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Issue #1728      April 27, 2016

Journey into the class battlefield

Lessons from the cutting of Newcastle’s rail line

Last year the rail line into Newcastle was shut down and large sections of the track were ripped up. Trains now terminate at Hamilton, four kilometres from what was Newcastle Station, and buses ferry people into the city. A transport interchange involving trams is supposed to be built nearby in Wickham. There had been a struggle (demonstrations, rallies, court action) since 2012 to keep the line open. However in the end the line was cut, but there are important lessons we can learn from this struggle:

Firstly, that the cutting of the line is a class issue. If we ask the question (which we should always do): “Who benefits from this decision – the big corporations or the workers and the ordinary people; the answer is obvious – the developers, the real estate corporations, the construction companies and financiers. They will get access to the railway land and adjacent areas to build high rise apartments and offices for the rich.

The railway land fronts the foreshore of the harbour, and was not undermined by coalmining like most of Newcastle. Hence a proposal to run light rail down the rail corridor was knocked on the head by the government in favour of trams down city streets. Workers, students, small business people miss out – the rail line took people, especially from the Hunter Valley and outlying suburbs, to major recreation areas – the harbour foreshore and beach. The rail line would have brought students to the new university campus being built in the city, the rail line brought workers who work in the city mainly in retail and admin. to their workplace , the rail line brought people to the small business people’s shops in the city (they strongly opposed the cut).

A second lesson and reminder from this struggle is that, under capitalism, the government (whether Labor or Liberal), the courts, the police etc govern and operate in the interests of big business. So that a clearly unpopular decision was made, despite surveys showing that the majority of the people in the Hunter opposed the cutting of the rail line. The Courts initially ruled against the power of the government to close the line until the parliament’s Upper House passed legislation; then the courts hit the Save Our Rail organisation with legal costs.

Finally there is the frustration of the people who actively campaigned against the closure. People get worn out fighting the same battle over and over, and eventually losing. The rail line issue had been around for many years and for many campaigns – but in the end what big business wanted they got. Frustration and disillusionment builds up in society and comes out in depression, anger, escapism. Individual politicians become the focus of this anger, not the system. No solution is seen for, after all, capitalist democracy “may not be perfect but it is the best on offer”.

The rail struggle also brings up the question “What should the CPA be advocating?” Firstly, of course, we should all continue to struggle to try and make sure the rail corridor is not built on – that’s all we can do in the short-term. The other groups involved in the campaign to stop the cutting of the rail line – some Labor Party people, the Greens, some community groups and some unions – would all agree with this.

However a Communist Party is not just another progressive group. We do not believe that you can reform capitalism and mould it closer to the human heart. How can you when capitalist society is based on the profit needs of corporations not the social needs of the people? In our leaflets we also tried to give a class understanding and a socialist solution to the issue – an understanding of the class nature of society and that the class struggle goes on around us every day; an understanding of the fact that when the economy is controlled by the big corporations bent on maximising profits, the government (whether Liberal or Labor), invariably obeys these powerful corporations.

And we have to offer our long term solution – that people can turn their anger and frustration constructively into the struggle to replace the dictatorship of the corporations with a socialist society based on human and social needs not private profit. A society that is truly democratic –one in which the economy is controlled by the people and run on the basis of meeting their needs. A society where decisions such as this – to cut a perfectly good rail line, just because developers want the land – can never be made.

* Grant Osland is Secretary of the CPA Newcastle Branch

Next article – The passing of Tiga Bayles

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