Rail unions rally to defend safety rules
Morning Star: John Millington in Lille, France. 13 April 2010
RMT members rally outside the European Railway Agency headquarters in Lille, France pic: Guy Smallman
Transport unions from across Europe have held a mass rally of thousands of railway workers in Lille, France, to protest against the EU-driven privatisation of the industry.
The huge mobilisation brought together 20 unions from across Europe and was supported by the World Federation of Trade Unions.
Basking in the warm spring sunshine, railway workers began the day by blocking roads, lighting red flares and blowing horns as a podium was erected outside the European Railway Agency (ERA) headquarters.
The workers were in Lille to deliver a letter calling on the ERA to give a "clear commitment to rail safety" and assurances that jobs will not be lost "in the interests of competition and profit."
Unions have expressed widespread concern that increased liberalisation and marketisation of rail services under the auspices of the "undemocratic" Lisbon Treaty will lead to more accidents on networks throughout Europe.
Union representatives were present from Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greek, Cyprus and the Basque country.
A special mention of solidarity was given to the Hungarian trade unionists who had made the arduous trip to Lille from Budapest.
Scandinavian countries also sent messages of support as did Britain's firefighters' union the FBU.
General secretary of RMT Bob Crow, who headed the largest delegation, said that Britain had been used as "a guinea pig" for rail privatisation.
"To me 'liberalisation' means 'free' - but the only people who can afford to run the railways are big business," he said.
Mr Crow sparked deafening applause and shouts of support when he added: "Today should not be the end of the rally, brothers and sisters. We should be organising industrial action across the length and breadth of Europe."
Sister transport union TSSA assistant general secretary Manuel Cortes warned that accidents in Britain such as those in Potters Bar and Hatfield would happen elsewhere through "the pursuit of profiteering instead of safety.
"Profit and safety don't mix," said Mr Cortes.
"We have to fight a common enemy with a common voice."
Portuguese railway workers trade union CGTP-IN national co-ordinator Manuel Alexandre Cruz hailed the day's action, pointing to the Lisbon Treaty as part of Europe's "anti-social policies."
And he insisted that "trade union organisations from different countries must join efforts to fight neoliberalism."
Mr Cruz said that rail travel was an important social service and that the highest safety standards must be implemented.
"In this moment, in Portugal, the offensive against the public railway and railway workers is getting worse." he said.
"In Portugal, we are struggling, as you are struggling here today in this European mobilisation, to affirm that the struggle continues."
Spokesman for German railway rank-and-file group Bahn von Unten (Railways from Below) Hans-Gerd Oefinger declared that the only way to ensure safety was "workers' and democratic ownership of the entire railway system."