The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Railroad Workers Can Decide When to Make Their Own Fight

Jul 18, 2022

Recently 115,000 railroad workers voted by 99% to authorize a strike. And with good reason! The rail workers who deliver the country’s freight have not had a raise in three years, while inflation has raged. They are also paying a large part of their health care premiums. In the last six years, the rail bosses have eliminated 30,000 jobs, while the need for delivering freight has increased. The rail companies filled the gap by organizing forced overtime, often seven days a week, sometimes with just 90 minutes notice.

These attacks on the rail workers resulted in record profits for the railroad companies. And the rail bosses now wanted even more profits, and more concessions from the workers. They wanted to pay wages that would put workers ever farther behind prices. And they wanted to run trains with just one engineer on board, instead of two. Meaning unsafe and overworked!

After letting the companies tie them up for three years negotiating a new contract with the rail companies, the union leadership finally said it would call a strike on July 18. The vote of the workers said they were more than ready!

That’s when President Joe Biden stepped in. Biden issued an executive order under the Railway Labor Act that mandated arbitration and a “cooling off” period, totaling 60 days. Under this same law, after the 60 days are up, Congress could further delay any strike or even impose a forced settlement.

Biden calls himself pro-worker and pro-union. It is obvious what workers are losing due to inflation and job cuts. Biden didn’t intervene on behalf of the workers when the union was trying to negotiate. Why not? Why did he intervene against workers about to go on strike? If he’s on the side of the workers, why delay a strike? No wonder the rail companies and the Chamber of Commerce praised Biden for his order. Biden was stepping in on behalf of the bosses.

Biden said a strike would be disruptive to the supply chain. That is true. These rail workers deliver 30% of the freight in this country. So what? Corporations have disrupted the supply chain with their profit-driven management of the economy over and over again. It’s time the workers finally disrupted things!

So far, the union leadership seemed ready to accept this arbitration and “cooling off” period. It remains to be seen whether the railroad workers themselves will be “cooled off.”

In just the last month, there have been strikes by rail workers in Canada and Britain, disrupting the corporations’ business as usual in those countries. Railroad workers in this country have their own history of militant strikes going back over a hundred years—strikes where workers have gone up against the government and their armed forces.

When workers have fought in the past, they often quickly figured out that the laws, and the courts, and the police are not on their side. And the workers learned to ignore the laws, and they learned to organize the kind of fight that they needed to make. They also learned that the bigger the fight the better, the more workers involved, the more power they have.

A fight today by the railroad workers, or any group of workers, always has the possibility of spreading and growing into a bigger fight, involving many more workers. So, the bosses and Biden are afraid of this? Good! Because that’s exactly what should be done.

All workers are facing the same problems. Inflation, and wages that don’t keep up with prices. Not enough jobs for all. More work being done with fewer people. Why should we accept this? Millions of workers today have the same reason to fight to defend their standard of living.

Any fight by the working class that becomes generalized can show the power that workers have. But it also opens the door for workers to decide how things should be run. The working class can even decide who runs society, whether it should be a few wealthy people and their politicians only looking out themselves, or should it be the whole working class looking out for the good of the whole society.