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International Socialism, Spring 1961


Notes of the Quarter

Tory Transport


From International Socialism (1st series), No.4, Spring 1961, pp.2-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As could be expected, the Tories’ White Paper on the Reorganization of the Nationalised Undertakings bears the imprint of the businessmen’s committee (chaired by Lord Stedeford of Tube Investments) which inspired it. Many of its provisions have been taken up and challenged by the socialist press. This is true of its threat to lop off more uneconomic services’; and to reorganize the more profitable activities and assets (hotels, travel agencies, real estate) in order, ultimately, to transfer them to private capital as was done with road transport (how else are we to understand the promise to relax ‘the present statutory restrictions on the development of property’?). It is true, too, of its general approach which simply ignores the need for an integrated, unified transport system covering road, rail, sea and air.

But some of the threats implicit in the White Paper have escaped comment. ‘Work study’, we are told, ‘should be extended far beyond the six percent of railway staff so far covered’. Not that management has waited for ‘scientific’ recommendations. Speed up has already started; permanent way staff is being rapidly run down to two-thirds of its strength of a few months ago, the only brake on even greater speed in this field being the shortage of time-and-motion study men. Experiments are being conducted with a view to massive cuts in station stuff. If the White Paper is to have any meaning at all in practice more can be expected in this line.

Another implication of the proposed decentralization is its provision for centralizing wage negotiations (para 14). The proposal is obscure at best and will need legislation to bring into the open. This much can be said, however, Transport workers have benefited from the duplication of employers’ negotiating bodies whose approach was, at best, faultily coordinated. This has offset, to a small extent the workers’ tragic fragmentation amongst the many unions. More important, in a number of cases, there is at present a significant degree of rank-and-file control over wage negotiations. London bus workers – the most advanced in this, direction – are represented at the London Transport Executive bargaining counter by a thirteen-man committee, all of whose members are elected by popular vote to the bodies – Central Bus Committee, Country Services Committee, etc – which delegate them for this bargaining function. There are many lay bodies on the railways empowered to conduct local negotiations on bonus and suchlike issues. If more centralized bargaining is to ensue all this will tend to come to an end: ‘leapfrogging’ will be hindered by the greater coordination of wage policy on the part of management, and rank-and-file militancy will be curbed by placing all bargaining counters more firmly on the exclusive table used for that purpose by union top brass and the Tories’ transport managers.

It is here that transport workers face the greatest danger. Their union leaders are reported to oppose most vehemently any attempt at ‘regionalizing’ pay rates. And quite rightly: once the principle of the ‘rate for the revenue you earn’ replaces that of ‘the rate for the job’, little will be left of the trade union movement. But their defence of centralized bargaining is two-edged with one edge swinging in the direction of their rank-and-file goads and censors, threatening to cut them off from direct control over wage bargaining. If then, the Tory hint at greater centralization in this matter is to be implemented, and ‘regionalization’ to exclude wage rates as the unions wish, the Government will have no reason to fear official opposition. This is not the first time that reorganization of an industry will have brought bosses and union bosses closer together, nor the first time rank-and-file bodies will have to contend with both.

The ultimate argument of the White Papers centres on the need for efficiency. It is this which determines cuts in services, speedup and, ultimately, sackings. However, it is precisely this which cannot be achieved by such methods. How can a means of transport be efficient in isolation without reference to others and to a national transport plan? And how can it be efficient at the expense of the people who are supposed to operate it? It takes a prisoner of the ‘laissez-faire’ ideology to see their way clear through such contradictions. Unfortunately, our labour leaders are just that. Instead of fighting the Tory proposals with a campaign for workers’ control of a fully nationalized and integrated transport system, and for a new deal for transport workers, they are paralysed in anxious anticipation of the jobs handout for the new Boards.

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