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 Warned Us about This

Mar 6, 2023

The train wreck outside East Palestine, Ohio, was turned into a disaster that continues to this day. The people of East Palestine are dealing with poisoned air, water, and soil, likely for years to come. The damage is both immediate and ongoing.

The accident itself was the result of cutbacks made by Norfolk Southern rail, and by the rail industry. In the last six years, these companies have cut 29% of their work force. Fewer workers must handle longer trains with less time off, subject to being on call every moment.

These job cuts have enriched the wealthy company stockholders, who have received 196 billion dollars in dividends and stock buybacks over the past decade. The dividends also go to already fabulously wealthy investors through Wall Street investment funds like the Vanguard Group and JPMorgan Investments.

The workers pay the price for those profits in the more dangerous conditions on each and every train. Without more eyes and hands on the trains, workers are driving blind. Engineers can’t see back 150 cars; one engineer and one conductor can’t watch 1200 axle bearings.

One hundred thousand railroad workers warned, again and again, that fewer workers on a train means more dangerous trains, crisscrossing the country every single day. These trains, regularly including cars carrying dangerous chemicals, are moving through every major city and small towns and suburbs across the country. And they are growing longer and longer—all with only two workers on each train.

When railroad workers fought for better working conditions and increased staffing, the railroad bosses refused to budge. This past year, railroad workers voted to go out on strike.

So how did the Biden Administration react to the workers’ demands? They sided 100% with the rail bosses. Biden claimed to negotiate a “compromise” contract. But it contained all the bosses’ cuts. Workers promptly voted it down. So, then Congress showed what side they were on. A Democratic-led Congress voted overwhelmingly to impose the Biden deal on the workers and outlawed a strike.

Of course, their news media’s talking heads rattled on about how a national strike would disrupt the supply chain and the whole economy. You’re damned right! Workers’ power is what makes everything run—or stop. And the workers would have been right to use it. They are the only ones with the real power to stop the bosses dead in their tracks, and the trains as well.

In doing so, the train workers would have saved lives—their own, and now, as we see, the lives of residents of East Palestine, who most certainly will become sickened if they stay there, and the lives of how many other people who will be subjected to upcoming train wrecks.

The bosses, Wall Street, and their representatives in government, Democrat and Republican, know the danger that this situation holds for the population. They have deliberately carried out a policy to put profit before life.

The workers can be just as deliberate. The attack on the rail workers is an attack on us all. Auto workers, UPS workers, postal workers and more have contracts coming up this year that could lead to strikes. But contract or not, union or not, we all have reasons to fight our own bosses and Wall Street.

History has shown us that, sooner or later, the working class will begin to move. When it does, workers learn quickly what the bosses already know and fear: that the workers have the power to up-end the bosses’ agenda and impose their own.