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After East Palestine, Will Cincinnati Voters Stop Norfolk Southern From Buying Their City's Railway?

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, November 2, 2023

Web Editor's Note: unfortunately, they didn't.

"The citizens of Cincinnati are at a historical crossroads," wrote one locomotive engineer of Issue 22. "The choice they make could either uphold a legacy of public ownership that has withstood the test of time or cede control to private interests."

Cincinnati voters will decide next Tuesday whether to allow the company responsible for the toxic train crash in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this year to purchase the last remaining municipally owned interstate railroad in the United States.

Norfolk Southern has been working to buy the Cincinnati Southern Railway (CSR) for years, but the effort largely flew under the national radar until one of the company's trains derailed in East Palestine in February 2023, unleashing chemical pollution that sparked major public health concerns and put the small Ohio town in the spotlight.

The wreck brought renewed scrutiny to Norfolk Southern's lax safety procedures, poor treatment of workers, and long history of lobbying against basic regulatory measures, making the hugely profitable corporation a poster child of rail industry greed and dysfunction.

Concerns about Norfolk Southern's practices in the wake of the East Palestine disaster have fueled opposition to the company's proposed $1.6 billion purchase of the CSR, which has been in public hands since its construction in the late 1800s.

The unelected Cincinnati board of trustees that manages the 338-mile CSR and the city's Democratic mayor announced and celebrated the proposed sale last November, setting the stage for the November 7 vote on Issue 22.

Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center organizer Magda Orlander toldIn These Times on Wednesday that public opposition to the proposed sale has been "snowballing" since early voting began in early October. The grassroots group Derail the Sale has formed in opposition to Issue 22 and a number of local organizations, including the Cincinnati NAACP and Neighborhoods United Cincinnati, have joined the fight.

Why isn't the Green Energy Transition happening Faster?

UC's War On People's Park, The Defense & Destruction Of People's Park With Harvey Smith

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).

National Climate Change and Biodiversity Service: A PCS workers’ plan for an alternative civil service

By staff - Public and Commercial Services Union, October 25, 2023

The UK civil and public services have been under a decades old drive to reform in the name of efficiency savings and cost cutting. This is from both Labour and Tory administrations, and the ConDem coalition.

The reality of this for workers has been a relentless attack on their pay, jobs, terms and conditions. With increasing privatisation of public services and outsourcing, it has weakened the services they deliver and led to an ideological rolling back of the welfare state.

Today we have multiple crises facing us from the costs of living and energy crises, to public health and climate change. The twin impacts of Brexit and Covid-19 revealed two important things that were not surpising to those working in the UK civil and public services at least.

In the case of Brexit, the extent of which the hollowing out of expertise and experience showed that major transformations to our economy cannot be done on the cheap without both financial and human resources. In terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, the extraordinary commitment and adaptability of civil and public service workers illustrating just how vital they are to the economic, political, and social well-being of the nation.

Covid-19 gave a glimpse of what could be possible when the vital role of the civil and public services was briefly recognised. It also showed how the state can be transformative, act with urgency, and coordinate resources for the public good. Key civil service departments had to rapidly adapt for example in delivering the Coronavirus Job Retention or furlough scheme and benefit changes. Factory production lines, in consultation with unions, were quickly repurposed to produce ventilators or PPE equipment.

Now there is also the increasingly pressing challenge to respond to of climate change and biodiversity loss. Unfortunately we have politicians so hostile to public and democratic institutions, that it promotes inefficiency and profit making at the expense of organising the civil and public services in a way that can lead on the rapid and far reaching action that we need to address the climate crisis.

This is why we urgently need to develop an alternative vision and call for a radical rethink about how the machinery of government is configured to achieve our climate change and biodiversity targets. At the heart of this is the proposal for a National Climate Change and Biodiversity Service which for the rest of this pamphlet we will refer to simply as the National Climate Service (NCS).

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Resisting Green Capital

(Working Paper #16) Beyond Recovery: The Global Green New Deal and Public Ownership of Energy

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, August 31, 2023

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, calls for a GGND and a commitment to GPGs intensified. In July 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared, “The global political and economic system is not delivering on critical global public goods: public health, climate action, sustainable development, peace…we need a New Global Deal to ensure that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly at the international level.” 

Authored by TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney, the paper argues that a GGND of the left must distinguish itself from green “recovery economics.” Many North-based progressives are comfortable talking about the need for “more public investment,” and the need for “ambitious climate action” but many continue to be vague or agnostic on questions of public ownership and control. 

The paper argues that an undiscerning approach to public investment weakens the case for a GGND. It shows how the current emphasis on “de-risking” private investment means that public money is used to make profitable what would not otherwise be profitable. Obama’s stimulus package of 2008, to the more recent Green Deal for Europe, and the Biden Administration’s Inflation Recovery Act that commits $369 billion of public spending to secure long-term revenue streams and profits for mostly private investors and developers. The more recent “Just Energy Transition Partnerships” and the emphasis on “blended finance” are an extension of this approach. 

Taking a deep dive into the roots of neoliberal climate policy, Beyond Recovery shows how a “recovery” narrative has helped both conceal and perpetuate the failures of the current investor-focused approach to energy transition and climate protection. For more than three decades, this approach has shown itself to be ineffective in terms of reducing economy-wide emissions. Sweeney describes the policy as a resilient failure, the extent of which is not always fully grasped. 

Energy: The Means of Production

The paper argues that a left GGND must view public investment as a means to extend public ownership, with energy systems and critical supply chains being a priority target. 

Public ownership of energy gives governments the power to pivot away from the highly commodified “energy for profit” regime. More than any single policy option, control over energy will ensure that governments are better positioned to advance an economy-wide energy transition in ways that can control and then reduce emissions while also addressing joblessness, inequality, and other social problems. It can set the stage for the kind of sweeping interventions in the political economy that are needed to address climate change, confront the political power of fossil fuel interests, and intercept the dynamics of “endless growth” capitalism. 

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Government's poor response on decarbonisation

By staff - ASLEF, June 20, 2023

In March, Parliament's Transport Select Committee produced a report of their recent inquiry Fuelling the Future, which was looking at ways to decarbonise transport.

The committee took evidence from stakeholders across the industry, including ASLEF (click here to read our submission), asking about the viability of future fuels from electrification to batteries and hydrogen.

The report found that the only realistic way to decarbonise the railway is to electrify as much as possible of the network. While there is the potential for hydrogen and batteries to fill gaps, electrification remains the only way to power heavy freight and high-speed passenger services. 

This is not the first report that has come to the conclusion that rail electrification is essential for decarbonising the railway.

ASLEF has repeatedly called for the full electrification of the railway, through a rolling programme which would allow supply chains and project teams to be continually employed and therefore save money and retain institutional knowledge.

After publishing the final report of the inquiry the committee received a response from the UK government. Unfortunately the government did not commit to moving forward with some of the most important recommendations.

There was, for example, no full commitment to rail electrification, let alone a plan to do this. In addition the government stated that it would be running diesel trains on the new 'East-West Rail' line between Oxford and Cambridge. This is a new line which should obviously have been electrified from the beginning.

The Conservative MP who chairs the committee, Iain Stewart, commented:

“My colleagues also urged government to stay committed to electrifying railway lines, or introducing alternative low-carbon motive power where full electrification is not viable, so that we can look forward to the day that vast swathes of the country are free of diesel-guzzling trains. We want to see a long-term strategy with costings, milestones and a credible delivery plan. The Government’s response indicates there is still some way to go before they will be ready to put pen to paper on a detailed plan."

This indictment of the government's inaction from a member of their own party is in line with what ASLEF has been saying for many years. This is a government without a plan, without a strategy, and without the ability to deliver.

Building alliances between Labour and the Climate Justice movements

Reclaiming Our Energy

By Mary Church, Craig Dalzell, Roz Foyer, Sean Sweeney, Mika Minio-Paluello, et. al. - Just Transition Partnership, March 8, 2023

An online conference organised by the Just Transition Partnership to set out why public ownership of energy production and infrastructure is an essential part of any plans to hit climate change targets.

This event featured experts on how the privatised energy system is giving us fuel poverty, soaring energy prices and profits; and failing to deliver a Just Transition as well as reviewing the publicly-owned solutions in key sectors, from local to national levels.

Introduction: Mary Church - Reclaiming our Energy introduction

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