From WEEKLY MDS No.889, June 3, 2005 issue logo

Privatization Axes and Kills / Pursue Culpability and Win Withdrawal of Dismissals

Closing the curtain without probing the cause

Over one month has passed since the deadly derailment accident of a train run by West Japan Railway Company, or JR West, on the Fukuchiyama Line. Regardless of the severity of the accident that claimed 107 lives, the worst single accident in the past 40 years, moves are already under way to close the curtain.

JR West has released "a five-point recurrence prevention policy" while launching compensation negotiations, which may trigger conflicts of interest among victims and bereaved families. The company's scenario is as follows: submission of a "safety improvement plan" at the end of May and the resignation of management at the shareholders' general meeting in June, followed by installation of the latest automatic train stop system based on stop patterns (Automatic Train Stop-Pattern or ATS-P) and resumption of services around the end of June.

The Japanese government and global capitalists are afraid that the public criticism of the accident may be directed to the culpability of the state's policy to promote privatization and JR's commercialism that prioritizes profits over lives. In the UK, the October 2000 Hatfield derailment symbolically pointed to the failure of the British government's privatization program. Since the accident, public opinion and the anti-privatization movement have forced the British government to allow partial re-nationalization of the railways. The benefits of privatization are still being debated among Britons. All over the world, strong opposition is developing against privatization of the public sector that global capitalism is driving into each field of the people's lives.

While aggressively forging ahead with the privatization of Japan's postal services, Prime Minister KOIZUMI Junichiro would do anything to prevent blame for the accident from stepping up to criticism of privatization.

Axing workers and sacrificing safety

It is not possible, however, to completely conceal the fact that the primary cause of the accident was the privatization of the railways carried out through the unified efforts of the Government and Japan Railways that accompanied dismissals of workers and negligence of safety issues.

If installed, the ATS system could have prevented an accident of this scale. In fact, since 1967, the safety system had been a requirement for major private railway companies under instruction from the former Ministry of Transportation. This instruction was revoked in 1987 in the wake of the privatization of the national railway network. This measure was aimed at helping JR dodge a "burden" for securing safety. The true objectives of the privatization were abolition of the Safety Charter of the former Japan National Railways (JNR) that stated; "Ensuring the safety of transportation services is our greatest mission" and establishment of the profit-first management principle. Concentrating on operations with profit-making being the highest priority, JR West has spent two billion yen in order to increase per share dividends from \5,000 to \6,000 for the March 2005 period while postponing the installation of an ATS-P system, costing just 900 million yen, on the Fukuchiyama Line.

Mental abuse called Nikkin Kyoiku (literally, "day-to-day in-service education"), punishment and surveillance - these compose the system that compelled the train driver to break the speed limit. Workers are not treated as human beings; the company coerces 100% obedience while removing disobedient elements. JR has maintained the same techniques as used in the course of privatization of JNR: JNR sent certain workers to the "human resources utilization center" and JNR Liquidation Corporation, both of which virtually functioned as relocation camps until the day of their dismissal. The government has continued to tolerate JR's employee management policy that negates human rights. Their attitude is consistent in that they even ignored the back-to-work orders by the Labor Relations Commissions, public relief institutions.

This disaster is a result of a policy that sacrifices safety, and it has reached its breaking point while the principle of global capitalist competition has been imposed without any cushions. The privatization process under way would allow global capitalists' egoistic activities even in living-related sectors, leading to catastrophic situations in every aspect of our life, including human lives.

In unity with victims and the plaintiff team

Having publicly proved the injustice of the railway privatization program as living witnesses for the 18 years since the privatization, the plaintiff team in the lawsuit against the Japan Railway Construction Public Corporation released a statement on May 17, saying, "Our struggle demanding the withdrawal of our dismissal is the way for us to compensate for sacrifices paid by the victims." In the statement, they demand a review of the railway division and privatization, as well as the establishment of a thorough safety system. Their efforts should be carried as a common task for all who are exposed to fatal risks imposed by "profit-first" global capitalism as represented by acts of hiding pollution, defects and accidents committed by Snow Brand Milk Products Co., Ltd. and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, among others.

Let all victims of the accident, the plaintiffs and citizens stand together hand in hand to realize the all-out investigation of the cause of the accident and the withdrawal of the dismissals. Condemn privatization and achieve re-nationalization with enhanced democratic control by users and workers. (May 22)

Copyright Weekly MDS