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through their early struggles for popularity : Bournemouth and Cleethorpes may be cited as examples. The State railway department would have no inducement to go in for this kind of work, and indeed if it did become so venturesome as to endeavour to push one seaside place all the others in the country would be at once crying out at the unfairness of its proceedings. As the existing companies confine themselves to the resorts inside their own particular territory they are at liberty to use their powers as they see fit.
If the new department were to amalgamate their carriage and wagon and engine building shops, what may be termed railway towns, such as Crewe, Swindon, &c., might be improved off the face of the map altogether, thus ruining many of the outside public who make their living by shopkeeping &c. in these places. Builders of rolling stock for those companies who do not build themselves would also suffer, as the department would be able to provide for all their own wants even with a reduced number of men employed at the work. As the construction of new works and lines would be brought almost to a stop, foundries and similar businesses must also suffer by the lack of orders for bridges, &c. The railway companies at present contribute largely to the rates of the towns and districts through which they run ; it is possible that as Government property they might be exempt, thus throwing an additional burden on the local ratepayers.
It is well known that the companies have suffered a good deal in the last few years from the competition of the electric tramways, many of the latter being the property of county councils or corporations ; with State-owned railways we should have the anomaly of the State and municipality trying to rival each other for the local traffic, and cheap fares would in the end be provided out of the pocket of the man who part-owned both enterprises in his dual capacity of tax- and rate-payer. Besides in the case of tramways and railways when a Bill for one of the former was promoted, perhaps rivalling one of the State railways, it would have to go before the House of Commons, which may be regarded as a sort of board of directors for the railways. The House would have no interest in assisting the people of the neighbourhood concerned, but would have every interest in being able to maintain the fares on their railway, so the Bill would most likely be thrown out on the slightest pretext.
We have already had several fine specimens of what corporate ownership leads to, and if that is only a minor example of State ownership it does not appeal to everyone. Many among the working classes appear to be under the impression that schemes promoted by the municipality or State cost them nothing, as they receive no demand note for rates or income-tax, but they as surely have to pay share as the rest of us. The poor man pays taxes when he buys his
tobacco, sugar, tea, or beer, and towards the local rates when he pays his rent. It has been suggested that the poor man when he pays his rent should receive a receipt showing how much of his money will eventually be paid over to the rate collector; this does not appear a bad plan if it would only convince the tenant that high rates affect him as much as the rich man. Higher rates mean bigher rents for the dwellings of the working class, the same as a higher duty on tea raises the selling price of that article.
Since the above was written an article has appeared in the Press dealing with the railway strikes in Italy, where railways are State property. It runs as follows:
The Italian Government has decided to deal severely with the railway strikers. All the leaders of the agitation will be dismissed, and others in a minor degree culpable will be reduced in rank and pay. On the other hand the railway servants who remained loyal are to be rewarded and promoted. It is noteworthy that the action of the Government meets with general public approval. Italians resent very much the tyranny which the railway men have endeavoured to exercise, and are dead against them.
This ought to provide matter for thought for our own railway men before they advocate the nationalisation of the lines, as it shows that while many members of the general public would look on indifferently while the railway companies were being bled, they would strongly resent an attack on their own pockets, and also that a Government department, once satisfied of the approval of the public, can act quite as sternly towards strikers as any railway company. As an example of what a democratic Government can do when the public convenience is threatened reference may be made to the action of the United States Government in 1894 during the strike at the Pullman carriage building works. In order to assist the Pullman strikers the American railway servants' society ordered their men not to work trains with Pullman cars attached. Under the American system this affected most passenger trains in the States. According to law the men were within their rights in striking on the railways, but the inconvenience to the public was so great that the Federal Government stepped in and crushed the strike by arresting the man who issued the circular calling the men out, on a charge of interfering with the carriage of the Government mails by the stoppage of the passenger trains. The strike was very quickly called off owing to the determined action of one of the most democratic Governments on earth. Such incidents should tend to convince the men that it is possible their position as employés of a State department might be worse than that they hold at present. Public opinion in any case must always be a strong factor in regulating the relations between employers and employed, and by the ventilation of the men's grievances in the Press or otherwise they can exert a certain amount of pressure on the present companies, and as already pointed out can command the support of a certain section of the public who would oppose them were they State employés.
Advocates of nationalisation frequently point out that it has worked satisfactorily in other countries, but they often omit to mention that in those cases the plan has been pursued from the early days of railways, and that on the contrary we have allowed the great railway companies to build up our present system, giving legal sanction to the same by the repeated Acts of Parliament granted to them. If we desire to alter existing arrangements we ought fully to compensate the companies for the moneys they have already spent, having due regard to the fact that the business is in complete working order, and they would appear to be also entitled to compensation for disturbance or what President Kruger called ' moral damages.' Where the railways have been the property of the State from the beginning the lines have been, if anything, under-developed and all competing lines avoided. It is possible that we may have gone rather to the other extreme and have built some unnecessary railways, but not to any great extent. We can cite instances now where existing railway companies have what may be called duplicated the lines between certain points on their own system, thus reaching the same stations by an alternative route. The Great Western Company's South Wales direct railway is an example of this, leaving their old main line at Wootton Bassett and rejoining it again at Patchway, trains by both routes passing through the Severn Tunnel, which in itself is another instance of the same thing, as the company had a line into Wales via Gloucester. Most of these improvements have been forced on the companies by the rivalry between themselves, so we may judge how long we should have had to wait for the Severn Tunnel or the Forth Bridge with the lines in Government hands, and no opposition to urge them on.
We must bear in mind that, with the Socialist party at least, the nationalisation of our railways is only a step towards the same with our mines, and all other great producing and industrial concerns. We owe the greater part of our success as an empire, or in trade and manufacture, to the efforts of either private individuals, or great firms and companies. Our position in India and Rhodesia is owing to companies; the shores of the Thames, Tyne, Medway, &c., are lined with the enterprises of companies or firms and private individuals; Government itself falls back on private firms for help in building its warships and for ammunition, while discharging men in its own arsenals on the plea of not having work for them. Men turned out of work under such circumstances cannot find employment of a similar nature in their own country, and are driven to do so under a foreign flag. Up to the present our railway companies have carried out their duties in a practical and pushing manner with a due regard to the public convenience and safety. The demand for nationalisation is made
principally by those who fancy it would benefit themselves if carried into effect or by those always hankering after some new thing.
The arguments one reads in the daily Press advanced by its advocates only tend to confirm the views that the author has already expressed. On the 21st of October, speaking to a meeting of railway men, be it remembered, Sir John Gorst is reported as having said
The nationalisation of railways would not be very difficult. There would be no confiscation of any kind whatever. The debenture-holders of the various railways would be paid their interest by the State, and the shareholders of the various railways would have their profits—such profits as might be determined as just and equitable_also paid by the State. The management of the rail. Fays would have to be undertaken by a State department. . . . If that were brought about the first thing that would happen was that all competition between one company and another would be put an end to, and instead of railways being conducted as now, very often for gaining a triumph over a rival line, they would be conducted purely for the interests of the public at large.
Here from an advocate of the change we have a view of its expected results much resembling that we have already concluded ourselves. The State is to be saddled with the payment of the shareholders' dividends, though we are not told what would be taken as a just and equitable share of the profits ; competition is to be at an end, thus causing the public to lose many of their present conveniences ; and if the railways were to be conducted purely in the interests of the public at large the railway servants would soon find the change of masters would do them little good, as with reduced competition there would be a considerable diminution in the number of men employed, or the public interests must suffer. It must be remembered that the interests of the men and the general public would be in opposition to each other, as those of the masters and the men will always be to some extent. What between the reduction of hands in the railway service and also at outside shops owing to the cessation of orders for rolling stock, &c., we should soon have a marked increase in the number of the un. employed, while if the new department followed the example already set by the War Office in the matter of their horseshoes and ordered stock from America or Germany, the last state of the working class would be worse than the first.
In conclusion the author does not believe that there is any strong or genuine demand for the nationalisation of the railways by either the public or the railway servants, but thinks the question has been brought forward by parties with their own ends to serve. All parties concerned may well pause and consider the matter before consenting to upset an arrangement that has worked satisfactorily up till now, thus turning our splendid railway system into a red-tape Government department liable to be used for political purposes by anyone so inclined. Parliament has more than enough to do now without having to run the country's railways too; the men under the new system would have all their eggs in one basket; and, above all
, the public would suffer in convenience and probably in pocket, while the State having once interfered in regard to one industry would soon be asked to take up others. In time all private enterprise would die out for want of an opening, and after that we might soon say good-bye’ to the prosperity and glory of our country.
WILLIAM BEN EDWARDS
The Editor of THE NINETEENTH CENTURY cannot undertake
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