By Janine Booth, President, Hackney Trade Union Council, RMT London Underground
London Underground plans to hand over the East London Line to a private Train Operating Company. Even though railway privatisation is one of the least popular policies ever, it is to be inflicted on us again - unless we fight to stop it.
The line currently runs from New Cross to Shoreditch, but for years there has been a plan to extend it both northwards through Hackney and southwards to Croydon. That plan has been repeatedly held up. First it took a back seat to the Jubilee Line Extension, because projects linking business areas are given higher priority than projects linking working-class residential areas. Then there was a series of legal challenges over planning.
Now those obstacles are passed, LUL has put the latest spanner in the works. It plans to close the line in 2006 and re-open it - extended - in 2008, as the East London Line Train Operating Company.
The excuse is that the Strategic Rail Authority apparently has 'no money', and so cannot build the extensions without privatising the whole line. Of course, the SRA would have enough money if the government would give it, and the government could give it if it would only tax the mega-rich and big business.
LUL's privatisation plan is nothing short of a betrayal of the communities who use the line and who are crying out for the extensions. Hackney, for example, is the only London Borough north of the river without a Tube station. Local people are desperate to see the Tube come to Hackney.
The Tube, that is, not another mainline rail line. We already have several of them. Mainline services generally start later and finish earlier than Tube services. They are less frequent, and - as long-suffering Silverlink passengers will testify - less reliable. Even though the Tube's safety regime is fast deteriorating under PPP, people have even less confidence in safety on the private, overground rail system. And then there are the tickets: more expensive, and not integrated into the Underground's fare structure.
Privatisation will be a nightmare for Tube workers too. Those who currently work on the line will be given the "choice" of transferring to somewhere else on the Underground, or transferring to a new employer. The new jobs that the extensions will create will be low-paid ticket clerks and security guards rather than better-paid, more secure jobs with London Underground.
Mayor Ken, now in charge of all London's transport, has not said a word against the sell-off. Maybe his rekindled love-in with Tony Blair will see him drop support for public railways.
It will be up to us to fight this, but we can beat it. The crucial thing is for the Tube unions, the wider labour movement and the working-class communities along the line to unite in a concerted campaign to stop the sell-off.
Tube workers will need an industrial and political campaign to keep the East London line public. We need to build towards the system-wide industrial action that we will probably need to stop this sell-off in its tracks.