Thursday, 19 May 2016


Thursday 19th May 2016 will become what has been all too rare in the calendar in recent years - a day when organised trade unionists fought and won an outright victory.
After nearly two-and-a-half years of uncertainty and threatened privatization, the Scottish government has awarded the 8-year contract for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services to the public sector CalMac.
This is a victory for united, militant and determined action by the unions - in particular the RMT - without which the shareholders of private sector bidder Serco would have been rubbing their hands in glee, drooling at the prospect of guaranteed profits from this lifeline service.

A purely commercial decision? Aye, right!
The SNP government might try to palm us off with claims that their award to CalMac is purely a commercial decision. Aye, right!
The clutch of Labour MSPs who joined us - as they charged eagerly towards the cameras - at the celebration organised by the RMT outside parliament today, might try to claim it a success for Labour's stance on the issue. Aye right, again!
The original decision to put the west coast ferries out to tender happened in 2006 - when the Labour/LibDem coalition ruled at Holyrood. They peddled the same excuses that their SNP successors have repeated for the past two years: that EU regulations forced them to do so. That has been proven to be nonsense, under EU clauses and legal rulings that allow continued public ownership for social and economic reasons, with no obligation to conduct competive tendering - the Teckel Exemption.

In denial about privatization
For at least the past 12 months the SNP, including Nicola Sturgeon, have denied that an award to Serco would be privatization. They poured out press releases claiming that if the contract went to Serco it "would remain a public service".
Serco is in business to make profit, end of story. In this instance, as the ferry routes don't make a profit, economists have shown it would rely on government subsidies of £110m to £120m for each of the next 8 years. Tha would be a £1billion handout from taxpayers to the profit margins of a company that has been investigated by to the Fraud Squad over their prison tagging contract; made catastrophic errors leading to withdrawal from all clinical health contracts; lost the Woolwich Ferry contract in 2012 after being found guilty and fined for causing the death of a teenage deckhand through lack of health and safety; and who have cut terms and conditions for ferry workers on the northern isles service.
The SNP awarded Serco the Northlink ferries contract in 2012. Was that not privatization? And it took strike action by the RMT to halt assaults by Serco on members' conditions in Serco Northlink.

It took strikes to keep it public
On the current case of the Clyde and Hebrides ferries, it took a series of RMT strikes a year ago against threats to jobs, wages and pensions rights to make the SNP government waken up to the consequences of going ahead with privatization. They still publicly denied it would be actual privatization, and still refused to announce the outcome of the tendering process prior to the recent Scottish elections - despite demands for this by the RMT and their allies, including the SSP - thereby disenfranchising the Scottish people on this vital decision.

It was the relentless public campaigning by the RMT and their supporters which won this victory for public ownership, public service provision and workers' conditions. It was the strikes; lobbies of parliament; RMT-commissioned documentary research on the economic and social advantages of public ownership; the silent protest by RMT delegates with their luminous yellow T-shirts demanding 'Keep CalMac public - and carry on', when Nicola Sturgeon addressed the recent STUC congress; the vigorous street campaigning with postcards to MSPs... all these actions and more by the RMT and their allies have forced the Scottish government into this welcome decision.
To do otherwise would have meant the SNP relying on the new batch of Tory MSPs to force through privatization - because after doing the very same thing themselves in 2006, Labour decided it was politically opportune to recently oppose the SNP's potential privatization.

Keep on fighting - after the celebrations!
As Dan, one of the RMT leaders, said to me at the celebratory protest today, "Make no mistake, this is a victory for the solidarity of workers and our supporters, like yourselves. Without that Serco shareholders would today be celebrating. We should celebrate this victory today, and then move on to the next big battles, which includes the process for the 2018 Northlink ferries contract."
The SSP can honestly join in on the RMT's celebrations, having made at least a modest contribution, giving public platforms and publicity to the RMT's case when the other parties ignored them, and joined in their protests on the streets, on their picket lines, and in their postcards campaign aimed at MSPs - especially through the Ayrshire SSP branch.
We will do the same in the looming battle to stop driver only trains being imposed, whilst persevering with our common cause of democratic public ownership of all forms of transport.

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