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Socialize the Railways!

By Tom Wetzel - East Bay Syndicalists, November 13, 2023

The downward slide of the major (Class 1) American freight railroads in recent years shows how capitalist ownership of the railway system is dangerous and inefficient — and fails to make use of the potential of the railways as a solution to the global warming crisis.

Downward slide has been accelerated over the past decade due to the adoption of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR). This has no precise definition but the aim is to reduce costs. As in “lean production” management theory, any expense not directly needed for profit is regarded as “waste.” PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that puts short-term profits for stockholders as the controlling priority. To maximize the rate of return, the railroads cut corners on maintenance, constantly work to reduce the number of railroad employees, and actively discourage shipments that are less profitable for them to haul. To keep Wall Street investors happy, they work to maximize short term profit. To enrich stockholders, the rail companies have poured billions of dollars into stock buybacks rather than invest in system improvements.

Rail Privatisation: 30 years of waste and rising fares

By staff - National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), November 5, 2023

As Britain ‘celebrates’ 30 years of rail privatisation, RMT reveals that the three-decade debacle has seen at least £31 billion leak out of the system, mostly into shareholders pockets, while passengers are paying 8% more in real terms to travel on a deteriorating system.

  • Renationalising the railway and creating a single, integrated publicly owned railway company would save around £1.5 billion every year which could be used to cut fares by 18%, helping to encourage more people back onto Britain’s railways.
  • At least £1.5 billion and very likely more leaks out of Britain’s railways every year in the form of profits extracted by train operating companies, rolling stock leasing companies, subcontractors and other costs that arise the fragmentation of the railways.1 Throughout privatisation, the annual outflow of funds would have enabled, on average, a cut of 14% in fares (Table 1.)
  • If the railways were nationalised now and the flow of funds into the private sector was cut off, the money saved would fund a cut of 18% in fares.
  • The cost of travelling by rail is now almost 8% higher in real terms than it was in 1995, before privatisation. This figure has dropped in the last two years only as inflation as risen above 13%. Until the cost-of-living crisis, when fare increases were decoupled from RPI inflation, fares were consistently 15-20% higher in real terms than before privatisation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Transportation Webinar: Where is This Train Going? Freight Rail in the Public Interest

Building alliances between Labour and the Climate Justice movements

Storytelling on the Road to Socialism: Episode 10: A Trackman Speaks

The Green New Deal in the Cities, Part 1: Boston

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 16, 2023

While the Green New Deal started as a proposed national program, some of the most impressive implementations of its principles and policies are occurring at a municipal level. Part 1 of “The Green New Deal in the Cities” provides an extended account of the Boston Green New Deal, perhaps the most comprehensive effort so far to apply Green New Deal principles in a major city. Part 2 presents Green New Deal-style programs developing in Los Angeles and Seattle, and reviews the programs and policies being adapted in cities around the country to use climate protection as a vehicle for creating jobs and challenging injustice.

Urban politics often seem to produce not so much benefit for the people as inequality, exclusion, and private gain for the wealthiest. Does it have to be that way? In cities throughout the US, new political formations, often under the banner of the Green New Deal, are creating a new form of urban politics. They pursue the Green New Deal’s core objectives of fighting climate change in ways that produce good jobs and increase equality. They are based on coalitions of impoverished urban neighborhoods, disempowered racial and ethnic groups, organized labor, and advocates for climate and the environment. They involved widespread democratic mobilization. A case in point is the Boston Green New Deal.

Daniel Randall RMT at the XRTU Hub, The Big One

Building a Democratic Energy Future: Lithium Extractivism and North-South Inequalities

The “Electrify Everything” Movement’s Consumption Problem

By Amy Westervelt - The Intercept, May 8, 2023

In 2019, Thea Riofrancos was splitting her time between researching the social and environmental impacts of lithium mining in Chile and organizing for a rapid energy transition away from fossil fuels in the United States. A political science professor at Providence College and member of the Climate and Community Project, Riofrancos was struck by the contrast: Lithium is essential to the batteries that make electric vehicles and renewable energy work, but mining inflicts its own environmental damage. “Here I am in Chile, in the Atacama Desert, seeing these mining-related harms, and then there I go in the U.S. advocating for a rapid transition. How do I align these two goals?” Riofrancos said. “And is there a way to have a less extractive energy transition?”

When she went looking for research that would help answer that question, she found none, at least not for the transportation sector, which was her area of focus. “I saw forecast after forecast that assumed basically a binary of the future,” she said. “Either we stay with the fossil fuel status quo and the existential crisis that that is causing for the planet and all of its people. Or we transition to an electrified, renewably powered future, but that doesn’t really change anything about how these sectors or economic activities are organized.”

Riofrancos wanted to look at multiple ways to design an electrified future and understand what the costs and impacts of different scenarios might be. So she linked up with other Climate and Community Project researchers and put together a report mapping out four potential pathways to electrification for the transportation sector. Titled “Achieving Zero Emissions With More Mobility and Less Mining,” the report concluded that even relatively small, easy-to-achieve shifts like reducing the size of cars and their batteries could deliver big returns: a 42 percent reduction in the amount of lithium needed in the U.S., even if the number of cars on the road and the frequency with which people drive stayed the same.

It’s the sort of thing politicians and electrification advocates need to think through now, when decisions can be made to guide the energy transition in one direction or another. It’s also critical to an underdiscussed component of climate action: demand for products and services and the role energy plays in fulfilling those demands. Which connects right up to another topic that American politicians don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole: consumption.

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