London Overground: Fight Privatisation

Submitted by AWL on 4 March, 2007 - 9:12

After its extension is built, the Tube's East London Line will be integrated with the current North London Line and rebranded 'London Overground'. Which would be fine if it was going to be operated by the public sector. However, it won't be.

LO's operation will be franchised out to a private Train Operating Company. It will be a disaster for workers and passengers alike, and the unions must fight it. But how?


We have fought many battles against privatisation, and there are lessons to learn from all of them. While there were good parts of these campaigns, none of them is a perfect model, since they all lost!

Repeatedly losing battles and seeing bits of the railway sold off is demoralising. But don't conclude that sell-off is inevitable and the best we can do is get the least-bad deal for the workers involved. If we learn lessons from past battles, we can win future ones.

Defence of working conditions is an issue on which we can fight the privatisation itself. When the Tories privatised British Rail, the unions had a chance to derail the sell-off by defending the PTR&R (Promotion, Transfer, Resettlement and Redundancy). But the only union to even try to fight - RMT - lost a strike ballot due to ineffective leadership.


We need the maximum possible unity between the unions.
The fight against the Tube’s Public-Private Partnership was strongest when ASLEF and RMT held a joint strike in April 2001.

Now, ASLEF is insisting on separate talks with LUL about East London Line drivers. RMT and TSSA have a joint campaign against the sell-off, but will they remain united when we need industrial action? Or will TSSA live up to its moniker 'Too Scared for Strike Action'?

We also need unity between grades and companies. This is not just the privatisation of a Tube line, but the re-privatisation of a mainline service. The unions must fight it as such, not as an issue just about the Tube.

Division between grades and between unions only benefits the employers and the politicians who are pushing this privatisation.


RMT ran a good public campaign about South East Trains re-privatisation, giving out thousands of leaflets, and is doing the same about 'London Overground'.

The rail unions have a culture of isolation, tending to fight battles alone and so not as effectively as we might. We are part of a wider workers' movement and should mobilise it, sending speakers to branches of other unions and community groups.

For example, Hackney TUC has taken up this issue, securing local press coverage and holding a big public meeting last July. Every local TUC along the route of the two lines should campaign in a similar way.


We should make this a big political issue. Labour Party policy, repeatedly passed by conferences but ignored by the government, is to renationalise the railways. Leadership contender John McDonnell opposes this privatisation, and some Labour MPs, councillors and local Party branches can be persuaded to take this view too.

The unions should stop supporting MPs who support privatisation. ASLEF and TSSA should stop sponsoring Blairite MPs and only support MPs who support our policies. RMT should keep up the good work of the existing Parliamentary group.
We should make this a massive issue in the next GLA election, and if Labour won't stand anti-privatisation candidates then we should consider standing our own.


Leafleting, press coverage and political pressure were not enough to stop the SET sell-off, nor will they be enough to keep LO in public hands. Campaigning needs to go hand-in-hand with an industrial strategy.

Too often, unions run political campaigns only as a substitute for striking. ASLEF, then RMT, settled their Tube PPP dispute in 2001; union leaders told us the fight would continue via campaigning. The result? Two unions which brought London to a standstill in Spring were reduced to waving placards outside a hopeless court case by Summer.

We should take action over every detail, every stumbling point, of the privatisation process. And we should build up to strikes against the sell-off itself. It may be illegal to strike against privatisation, but the law is only as strong as we let it be. In April 2001, thousands of RMT members walked out against PPP, defying a court injunction. The law was powerless to stop us.

More on this issue on:

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.