Bristol Politics, Railways

#TempleMeads #NotForSale – Protest 7th March

In a fresh bout of privatisation the international bankers Citigroup have been brought in to help Network Rail sell 18 railway station that it manages directly – including Bristol Temple Meads.

If stations are sold off for a quick buck, we’ll lose future profits and we’ll lose control over these public spaces.

66% of the UK public want rail in public ownership. Network Rail needs to listen to passengers, not bankers. No more privatisation, no more fragmentation!

Bring Back British Rail and We Own It are organising to stop this latest attempt to privatise public space and sell off another one of our cherished national assets.

We’ll be organising with local activists, unions, and political parties from across the spectrum to halt the sale, and will be launching the campaign with a demonstration, leafleting and petitioning outside Temple Meads on Monday the 7th of March at 9-9:30 am, and 5:30-6:30 pm.

Labour Councillor Mhairi Threlfall who’s supporting the campaign said: “I’ll be there for the evening sessions, have publicised on Twitter and Facebook, and let colleagues friends and family in Edinburough/Glasgow who might want to get involved know.”

Green Mayoral candidate Tony Dyer who’s also on-board says: – “As we seek to rebalance our transport network away from the car towards alternative transport, Temple Meads should be treated as a community asset for the whole city. We need an integrated approach to our public transport; selling off what is probably the single most important element of our transport network to an unknown private owner could seriously undermine efforts to create a more sustainable transport system.”

Contact – Julie Boston campaigns officer for FOSBR at campaigns@fosbr.org.uk, or rail activist Will Quick at whquick@outlook.com

Notes

1. WeOwnIt have started a national petition against the sell off here – http://weownit.org.uk/act-now/stop-bankers-selling-our-stations

2. This local campaign has been launched by the Friends Of Suburban Bristol Railways with support of We Own It, the Bristol Labour Party, the Bristol Green Party, the Bristol RMT and TSSA rail unions and the Bristol People’s Assembly.

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

#ClimateChange and the fight for #ClimateJobs

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The placard I made at the NEON event to call for A Million Climate Jobs in the just transition we need to a sustainable economy.  It lasted about 10 minutes against Sunday’s rain.

This is a talk I prepared for a NEON (the New Economy Organising Network) event to prepare for Bristol Climate March:

Climate change as we know is the most serious long-term challenge facing both our society, and our planet in general.  We are on the verge of reaching the point of no return, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic warming of the planet will be unavoidable, and the habitability of our world serverely undermined.

But as well as a challenge of almost unimaginable horror, climate change is also an opportunity.  As Naomi Klein has recently persuasively argued Climate Change can provide movements for social and environmental justice with a ‘collective lens’, a shared conceptual framework, sense of purpose and set of arguments for moving beyond the extreme Free-Market Capitalism (conventionally labelled NeoLiberalism) that is so impoverishing both our planet and our communities.

For decades the arguments of the alter-globalisation movement – that Free Market fundamentalism was causing spiralling inequality and social stratification – have fallen on death ears.  We now know those exact same policies have greatly exacerbated our excessive consumption of resources and our output of greenhouse gases, endangering life as we know it.

It also presents an opportunity in terms practice solutions it requires.  I don’t want to understand the scale of the problem and the response it needs.  To do our part in preventing catastrophic climate change the few decades we have left to actually do something about it, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-carbon economy.  Tinkering around the edges with carbon trading, taxes and offsetting just won’t cut it.

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The Bristol People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs. 29/11/2015.  3000 attend despite heavy rain.

The amount of carbon already in the atmosphere means that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow we’ve still locked in considerable warming, we have to act now to prevent temperature rises above 2 degrees (which would have extreme consequences across the world).

We need to cut CO2 emissions by around 75-80%.
We can achieve this if we cut our energy usage by half (very achievable with an aggressive program of energy efficiency and home insulation – Britain has the worst insulated homes in Europe, which contribute to an estimated 20,000 death every winter, as well as huge amounts of wasted energy) and supply at least half of that energy from renewable sources.

This will mean the end of many jobs in polluting and fossil fuel dependent industries (an estimated 350,000).  But it will also require millions of new jobs in building new infrastructure, renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and energy efficiency.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, have created a rough blueprint laying out how this might happen.  They estimate that nationally we need to create 1 Million Climate Jobs to do all this work.

The knock on effect of having all these people employed with increased spending power, and the allied industries needed to supply all the construction of this transition will create hundreds of thousands more jobs.  This always happens with new investment.

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Some of the soggy marchers as the rain started to ease off as we looped back round Broadmead, credits BBC.

The total cost of employing 1 million people, and supplying the material and supplies for the new climate industries would be about £50 billion.  However, the extra money received in taxes, and the loss of expenditure on benefits for all those extra jobs would instantly save £18 billion.  Much of this investment will provide long term returns that outstrip the cost of borrowing, (bus and train passengers buy tickets, electric cars and low energy appliances are sold for money, people pay bill for renewable energy, etc).  The Campaign Against Climate Change again estimate this would recoup around another £12 billion of these cost.  Meaning in total it would be £20 billion a year.

It sounds like a lot, but remember at the drop of the hat the government’s found an extra £12 billion for extra defence spending just yesterday.  Also we don’t collect hundreds of billions of pounds in tax avoided and evaded by the wealthiest companies and individuals; we’re wasting 100s of billions on replacing trident; and when the banks crashed the government happily bailed them out to the tune of £850 billion (whilst exposing itself to £1.2 trillion pounds worth of ‘toxic’ debts).

Despite the economic crash and austerity, this is actually an ideal time to invest, as interest rates on government bowing are at a historic low.  Much of the capital could be paid for a Peoples Quantities Easing (like the Quantitive  Easing they used to bail out the banks but this time for the benefit of everyone). Not only will we be saving the planet, but we’ll also get over a million people into secure long term jobs (easing the blight of unemployment) and provide a fiscal stimulus to get the economy going again.
Win, win, win.

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Green MEP Molly Scott addresses the crowd at the rally after the march on the need for climate jobs in a rapid (but just) transition to a carbon neutral economy.

Earlier this year research carried out by the Resilience Centre outlined in greater detail how this transition could play out in the South West.  We are lucky that the South West has an abundance of renewable energy resources, and has the capacity to not only provide all of its own energy needs from a diversified renewable energy system (and go completely fossil fuel free), but also to become an exporter of energy to the rest of the UK.

The report also stresses the economic impact of implementing the plan, which has the potential to create 122,000 jobs in the region (where unemployment numbers 126,000) and directly add over £4.2 billion to value of the local economy (48% the total value of the South West’s tourism industry, or 87% of the total value of its aerospace and defence industries).

A mix of onshore and offshore wind, marine and tidal, solar, geothermal and biomass dispersed across the region can meet all our long term energy needs; and provide full employment and a vital economic boost in these dark times of austerity.
The resilience foundation estimates that this would add an extra £4.3bn per year to the region (representing about 4% total economic growth to the South West economy).

This can be done.  In the last few years in Germany for example their Energiewende (Energy Transition) has seen the country rapidly move to an energy sector driven by renewables. The South West has even greater potential for renewable energy then most of Germany. It is not that we lack the physical capability to implementing this plan; it is just that we lack the political will.  We need political change (and the Green Party locally is increasingly playing an important part in this), but this alone will not be enough.

To get the kind of wholesale change we need, in the timeframe available, is going to require massive mobilisations of people in the streets and in our communities.  Our governments have been keenly aware of this looming disaster since at least the 1980s, they’ve seemingly endlessly negotiated and prevaricated, and all the while the emission have been increasing exponentially.  We need people power, this is far far too important to be left to the politicians and the institutional comprises they’re forced to make.  That’s why Sunday’s march and meetings like this are so vital.  Thank you inviting me here tonight and listening to me.  See you all on Sunday!

Links:
The Power to Transform the South West report can be found here:-  http://mollymep.org.uk/2015/04/17/power-to-transform/

A Million Climate Jobs now here:-
http://www.campaigncc.org/greenjobs

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Me, after the protest finished on Sunday.  None of my placards managed to survive the heavy rain and intense winds (they literally melted and then got ripped to shreds)

 

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Protests

John McDonnell speech causes violence at Student Protest? #GrantsNotDebts

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On Wednesday the 4th of November I got up before 7 on my day off to travel down to London with about 30 others from the University of Bristol to protest the scrapping of maintenance grants, the continued cuts to educations, and demand the abolition of tuition fees.

We got to the beginning rally point just after 12, and mingled with our comrades from across the country and tried to listen to some speeches till the march set off just after half past 1.  Despite occasional outbursts of rain, the protest was good spirited and vibrant.  There were towards 10,000 students and their supporters joining the protest, and although angry over the way this government attacks students and young people in general, over 99% were completely peaceful.

The march was accompanied by a tiny group of about 30 or so ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists.  Periodically throughout the march they let off flares, as is their custom (or so it would seem from the demos I go to). These weren’t much of a nuisance other than to the marchers behind them who had to breath through the smoke.

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Outside the Home Office, guarded by lines of fences and police (far more than this picture indicates)

The march stopped briefly outside the Home Office to chant ‘Say it loud and say it clear, Refugees are welcome here!’ in opposition to the government’s disgraceful treatment of refugees and migrants.  At this point the aforementioned Black Bloc let off some more flares, and threw some paint at the building (and the vast police presence deployed outside to guard it).  After a few minutes the march continued without much incident.

Me from the outside of the kettle

Me from the outside of the kettle

The view from my side of the police 'kettle'

The view from my side of the police ‘kettle’

When we got to the department of Business, Innovation, and Skills, the Black Bloc again decided to attack the government building and the police in front of it (after we had stopped for more inaudible speeches further up the road).  This prompted the police to indiscriminately ‘kettle’ everyone still on the march.  As the line of them ran forward to try and get in front of us and block us in (and not just the marchers but also members of the public, including a nurse I talked to who was trying to get to work), everyone ran to try and get past (no one wants to be stuck in a kettle for hours on end).  Unfortunately I wasn’t quite quick enough (despite my name) and got trapped just after the last person made it out in-front of me.  After half an hour of being stuck like this, people were getting noticeably frustrated (and I was kicking myself for leaving my book on the bus).  All of a sudden some of the hundreds trapped by the police charged their thin line, and broke through at the middle.

Of course everyone who was trapped by the police, surged forward to escape (again, no one wants to get stuck in a police kettle).  Like a torrent of water sweeping through a broken dam we surged forward with no other aim then to escape the police containment.  At this point, no one really knew what was going on, most people around me seemed to think there was meant to be a rally happening at the end of the march (we hadn’t heard or even been aware of the rally further up the road) and once past the police were trying to get to there.  The police gave chase, and the remnants of the march split up as we tried to avoid them, find the rumoured end rally, or just get back to where our coaches were collecting us.

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Predictably the coverage in the press has almost exclusively focused on the frantic scenes outside BIS, and the actions of less than 0.3% of the demonstration.  Almost all of the pictures shown of the demo are of the tiny unrepresentative group of Black Bloc anarchists, their scuffle with the police and the ensuring kerfuffle as the police reacted with disproportionate force (captioned illustratively in the Daily Mail article as ‘Anger’, ‘Chaos’, ‘Out of Hand’ just encase their readers weren’t getting their message).

Me and Green Councillor for Cotham ward Dani, on the march

Me and Dani (Green Councillor for Cotham), on the march

Or as the Daily Mail reported it ‘Students clash with police as tuition fee protest turns violent after rabble-rousing speech by Labour firebrand John McDonnell’ or even more alarmist in the express ‘London under siege’ (‘Rampaging rioters have taken over the city streets’).  This attempt to link John McDonnell’s speech (present in many of the tabloid press’ reports, most explicitly in the Mail) – which called for a peaceful demonstration and for marchers to ‘remain safe’ – with the violence of the Black Bloc is the most galling part of their manipulation.  The main reason being I was only about 50 or so meters away from John McDonnell and couldn’t hear his small megaphone over the crowd.  The anarchists I saw were further behind (no doubt they don’t have much respect for McDonnell or the Labour party so didn’t want to listen), so had no chance of hearing, and came predetermined to have their ‘fight’ with the police – as they do every year – no matter what anyone said.

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

I’ve been going to these student protests since 2010 when we were first betrayed by Clegg and his broken promises (as I attempted to immortalise in the picture above), and I know the Daily Mail and the right wing press will report on these demonstrations negatively, no matter what.  They want to discredit any and all protests and movements for change as they know the power they have to transform society and threaten their entrenched power and privilege and that of those they represent.  But what a gift to the right wing press these Black Bloc members must be.  All the better that McDonnell had been there at the beginning to give a speech urging peace that almost no one could hear, so they can not only discredit protesters and the student movement, but also the Left of the Labour party that they so fear and despise.

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“Education is a Right; Stop the Cuts, join the Fight!”

Had this protest been several times bigger the actions of the tiny Black Bloc would have been far harder to paint as representative of the whole protest.  I respect everyone’s right to join our protests, and I understand the frustrations and feelings that give rise to the actions of the Black Bloc, but by these same actions they’re practically doing the work of the right wing propagandists over at the Mail and other hate filled rags for them.  At the same time they’re helping our enemies to alienate large swathes of the public from the student movement.

A handful of people clad in black pointlessly throwing things at government buildings isn’t really radical, it achieves nothing.  What would be radical is if we had hundreds of thousands of people protesting and blockading the roads outside those government buildings, or even occupying them.  That would get us results.  But the ‘tactics’ of the Black Bloc is actually acting as an obstacle to that happening, and holding our movement back.  Hopefully an obstacle we can overcome.

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#Bristol #KillTheBill – #NHS #Right2Strike Speech

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Tonight in Bristol we had a very inspiring rally against the Trade Union bill with some rousing speeches from people across the movement.  I’d been asked to speak and had prepared a short piece on our NHS strike last year, but in the end there wasn’t time so I thought I’d put it on here so it didn’t go to waste.

My friends I wanted to speak tonight about the strike we had in the NHS over pay last winter, and how this draconian anti-democratic Trade Union bill would have effected it and me and my fellow NHS workers.

The NHS and its staff have taken a hammering since the Conservatives first got in with their Lib Dem enablers back in 2010.  Putting aside the backdoor privatisation and the continual outsourcing of staff and services – which is undermining the very foundation of the NHS and is a huge drain on resources – times for NHS workers are bleak.

Between 2010-214 we lost around 35,000 NHS staff (including around 7000 front-line nurses).  At the same time hospital usage is continually going up, by 10% between the winter of 2013 and 2014 alone.  This is because cuts to social care and care in the community are forcing into hospitals more and more people who would have been kept well at home.  Less and less staff are being asked to do more and more work.  All the while our pensions have been attacked (we now pay in more each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) and we haven’t had an above inflation pay rise since the reckless gambling of the banks crashed the economy back in 2008, reducing real incomes by up to 10%.

Even with all this, it wasn’t until last winter that enough was enough and our unions felt able to go on strike after the government refused to give us a 1% pay rise (whilst MPs gave themselves an 11% raise).  NHS workers are not militant by nature.  This was the first national NHS strike since 1982. None of us got into this line of work to get rich (over 77,000 of us didn’t even get the living wage before the strike – me included – and many staff have had to resort to food banks to survive), but to care for people.  This duty of care makes staff feel uneasy taking action, and is why unlike most strikes we try to cause as least disruption as possible to essential services.

As a result of our action the government came back to the negotiating table with a new offer.  It wasn’t perfect (excluding staff at the top of the pay scale from the pay rise), but it did give a 1% rise to most staff, and staff on the bottom of the pay scale like me received a raise of up to 5%. A 5% raise hasn’t been revolutionary in my life, but it has had a significant impact on helping me cope with the continual spiralling cost of the basic necessities of life.  This is one of the many reasons we need unions.  They’re our voice at work and stand up for our interests across society.

If this bill had been in place our strike simply could not have happened. The new law puts a 50% minimum turnout threshold on all strike ballots.  But because the NHS is an ‘essential’ public service a minimum of 40% of all members of the union must vote yes for the strike to go ahead.  On a 50% turnout that would mean you’d need 80% of staff to vote yes.  Almost impossible in an industry with over 1 million staff in vastly geographically dispersed workplaces.

Even if we did manage to strike, the new law would have allowed hospitals to replace us with agency staff, making action pointless (and possibly endangering lives of patients).  This isn’t even the most ridiculous part of the bill, which would make picketers wear armbands (or face a £20,000 fine) and force unions to inform police of all strike related communications (including facebook and twitter) two weeks in advance (not to mention attacks on facility time, and the financial basis of unions).

This is a full on assault on our ability to organise to defend our interests at work and resist the Conservative austerity drive that is so impoverishing both our communities and our planet.  It is a travesty, a partisan attack motivated only by the desire to clampdown on resistance to the Conservative attacks on ordinary people and our welfare state.

We have to unite to resist the passage of this bill, and should it become law, work together to defeat it.  If this bill becomes law, we need to be prepared to break that law to defend our interests, and we need the whole movement to rally behind any union that does so.  Only together can we overcome.  Thank you for listening to me, and thank you all for coming out to support this demonstration this evening. You all give me hope that this isn’t over, and together we can win.  Solidarity!

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

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Green Politics

Why we must oppose austerity and join the Manchester protest – A Green Perspective

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We all know that austerity is a ‘social justice’ disaster. This morally reprehensible policy is forcing ordinary people – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable – to pay for the economic crash caused by the reckless speculating of unaccountable banks in deregulated financial markets. In its most extreme the cuts to disability benefits, the NHS and a vindictive regime of benefit sanctioning have led to thousands of deaths. Austerity kills.

On top of this, the economic justification for inflicting all this misery has been completely discredited with most economists agreeing that by shrinking the economy austerity has harmed growth, prolonged the effects of the recession (even the IMF is issuing proclamations against it) and utterly failed as an apparent strategy to reduce national debt. Austerity is revealed to be not an economic necessity but a repackaged conservative ideology to undermine the welfare state. The financial crash is being used as a smokescreen to implement the same brand of neoliberal policies (cuts to public spending, privatisation and de-regulation) that led to it in the first place.

All this is grounds enough for why austerity is wrong and why we must fight against it, and large protests like the 250,000-strong June 20th Demo in London and the ones in Manchester in October this year (co-organised by the TUC and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, to coincide with the Tory Party Conference) are crucial in building this struggle against a great social injustice. Nonetheless, within these debates and protest movements we must be sure to argue that austerity is also a huge obstruction to the aims of environmental justice and directly threatens attempts to mitigate climate change.

For one, if Britain is to transition to a sustainable carbon neutral economy it is going to need massive investment in infrastructure, housing and renewable energy. As well as stopping us from destroying the environment and the habitability of our planet, this could both provide jobs for millions of people and the fiscal stimulus needed to get the economy going again. But austerity takes us in completely the opposite direction. As long as we have a Conservative government pursing ideological austerity, determined to reduce state spending at any cost (whilst shamelessly cutting taxes for the rich and large corporations), arguments for investment will always fall on deaf ears.

Cutting ‘Green’

Each year in the UK 25,000 people die from the cold, and at least a third of these deaths are due to living in cold homes. This is because the UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, with expensive energy bills putting millions in fuel poverty. Under the coalition, home insulation was a disaster, with loans for insulation (the so called Green Deal) taken up by so few that new cavity wall insulations fell in 2013 to a quarter of previous levels. Under our new majority Conservative government the home insulation budget has been cut by another £40 million in the first round of departmental cost-cutting and the Green Deal loans completely scrapped (along with a decade-in-the-making plan to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2016). And it’s the same across the board.

Under Austerity the government is not only completely unwilling to embark on the investments our communities and our planet so badly needs, but is actually cutting what few vital green initiatives we already have. As well as backtracking on its home energy-efficiency and insulation programme, it is slashing the subsidies for biomass, aerobic digestion and biogas, as well as solar, onshore wind and even tidal power. So far the only renewable energy source that isn’t being cut is offshore wind (much more expensive than its onshore counterpart), and even its future seems uncertain.

The Green investment bank, which has increasingly played a pivotal role in providing start-up capital to the environmental industry (and one of the Coalition’s few positive achievements) is being privatised in the largest ever sale of state assets. Green taxes like fuel duty are being cut. Even the incentives to buy less polluting cars (through differential rates of Vehicle Excise Duty) are being scrapped from 2017. However, the cuts to the Environment Agency and flood defence programs have caused the most headlines after they spectacularly highlighted the – contradictory – long term costs of austerity, by contributing to the massive flooding that hit southern England (especially the Somerset levels) over the winter of 2013-14.
The ‘dirty’ economy rolls on…

What’s more, whilst environmental programs and renewable energy are being cut left right and centre, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry continue unabated (this is primarily in the form of tax breaks for oil companies and government funding for exploratory oil drilling), amounting to several billion pounds a year. As fossil fuel reserves decline (unfortunately not fast enough to stop us destroying the planet as more than two-thirds of current reserves need to be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming), the government experiments with riskier unconventional extraction methods, from offshore deep water resources, to the now infamous ‘fracking’. Everywhere we look the short-termism inherent in austerity is taking us the wrong way in the fight against climate change.

Outside of the arena of state action, by reducing people’s incomes as the cost of living increases, austerity is further encouraging environmentally harmful consumption. Austerity has seen the longest and sharpest decline in living standards in the UK since Victorian times, driving the demand for (among other things) cheaper food – which can currently only be provided through ecologically harmful processes. Food production is a major source of carbon emissions and ecological damage, but as our current economic system privileges ecologically damaging production norms – making the green choice the more expensive choice – people have no option but to take what they can get in the age of austerity. When people are struggling to put food on the table, they’re less inclined to worry about the environmental impact of that food or of green issues in general.

Join the movement!

For all these reasons and more austerity is an environmental disaster. If we want to make sure the UK does its part in ensuring we don’t warm the planet by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century (the internationally-agreed target we’re all very close to making impossible), then austerity has to end. We already know we owe it to the most vulnerable in our society and our wider communities in general, but now we also owe it to our planet to end austerity now. Anyone who cares about climate change has a duty to join the movement against austerity (The Green Party is an official affiliate and supporter of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity) and take to the streets to protest these policies that are having such a disastrous effect on both our society and our environment.

That’s why I hope you’ll join us on the streets of Manchester for the huge march on Sunday 4th October, and in the public spaces, faith centres and community halls for the ‘festival of resistance’ Mon 5th – Wed 7th (encompassing everything from workers’ rights, to welfare, to TTIP, to climate), where we can create the broadest possible demonstration of defiance to this government and a huge public debate about austerity that the Tories don’t want to have!

Transport details for #TakeBackManchester: http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/transport_to_manchester http://bristoltoryconfdemo.eventbrite.co.uk/

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Railways

Bristol Action For Rail – Join us for a Publicly Owned and run railway!

Fare-rise protest at Bristol Temple Meads railway stationOn Monday the 5th of January with about 30 others from The People’s Assembly, The Campaign Against Climate Change, the rail unions and The Bristol Green Party (who supplied the majority of the activists) we took to Temple Meads train station to protest yet another year of fare rises outstripping wages; and the whole iniquitous privatised system.  The clock had just struck 5pm and a great mass of people were rushing to get home from work.  At the pedestrian side entrance I was manning we were met by a solid and continuous stream of people; a great river of human beings rushing along their course.  We placed ourselves strategically to interrupt their flow.  After a long day’s work, as the light faded and the January cold set in you would think most people would be in too much of a hurry to pay much attention to a group of activists banging on about the relative strengths and weaknesses of different models of rail ownership – another obstacle between them and their home.  However, such is the strength of feeling against the current state of affairs on our railways that we were very well received.  We actually ran out of leaflets after an hour and a half – giving out around a thousand.  Only one person verbally refused me, explaining that she was ‘a conservative’.  Quite a few people even stopped to have fairly lengthy and engaging conversation with us – before rushing off for their train, or house.  Almost everyone seemed to regard us and our interruption of their commute positively.

According to recent polling by Yougov over 2/3rds of people support Public Ownership of the railways; including a majority of conservative voters.  It’s easy to see why.  In 1993 when making the case for privatising the railways then transport secretary John MacGregor told the House of commons that it would not only shift the cost of the railways from the taxpayer onto the user but would do so whilst not increasing fares, and that “in many cases, they will be more flexible and will be reduced” as the magic of private competition increased efficiency and drove down cost.  The reality (as it usually is) is far removed from this rose tinted neoliberal fantasy.  Since 1994 subsidies to the rail industry have more than doubled, whilst fares have risen far more than inflation.  Far from shifting the cost form the taxpayer to the user, privatisation has greatly increased the cost to both groups whilst allowing unaccountable shareholders and boards of directors (usually on six figure salaries) to line their pockets at the expense of everyone else.  First Great Western took to twitter to attempt to refute my claims that their overcrowded and overpriced trains were the perfect advertisement for why we need Public Ownership.  They repeated this tired argument that fares were rising as a result of shifting the cost to the user.  When I pointed out that this simply wasn’t the case they had no argument to reply with

FGWWe have some of the highest fares in Europe; for the least reliable service.  The only positive achievement the advocates of private ownership can point too is an increase in passenger numbers over the last 20 years.  It’s hard to see how the fact that the railways were now owned privately instead of by the state would be likely to influence the average person into using them and directly lead to this increase in passenger numbers as the advocates of privatisation claim.  Structural changes to our society have fueled this change – chiefly the spiraling cost of rent and general inner city living which has priced many out of homes close to work and forced them to rely on trains.  If the trains were still publicly owned during this period but the same structural changes to employment and accommodation patterns had occurred we would have seen the exact same increase in passenger numbers, possibly more so as Public Ownership can deliver fairer fares.  Research by Transport for Quality of Life has shown that if the railways were Publicly Owned we could have the same service as we have today but by eliminating the wastages and inequities produced by a fragmented privately owned system we could have it for £1.2 billion less.  That would be enough to cut fares by around 20%.

Even if you do believe that competition between private companies automatically increases efficiency and drives down cost (which I’m personally extremely skeptical of) you have to recognise that this is not applicable to rail travel.  Different providers can compete for franchises, but once established they’re the only ones operating trains along that line.  It’s not as if I have a choice of services between Bristol and London.  I can only ‘choose’ First Great Western or to not get a train.  This is why they’re described as natural monopolies.

The choice is clear.  If you want a wasteful, inefficient rail system that enriches the few at the expense of the majority then do nothing, and stick with the status qou.  But if you want a fairer service that puts the people who use it above shareholder profit then you have to join the campaign for Public Ownership.  Caroline Lucas has a rail renationalisation Bill currently going through Parliament.  Its second reading is on February the 27th.  Do everything you can to pressure your MP (your supposed representative) to attend Parliament that day and support it.  Unfortunately as none of the mainstream parties support Public Ownership (despite the wishes of their voters) it seems unlikely that the bill will become law.  That is why we need to mobilise behind campaigns like Action for Rail to show the strength of support for these measure, and come May, why we need to vote for MP’s and parties that support Public Ownership.

To raise awareness of and support for Public Ownership we will be protesting and leafleting at Temple Meads station on the first Monday of every month at 5-7pm for the foreseeable future.  Join us and demand the alternative to rip off fares and a failed, wasteful, and iniquitous privatised system.

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