by Richie Venton, SSP workplace organiser · Workers at the historic railway depot in Springburn, Glasgow, are battling against its closure, with the loss of nearly 200 highly skilled jobs and 160 years of railway history.
The RMT and Unite unions have launched the Rally Roon the Caley campaign, and marched to the Scottish Parliament when the issue was being debated last week.
Public support is widespread, but time is short to save this depot, which carries out service, maintenance, repairs, overhaul and upgrades for the entire ScotRail fleet.
The unions have rightly condemned this as an act of industrial vandalism. In a society suffering a desperate shortage of skilled jobs and apprenticeships, with a rail service that provokes public uproar for its inefficiency, it’s outrageous that the profiteers are allowed to threaten a railway depot that has been a feature of life for 160 years.
It’s another instalment in the horror story of rail privatisation, and the fragmentation that goes with it. Springburn was historically the world hub of the railway industry. Up until 1995, the Caley was part of nationalised British Rail, a major part of BREL (British Rail Engineering Ltd).
Vital service sacrificed on the altar of profit
Last August, Knorr-Bremse Rail Services sold it to Gemini Rail Services. Five months later, on 17 January, Gemini declared a 45-day consultation period for its closure, apparently with plans to centralise their operations in the south of England.
This is a classic example of vital services and infrastructure, and people’s livelihoods, being sacrificed on the altar of profit, as one gang of profiteers passes it on to another. It’s also a classic case for public ownership, for the Scottish Government to go beyond worthy words of condemnation and sympathy.
In response to claims by Gemini that the St Rollox depot is unsuitable and unprofitable, the unions have demanded on-site electrification and a link to the Glasgow/Edinburgh line.
They have highlighted that the cost of this modernisation would be less than £1million, whilst the Scottish Government has been allocated £4.8billion for railway infrastructure by Westminster.
The Scottish Government should step in, take the depot into public ownership—as they did with Prestwick airport—and integrate it with a publicly-owned Scottish railway service, rather than let an array of capitalist vultures rip up a service for profit, particularly given the urgency of expanding public transport as one concrete measure against environmental pollution and climate chaos.
Time is running out. The unions should consider all options, including a workers’ and community occupation of the depot to prevent asset stripping, whilst escalating the pressure on the Scottish government to ‘stand up for Scotland’, as they pledged to do in past election campaigns.