Public Safety V. Railway Profits. I. The Cleaner

That Fateful Letter
The workers in general, and railwaymen in particular, have heard a great deal respecting the “safety of the public” and the “welfare of the country” from the masters and their hangers-on just lately. We also saw the letter of Mr. A K. Butterworth (General Manager N.E.R.) to driver Knox; and, unfortunately, since then one or two “accidents” have taken place which might well make the man in the street wonder whether a train is altogether safe to ride in.

We have in front of us a very big and impor­tant question, and it would be impossible in a short article to treat it in all its branches. I propose to deal with a section of the railway workers and their conditions of service, about whom the people know very little ; and, as is always the case in like circumstances, a section that is lied about by the prostitute Press and orators of the master class, in the hope of turning public opinion against them. I refer to the men employed in what is known as the “Run­ning Section” of the Locomotive Department of the lines. Let me explain.

The Loco. Dept. consists of all men connected with the Loco, shed work, and also the “run­ning” section, but these latter are classed separately from the rest of the employees be­cause they are employed to “run” the road. The men are doubtless better known as drivers, firemen, and cleaners.

A glance at the title of this article would seem to open up a question of safety in the mind of the thoughtful reader, and I have no hesitation in saying that, as at present run, safety is not the first consideration of the railway magnates. It is profit they think of first, and the services are not safe for many reasons, all of which have a direct bearing on the making of profit.

If safety was the first consideration of the companies, obviously the men who actually work the trains, viz., drivers and firemen, would be assured of a decent living so as to keep them fit for their perilous duties ; also the machines they work would be kept thoroughly roadworthy and in the pink of condition. This, however, I know from experience with two of the leading companies in this country, is not the case.

The men are sadly overworked ; their ma­chines, many of them, are not properly road-worthy, and their wages, especially considering their responsibility, are low.

What We Shall See
Before going any further it would, perhaps, be as well to look into the conditions of service of the men, as these conditions have a direct bearing on the safety of the services. In doing this we shall have to start with the lad who, after passing a medical examination at the hands of the railway doctor, and an eyesight test at the hands of the Loco. Superintendent or his deputy, starts in the service as an engine cleaner. This is the lad who will be a fireman at some future time, and then driver.

The safety question will not be greatly dealt with in looking at the conditions of the cleaner, for he is not yet “on the read.” Nevertheless it is necessary, I ihink, to examine the conditions under which he works, if only to see what qualifications he has for taking up the duties of fireman when his turn comes. We shall see that no provision is made to properly teach him the various parts of his engine, and that his daily work becomes a bore to him thrcugh the speeding up to which he is subjected.

On most of the trunk lines the lads start at 18 or older, so as to take their turn on night work. They begin by cleaning shunting engires. and are usually on for 10¼ working hours and start at 17s. a week as a rule. These engines are nearly always in a very bad condition, and the lads have to work hard—many such engines running a fortnight without having a “wiper” put on them.

About twelve months of this, and then comes the first promotion—to local passenger engines, which are kept almost as dirty. The lads as a rule get 2d. a day rise then, and work in gangs, the work amounting to 1½ engines per man per night (very little or no day work is the rule when on these engines), so that the cleaners are no better off for their extra 1s. a week.

The lads then get another “promotion,” and go on tender engines. Further speeding-up is now resorted to by reducing the working hours to 9, in which time the lads have to clean the mammoth locomotives of to-day. A number of companies have the “contract” clearer, who has always the same engine to clean. It is, however, impossible to clean the biggest modern engines in 9 hours—indeed, they would in some cases take nearer 20. So a great deal of the engine is “left.”

The “contract” cleaner has no appointed time on duty. He has to vary with the “turn” of his engine, which means turning out at all hours of the day or night. A holiday is an unlooked for privilege, and even a day off in the summer is more than many dare ask for.

The man, having his regular engine, takes a pride in it, and would kick up a noise if he were barred going on his machine because it has only a “light” trip “on” it, which often is the case. It is a rule that if an engine looks anything like “respectable” it can “run round,” thus over­working the cleaner by making him “tear off” two or three trips instead of one.

I may say here that the wages of these men are the highest paid for cleaning (the G.N.R. in London district formerly paid 3s. 10d. per day) but they are rapidly disappearing, and are now almost a thing of the past.

The directors and shareholders demanding a greater return on their investments, expenses have to be cut down, regardless of safety or anything else. So a number of companies clean their engines by piecework, at miserable lates, and the wages of the man then depends upon how be “stands” with the foreman. (This syttem has recently been introduced on the G.N.) Another system ex­tensively employed is to have the work done by day work by gangs, the men getting different engines daily. Under this method no pride can be taken by the cleaners in the machines.

Under both the last-mentioned systems the “contract” man is done away with because he is not cheap enough. Engines go out two, three, or four days without a clean, so it is impossible for a driver to make a minute inspection of the parts to see they are not broken. This, which is a very important matter affecting the “welfare of the public,” and the fact that an engine may “run hot” and delay several trains, besides causing a great inconvenience on and off the shed, and a host of other things, are thrown to the winds in the interest of increased dividends. If a machine fails and the driver cannot give a satisfactory” explanation to the Loco. Super­intendent, he can be fined and thus help to swell the coffers of the human vampires that live upon him.

To sum up, the highest standing wage a cleaner can depend upon is in the neighbour­hood of 19s. a week on the trunk lines, for which he puts in at least 54 hours. In the country the wages paid are much lower.

The state of the engines proves conclusively that there are not nearly enough men, and what men there are are immensely overworked, with plenty of dirt, night-work, inconvenience to self and family, bad smells on shed, and the lads often working feet deep in hot water. In addi­tion there is a good deal of bullying from the foreman, who is generally a man who has failed on the footplate.

A Premium on Ignorance
The average period a man does cleaning is about four years, and from the way he is over­worked there is no chance for him to learn much about his engine. Nor is he given a rules-book order to enable him to make himself acquainted with the rules of the road (the Midland does give rules-books after six months). There are, however, “educational classes” on some companies (e.g., the G.N.), but they are not successful, and the attendance is small. The men have to attend in their own time, and with their state of over­work, and that great curse, overtime, it is not to be wondered at that very few attend the classes, the lecturers at which as a rule are drivers.

ln working hours the lads are sent home or fined for trifling offences, and kept in abject slavery, so their mind is turned against their work. As a result of these conditions they can not take it up with the interest necessary to become good enginemen and to befit them to be in charge of trains. It is, therefore, little won­der that, at the end of four years or so, when the lad goes up to “pass” for a spare fireman, he often fails in the exam.—which means more shed slavery, or, what is the rule on a number of lines, the sack.

Those who get through, however, owing to the unscientific way they are trained and the low wages paid, are not fit, from the point of view of public safety, to be in charge of an engine—which, by the way, is quite in accordance with the standing orders of capitalism and the production of profit.

And the unscientific training of enginemen through their period as cleaners, is pretty well certain to last until the system that trains men for profit instead of for usefulness and safety is swept into oblivion.


[To be Continued.]

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