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Volume 53 Number 30, November 4, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Movement

Victory to the Rail Workers and the Community over Ticket Office Closures

On October 31, in what RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said was a resounding victory for rail workers, as well as a win for passengers and community groups, the government completely retracted plans to shut down ticket offices [1]. TSSA, the union representing rail ticket office workers, expressed its delight at the victory [2].

Throughout the dispute until the climbdown, the government had given its full backing to the plans. The Department for Transport had approved the initial proposals, and just last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed the ticket office closures as "the right thing for the British public and British taxpayers", claiming without any context that only one ticket in ten is sold in ticket offices.

In their turnaround, Transport Secretary Mark Harper stated that the government had asked train operators to withdraw their proposals due to failure to meet high passenger standards. In an attempt to shift the blame solely onto management, washing the government's hands of responsibility, he said the government had made it "clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers".

In response, a senior rail industry source was quoted by the BBC as saying: "They have been made to sell these plans, defend them and change them to try and get them over the line. All in the face of the inevitable onslaught of criticism. All of these plans were approved by officials and ministers at the DfT. To say they fell short of their expectations is totally disingenuous." [3]

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, said that it will keep looking for other ways to "improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer".

It could be said that this apparent divide between the government and the rail industry is itself disinformative. The government represents the private interests that have completely usurped public authority. They are two sides of the same coin, albeit divided amongst themselves into competing factions.

For its part, Labour simply played its role as electoral machine and took the opportunity for an attack, with shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh calling it a "humiliating climbdown", with the cancelled plans having been "a colossal waste of taxpayers' money".

Along with the workers and their unions, various sections have been saying No! to the closures.

Transport Focus and London Travelwatch had objected to the closures, citing 750,000 responses in a public consultation. They had successfully campaigned for various changes, such as staff availability times, but concerns about the capabilities of the ticket machines, accessibility, passenger assistance and information all remained unresolved.

Disability campaigners and five Labour metro mayors had staged protests and threatened legal challenges to the plans. Disabled-led Transport for All praised the outcome, but criticised the government's marginalisation of their concerns, saying that "it is appalling that disabled people's concerns were dismissed for so long". Demanding their collective rights has been important in this struggle.

Communities from Stourbridge to Sunderland have organised in various locations to defend their right to proper transport services.

A number of MPs labelled the plans "too far, too fast". This is not simply a warning to the government over its tactics. From the perspective of all affected, it raises the question as to whether these plans were floated to measure the response, which again points to the narrow vested interests that the government represents and how they and their government continue to seek ways to further plunder public services and carry forward the anti-social offensive.

Workers' Weekly congratulates the rail workers in their victory in this issue, a victory that proves the correctness of the stand that "Enough is Enough", and proving that the government and rail operators have been comprehensively denounced in the court of public opinion. The planned closures had been an important part of the workers' long-running dispute with the government and rail operators - a dispute over pay, jobs, working conditions and the very future of this key service. It is a win that has taken numerous actions and strikes to achieve.

The closures were presented as a means to save money by cutting labour "costs". However, the reality is that labour is not a cost and is precisely what creates new value - the issue for public services is rather how this value is realised, or paid for. Relying on technology to employ fewer workers is an attempt to service private profit at the expense of service to the public and the interests of the rail workers.

The success is also a step in the direction of public decision-making over the future of such social programmes and the direction they should take. Allegedly "improving" the rail network's quality through sacking workers and shoring up profits is no solution to the serious problems currently affecting rail transport. Instead, improving working conditions, job security and pay are crucial for a successful service that serves the needs of workers and the public. Workers need more control and empowerment over the economy and matters that affect their living and working conditions, which includes but is not limited to reversing privatisation, to protect their claims over the value they create and reduce living costs, of which transport is an important factor. Attacks on the claims of the workers and their job security, privatisation and pay-the-rich schemes that drain the money required for reinvestment are not solutions; they exacerbate the problem and should be ended.

The route that continues to be taken by the government is of total incoherence in transport policy, and rail workers are not complacent after their victory. "We are now calling for an urgent summit with the government, train operating companies, disabled and community organisations and passenger groups to agree a different route for the rail network that guarantees the future of our ticket offices and stations staff jobs to delivers a safe, secure and accessible service that puts passengers before profit," said Mick Lynch.

Such talks should have the outlook of forming a new mechanism to discuss with all concerned the content of this different direction. Workers and their organisations in all sectors will continue to build the mechanisms for change. They will never be marginalised. They will look forward to independently empowering themselves, becoming decision-makers, speaking and acting in their own name so as to control their own destiny and secure the future of society, by guaranteeing the rights of all.

1. "RMT welcomes resounding victory against ticket office closures", RMT, October 31, 2023
2. "Rail ticket office closures at the end of the line", TSSA, October 31, 2023
3. "Plans to close rail ticket offices in England scrapped", BBC News, November 1, 2023


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