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

Politicians of Both Parties Play Games With Railroad Workers

Dec 5, 2022

The profits are so extreme in the railroad industry that more than enough money exists to fund the paid sick days that railroad workers need and voted to strike to gain. Congress and the President could have imposed this on the rail companies at minimal cost. Providing sick leave would cost just 4 days worth of rail companies’ recent profits.

The timetable of how and when the government intervened in the railroad strike is telling. Biden issued a 60-day “cooling off period” on July 15. On September 15, Biden announced his administration had brokered a deal between railroad bosses and top union officials to be voted on by the membership. Another 60-day “cooling off period” ensued, set to end AFTER the November elections.

Pushing all these deadlines to AFTER the November elections was convenient for the politicians. Before the November 8 elections, both parties played pro-labor games. But after the elections, it was a different story. The majority of railroad workers—in the four biggest unions—rejected that Biden deal. A new potential strike deadline was set for December 4.

So Congress rushed into action. On November 30, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to impose the Biden deal on railroad workers. And in a separate vote, seven days of paid sick leave were approved to be added to the contract by the House. On December 1, the Senate voted to outlaw a strike and impose the Biden contract on workers, but refused to impose the sick leave agreement on railroad bosses.

Splitting the vote into two parts allowed a yes vote on outlawing the strike. It allowed political posturing while safely voting the sick leave down to please the railroad bosses and their Wall Street backers. All of this happened as far away from the next election cycle as possible.

"Progressive Democrats” and even some Republicans who voted to add in the sick leave claimed to be defenders of the workers. True defenders of the workers would have done all they could to allow railroad workers to strike. What they did created the exact situation we saw. For months, the companies pretended to negotiate, knowing full well Democrats and Republicans would step in at the last minute to save the railroad corporations from the consequences of their own greedy actions by blocking a necessary strike. This amounts to politicians playing games with workers’ lives and livelihoods.

Several railroad activists expressed disgust with Biden and his party’s actions. "Here we have someone who touted themselves as the most labor-friendly president for many decades, and he basically just betrayed us," said a freight railroad brakeman who lives in Nevada. "There really is no difference between Democrats and Republicans anymore. They’re just feeding corporate greed."

On the day after the U.S. Senate voted to force a contract down railway workers’ throats, it did not go unnoticed that Biden’s next stop was a meeting with a member of the British royal family in Boston. As Biden entered a building to meet with Prince William, a railway worker and about a hundred supporters called out the president, chanting, "Joe Biden is a scab!"

When asked about this meeting, an organizer from Railroad Workers United, a group of workers aiming to unite all the rail unions, said, "I would say to Joe Biden and Prince William, watch yourselves. Workers everywhere are getting the short stick and are looking to fight back in the US and in the UK as well. The fight is not over."