the public to be the first priority.
That means putting safety first. It means returning the whole industry to one that is integrated and planned and it means kicking the grasping hands of the privateers out of the revenues pot.
Give back our railways, make our trains safe!
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RAILTRACK has responded to criticism over the Hatfield rail crash in which four people died by closing the West Coast Line between Carlisle and Glasgow last Wednesday -- giving the train operators and passengers just two hours notice.
On the same line, services are also disrupted between Milton Keynes and Rugby, a 20 miles an hour speed limit has been imposed on the line between Plymouth and Totnes on the London to Penzance railway and throughout the country on main lines and commuter lines, chaos is reigning.
Timetables have gone out of the window and thousands of passengers are experiencing delays and disruptions throughout the country because of newly-imposed speed restrictions.
Railtrack has accepted that a broken rail was the most likely cause of the Hatfield crash and that the state of the track was "unacceptable". it seems there are many other unacceptable stretches of track around the country.
Each one of these restrictions represents a section of rail that Railtrack cannot be sure is safe and where tests are now being conducted laboriously with sonar equipment.
On the Carlisle to Glasgow link alone, some 177 rails have been found to be so defective they must be replaced immediately.
Every passenger would sooner suffer delays and get home late rather than risk being involved in an accident.
But Railtrack's attitude, when representatives are interviewed and in giving such short notice of the West Coast line closure, hints at a sort of defensiveness, implying that the travelling public must chose between timetable reliability or safety but is being unreasonable in expecting both.
This is outrageous after Railtrack, at the lime of privatisation, boasted it would have no problems in running the track better than British Rail had done and signed contracts to guarantee both safety and service levels.
It is even more outrageous that the Government, in the light of the Hatfield crash, has decided last Monday to give Railtrack a £4.7 billion grant from taxpayers'money -- £855 million more than expected -- over the next five years to improve safety and track maintenance.
The reason why our rail tracks are in such a desperate condition is because Railtrack has failed to invest previous grants in proper track maintenance.
It has sacked skilled engineers and brought in cheapskate subcontractors who employ unskilled workers on low pay to do repairs while Railtrack pockets the difference for the benefit of shareholders.
One rail worker last week told the New Worker that Balfour Beatty, the sub-contractor employed by Railtrack to look after the Hatfield stretch, are "learning as they go".
The Government has declared that Railtrack's spending will now be more closely monitored. Rail Regulator Tom Winsor announced that Railtrack will be spending £14.9 billion over the next five years "to ensure that Britain has a railway fit for the demands of increasing passenger numbers".
Of this money, £3.5 billion will go on track maintenance and renewal, including £150 million specifically targeted at reducing broken rails.
Another £4 billion will be spent on maintenance and renewal of signalling systems and £500 million on signal enhancements such as the Train Protection Warning System. This is less effective than the Automatic Train protection system that rail unions and passenger groups are calling for, but which is deemed too expensive by Railtrack and by the Government.
Railtrack may have to reduce the annual number of broken rails from around 765 a year now to 615 a year within five years.
If the company fails to meet its target it could be fined £80,000 per broken rail over the target but will be rewarded by the same amount per rail not broken if it reduced the number below the target level.
This is peanuts to a company that makes £l million profit a day.
Railtrack will not be fined at all for delays caused by the current round of safety checks. Tom Winsor said: "There is no question of Railtrack being whacked with a massive fine if they carry out safety obligations.
"There is no conflict between performance and safety. Safety must always come first." So he has bought the Railtrack message that we must chose, we can't expect both.
The Government policy of simply giving more money to the greedy capitalists who have mismanaged our railways to the point where they are unsafe is madness.
Talk of stricter regulation is madness. The existing regulators -- Mr Winsor, the Health and Safety Executive and the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority -- are all ignored by the profit hungry privateers.
Last week the Government refused to renew the franchise of Connex South Central because of its appalling level of services -- showing how easily it could be done, only to go on and award the franchise to another private company.
The railways must be brought back into public ownership. We must protect the taxpayers' money, the railworkers' jobs and the passengers lives.
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by Caroline Colebrook
SUPPORTERS of the Construction Safety Campaign marked European Week for Safety and Health at Work last week with a protest picket outside the Holiday Inn, Nelson Dock, Kotherhithe, south London.
They were protesting outside the first major conference on construction occupational health and safety involving the Health and Safety Executive and the employers.
The building workers, whose health and safety was being discussed, pointed out that with conference tickets at £300 each, they were effectively excluded from the conference.
The Construction Safety Campaign says that delegates to this event are much more likely to reach retirement and be fit enough to enjoy it than the building workers protesting at the door.
"Fine words about 'partnership', 'stakeholder' and 'innovation' mean nothing when the industry systematically denies workers the right to organise and have a say in their own protection," a spokesperson said.
"If you ask for a mask in construction, you are more likely to get the sack. Violence against those who insist on safety on the job is common.
"The promised direct employment drive by employers has halted and regulation is still as weak as ever.
"Labour has not delivered on its safety promises. Whitty, Callaghan, Cooper, Caldwell, Myers -- the industry record on protecting building workers stinks!"
The campaign stresses that health, safely and welfare should be a right. The building industry employs over a million and a half workers. It takes fit young men and kills and brutalises them.
Young building workers have little chance of reaching retiring age without contracting a work related illness.
The illnesses and causes are well known. The construction industry has the highest rates for:
respiratory diseases --ashestosis, silicosis and asthma;
cancers -- lung cancer, mesothelioma;
skin diseases -- dermatitis and ulcers;
vibration white finger and other vibration conditions;
repetitive strain injuries -- shoulder, elbows and knees.
The "Working Well Together" initiative has failed to make any impact on the health and safety conditions of building workers.
There is still no occupational health scheme for the industry, no sick pay scheme and no pension scheme.
On top of that, since the last European Health and Safety at Work Week there has been a 20 per cent increase in building workers killed and a 23 per cent increase in contractors' profits.
Merton and Sutton Trades Union Council (south London) also marked the European Week for Health and Safety at Work with a public meeting in a local church on Monday 16 October.
The trades council issued a statement: "Merton and Sutton TUC believes it is high time that something was done to bring to account the people who cause deaths at work.
"We need to create a new sense of moral responsibility among employers, a sense of accountability for their actions and indeed their inaction, when the resuit is the death of someone they have employed."
The trades council acknowledges that it is a small minority of employers who through callous neglect or culpable ignorance, allow their workers to die.
"Time should be called on the criminal employer," said Merton and Sutton TUC spokesperson Steve Browett. "We urge the introduction ofa new law ofcorporate manslaughter to emphasise society's shock at workplace deaths and disapproval of those who allow them to happen."
On average five workers are killed at work every week in addition to thousands who die annually through work-related diseases. Asbestos alone kills more people every day than road accidents.
The tragedy is doubled when lessons are not learnt and no one is held to account. All too often the guilty party escapes with a paltry fine.
Small fines imposed by the HSE give the message that causing a death at work is no more serious than a parking or shoplifting offence.
Merton and Sutton TUC quoted a number of instances where the punishment was utterly inadequate:
William Montgomery from Oldham was killed in August 1999 by a falling 14-metre steel bar on a Berkshire building site. Slough Magistrates' Court ruled the employer, Simplex Piling, had failed to carry out the lifting operation in a safe manner. The company was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £789 costs.
Stephen Hayhurst was working on the new Citibank building at canary Wharf when he fell 130 feet to his death down a lift shaft in March 1998. He had been putting metal strips under the stair when he stepped on a flimsy piece of plywood and fell eight stories to his death. Canary Wharf Limited was fined £1,500 and two other companies fined £15,000 and £6,000 -- a total of £22,500.
Philip Mclnnes, a 19-yearold apprentice plumber, was electrocuted at work on the Heathmount Hotel, Inverness in May 1996. He was helping to install copper pipes but his employer failed to check whether the wires he was working with were live and told the court he had assessed the risk by just looking round. The employer was fined just £5,000.
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by Steve Lawton
SEVERAL United States military bases were put on high alert last weekend in Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar following the 12 October bombing of the USS Cole at the Yemeni harbour of Aden.
While in Cairo, after nearly a month of deadly Israeli attacks on the Palestinian people, leaders of the 23 Arab nations gathered to unanimously condemn Tel Aviv's overwhelming aggession.
And Palestinian deaths continue to mount... l6-year-old Nidal al-Dbeiki, shot in the stomach at the Erez Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel; 22year-old Nimr Yusif Meraei, shot near Jenin, West Bank... nearly 130 in all, with 4-5,000 wounded - 33 of them earlier this week.
Summit leaders called upon Israeli Premier Ehud Barak to pull back, demanding the United Nations immediately dispatch an international protection force to implement an end to the bloody conflict.
The Arab summit while holding back from an outright call for diplomatic ties with Israel to be severed, nevertheless declared that for any Arab nation that did so, the Israeli government would be held responsible.
And the leaders who have perpetrated the murders should face an international war crimes tribunal, the concluding statement said. The key Arab states of Iraq, Syria and Libya demanded tougher action against Israel, while Libya's representatives walked out. For Iraq, this was the first meeting of its kind to which it has been invited since 1991.
Arab states continue to receive the wounded and medical aid is being sent via Jordan. Kuwaiti health minister Ahmad al Jarallah received five wounded Palestinians, and on their arrival earlier this week he said the government and people of Kuwait "are proud of the heroes of the Palestinian uprising."
No sooner was the Arab summit over as fighting continued, than Barak called "timeout" from the shattered peace process. As we go to press, whether Barak's call for an emergency unity government with Likud leader General Ariel Sharon or general elections are called, is still in the balance.
The Israeli army proceeds with its siege-imprisonment of Palestinian areas. Barak, meanwhile, persists in pressing Western countries to arm twist Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat into submission. He continues to fail. The next summit opportunity is not likely to emerge before 7 November US elections.
The popular uprising, deliberately triggered by warlord Sharon's 1,000-strong invasion of Temple Mount on 28 September, has also to resist the 180,000 Israeli settlers -- armed in breach of international law. They have largely been ignored in the West but they are a significant factor in the "behind-the-lines" anti Arab attacks.
Planted on confiscated, invariably prime land made available after the Israeli army usually bulldozed Palestinian homes, the settlers have acted as a second force of sabotage and terror against Palestinians. They have been killing, destroying and wrecking livelihoods in as equally indiscriminate and random manner as the Israeli army which escorts, protects and encourages them.
Much was made of the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah two weeks ago, little has been said ofthe lynchings by Israeli settlers in Nazareth, Belt Furiq and Um Safa days earlier. While Israeli army snipers pick off Palestinian stone-throwers, Israeli settlers take aim at families out harvesting olives that are now in season and terrorise them away from their vital source of income.
In Um Safa village, for example, Kfar Oreh settlers near Ramallah -- scene of Israeli rocketing and shelling -- Palestinian farmers were prevented from gathering their crop. Villager Mousa Mohammed told al Qouds daily: "While dozens of other families from the village and I were in our fields, the settlers came and put their weapons in our faces, calling us to leave the area, telling us they would shoot us otherwise."
In the south Nablus village of Kufr Qallel, 70 farmers who had to hide in caves to escape the hail of settler bullets, were besieged for seven hours. Many have died and are still dying from their wounds in the conflict. Whenthe Israelis used heavy weapons on Ramallah claiming, in time worn Nato style, that they were hitting military-related targets (that just happened to be around Yasser Arafats' headquarters), that pretence was soon dropped.
Last weekend the Israeli's shelled and bombed Belt Jala from the Israeli settlement of Gilo opposite it. Israelis called this a "proportional response". Difficult to see how that squares, for instance, with flattening the Talitha Kumi kindergarten and Inad Theatre. One of the Inad group plays was performed for the first time during the Royal Court Theatre's international festival in London recently.
Israeli army fortifications are being built and road blocks set up as part of the constant squeeze put on Palestinians from their rightful homeland and from the rest of the world. The main entrance to Bethlehem in the Hebron area was re-closed with concrete blocks. Consequently, thousands are being cut off from their jobs.
The Ha'aretz daily said there is a proposal to "separate the economies of Israel and Palestine", which has also been promoted on television. It's equally an attempt to stoke up a false fear in Israel that it is threatened. He has since modified his position which the US has criticised to one of "dissociation" not "separation".
Dependence is the present reality. A quarter of Palestinian GDP is derived from Israel and Palestinians rely on its water and electricity supplies. All border passes are controlled by Israel, preventing Palestinian access to neighbouring states and, therefore, again restricting their jobs.
Israel could barely exist without the massive US aid. According to the Ha'aretz daily Israel is expecting the US Congress to begin discussion of an $800m package of 'aid', as we go to press. Half is supposedly to fund Israeli withdrawal from the Lebanon; the rest is to develop an anti-missile programme. This is in addition to the 'normal' deal which, in all, will total $1.98bn by next year.
But this vast difference in treatment is advancing the international cause of the Palestinians. Seven Australian aid agencies launched an appeal for emergency aid to help West Bank and Gaza hospitals. And protest actions continue - from London to Athens to Jordan.
Hundreds of Palestinians living in Greece burnt flags in front of the Israeli and US embassies this week, while across the world in Jordan 10,000 protesters defied armoured vehicles and tear gas to march on the Israeli controlled border access to the occupied West Bank. Hundreds were injured in the clashes with riot police. Solidarity advances.
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Over 200 delegates from tenants' associations and trades unions representing local authority workers attended the conference organised by Defend Council Housing.
Campaigners exchanged experiences and the evidence is that where tenants do organise to resist the privatisation of their homes, as in Waverly, High Wycornbe and South Bedfordshire, they are successful.
Tenants have also rejected privatisation in Lewisham, Tower Hamlets, St Helens, Cambridge, Cheltenham Fenland and Sandwell.
The conference also highlighted the Government's agenda to continue the Tory policy of privatising council housing until there is none left in Britain. The plan is to privatise up to 200,000 homes a year.
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn described the "obscenity" of selling public housing stocks while homelessness is rising.
In many cases tenants are being told that vital repairs and refurbishment of estates can only happen if they vote in favour of transfer.
But once the houses are transferred, rents rise and tenancies become less secure.
Housing associations and other similar bodies are desscribed as non-profit making but they exist in the private sector. They are obliged to borrow heavily from banks to buy the stock and it is the banks that dictate policy on rents.
Alf Chandler, speaking for the Tenants' and Residents' association of England attacked the Tory tactic of "right to buy" which undermined the council house system in the 1980s by encouraging tenants to buy their own homes.
This led Lo a large proportion of the best homes becoming privately owned, Ieaving those who could not afford to buy trapped in the poorer standard accommodation which quickly deteriorated as the Tories forbade councils to spend money on maintenance.
Mr Chandler said: "We wanL to see an end the right to buy, we want to see a right to rent".
George Brumwell, general secretary of the building workers union Ucatt, told the conference that privatisation was "the biggest con trick perpetrated on the working class in the last century."
He warned that Labour's adoption of Tory policies on support for the private sector was linked to efforts to cut public expenditure and the public sector borrowing requirement before joining the European Single Currency.
The conference called for all out support for a mass lobby of Parliament on 24 January 2001.
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