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

Workers Have a Power That the Bosses Fear

Sep 26, 2022

Railroad workers will be voting on a tentative agreement that was reached on September 15 between the freight railroad companies, the federal government and the leaders of the railroad workers union. At this point, it is unclear what the railroad workers will do—will they vote to accept this agreement, or will they decide to strike?

What is clear, however, is that the railroad bosses, government politicians and the whole capitalist class fears a strike by railroad workers. In July, after 99% of the railroad workers had voted to authorize a strike, the federal government stepped in to stop it. President Biden issued an executive order under the Railway Labor Act mandating a 60-day “cooling off” period and government arbitration.

During this arbitration period, leaders of 10 of the 12 railroad unions agreed to contract settlements. But the workers in one union, representing railroad mechanics, machinists and maintenance workers, immediately voted down the tentative agreement. And the two biggest unions, representing conductors and engineers, had not reached an agreement as the 60-day period was about to expire and a possible strike was looming. At that point, the government stepped in again. Biden personally applied pressure for a settlement. Some Congressional leaders threatened to impose a settlement on the unions. The capitalist-owned media went full-blast denouncing a possible strike, crying about how much a strike would disrupt the supply chain and the whole economy.

The railroad workers, like other workers today, certainly have a reason to fight. The railroad workers have been under attack by some of the biggest Wall Street speculators, who have been buying up and merging together dozens of the railroad companies that used to exist. Today just seven railroad companies carry 88% of all the freight in the U.S. and Canada. Like other companies, the railroads used these mergers to push fewer workers to do more work. In the last 6 years, the railroads have eliminated 30% of their workers.

The railroads’ increased profits went straight into the pockets of the wealthy investors. Over the past decade, the railroad companies gave their big stockholders 146 billion dollars in stock buybacks and dividends. These profits were produced by the labor of the workers, but they came at the expense of the lives of the railroad workers and their families. With 30% fewer workers, the remaining workers were overworked and forced to work in unsafe conditions. They were always on call, never knowing when they could be called into work, forced to work whenever the bosses demanded. Workers could even be fired for going to the doctor or taking care of a family emergency. So railroad workers, facing the same inhumane conditions as other workers face today, voted to authorize a strike.

The tentative agreement that was reached supposedly addressed a few of these concerns. But it certainly did not address most of them. It could not because it did not bring back the 30% of the jobs that were eliminated, which would be the only way to even to begin to address the conditions the workers are facing. The railroad workers will have to decide if they are ready to accept this, or ready to fight.

But whatever these workers decide today, it doesn’t change the fact that workers everywhere are facing the same attacks. It doesn’t change the fact that millions of workers today have a reason to fight. It doesn’t change the fact that a fight started by railroad workers, or any group of workers, could spread quickly. That’s what the capitalists and their politicians are very aware of. That’s why they stepped in so quickly trying to stop a strike by the railroad workers.

History has shown us that, sooner or later, a big fight by the working class is coming. And when it does, workers learn quickly. They learn what the bosses already know and what the bosses are afraid of: the power workers have when they decide to use it.