From WEEKLY MDS No.892, June 24, 2005 issue logo

"Safety Improvement Plan" to Hide Culpability for Accident / Prosecute Privatization as True Culprit

JR West without soul-searching

On May 31, West Japan Railway Company, or JR West, released a "safety improvement plan." The company has also proceeding with installation of the latest automatic train stop system, ATS-P, on the Fukuchiyama Line. All those efforts aim to deviate the pursuit of the true culprit by creating a fait accompli of service resumption. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation gave official approval at the end of May to the company's plan to resume services around mid-June. Given this backup, the company is now rendering a picture to the public that "even accident victims show understanding," set to go ahead with a resumption of operation as early as June 19.

Here we need to see how this "safety improvement plan" sums up the accident. It reports, "from the founding of JR West, the management has been endeavoring to secure profitability and efficiency without sacrificing safety," "despite our effort to drive home the idea of safety first, it had not reached all corners of the organization yet," "we had relied upon supervisors in each operating unit for education and guidance of train drivers," and so on. In short, the report concludes that there was no fault with the operating policy or top management, and "the Osaka branch" and "the field managers" are to be blamed in addition to "the employees involved."

This statement shows no trace of serious pursuit of the cause of the accident or self-examination whatsoever. Critically called for now is thoroughgoing investigation in pursuit of the truth, which may involve criminal accusation of the management that has been aggressively driving the privatization policy, giving the utmost priority on profits while dismissing safety considerations.

Recovery of human rights and withdrawal of dismissals - integral struggle on two fronts

The direct cause of the accident is virtually concluded as speeding by the train driver, desperate to make up a delay, far beyond the speed limit. The background of his action is also mostly uncovered. One of the factors involved is the excessively tight train schedule with four times more trains in operation than the period before the railway privatization in 1987 and with one out of three trains given no time allowance at all. Others include employee management based on an order-obedience system and negligence of human rights as symbolized by "Nikkin Kyoiku (mental abuse called "re-education")."

When these are the real issues, can the measures prescribed in the "safety improvement plan" such as thoroughgoing safety education, installation of ATS systems and moderation of tight train schedule prevent recurrence of an accident? It is not likely.

The plan cannot solve the problems because it determinedly avoids touching upon the issue of privatization, the primary cause of the accident. Accidents will not be eliminated as long as the workplace environment persists where workers' free speech is suppressed and submission forced. And workers' human rights could not be restored without withdrawal of the dismissals of the 1047 National Railways workers.

The Japanese government and JR West desire to close the curtain by showing superficial "safety measures," aiming to block the pursuit of the true cause from developing into condemnation of the railway network privatization. However, accident victims are severely criticizing the "measures."

Build international solidarity among anti-privatization movements

"Shareholders' interest" is JR' s pet phrase. While catering to such commercial interest, the company has discarded its mission as a public transport, doing away with the safety-first principle. And now we have the result - the accident. The failure of the railway network privatization is evident in this disaster.

And Japan is not the only case. Similarly, railway networks were privatized against oppositions in New Zealand and in the UK, resulting in frequent accidents and exploitation of people's assets to increase private companies' gains. In both countries, the people have raised their voices against privatization. In New Zealand, railways were re-nationalized last year while the UK is expecting re-nationalization of railways in the near future. In the UK, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) is waging a nationwide campaign for re-nationalization of the country's railways, proceeding with their struggle demanding the government to revoke franchise renewals for private companies.

Re-nationalization of once privatized railways has become a worldwide trend. We in Japan should also link investigation of the cause and pursuit of the culpability of the Fukuchiyama Line accident to review of the railway privatization.

RMT members are visiting Japan in July. Unite ourselves - victims of the accident calling for investigation of the truth, the plaintiff team struggling for withdrawal of dismissals, and citizens - in an effort to build international solidarity among forces against privatization. (June 14)

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