A Decade of Train Wrecks: What Has Gone Wrong?

By J.P. Wright - Labor Notes, January 24, 2018

On December 18 an Amtrak passenger train traveling at 78 miles an hour derailed on a 30 mile-per-hour curve outside DuPont, Washington, killing three people and injuring scores more.

It’s the latest of five major passenger train wrecks in the U.S. in the last decade, and it came during the trial of three workers indicted for the 2013 freight train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. (Last week, a jury found the workers not guilty on all counts.)

Why do these tragedies keep happening? We miss the point when we simply pinpoint the worker who “screwed up”—without asking why that worker screwed up.

Train wrecks often result from hidden factors over which the individual worker has little control, including poor work schedules, chronic crew fatigue, limited time off, inadequate staffing, lack of training, improper qualifying, task overload because of crew downsizing, deferred maintenance, antiquated infrastructure, and the employers’ failures to implement available safety technology. It is almost never just one of these factors, but a complex web that can result in disaster.

Update on #OperationPUSH in Florida Prisons

By IWOC - It's Going Down, January 19, 2018

Photo from @IWW_IWOC, features banner that was put up at solidarity demonstration at facility where two ex-prison Florida guards who were found guilty of belonging to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and were plotting to kill a black inmate after his release. 

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler, Liberty, Lowell, Columbia, Florida State Prison, Suwannee, Calhoun, and Martin. (The list is growing by the day.)

Strike Repression

A common theme among report backs is the attempt by the DOC to sever communication in order to create the perception of inactivity and break the spirits of those participating in the strike. Key contacts inside have reported being threatened by administration with harsher retaliation if correspondence with advocacy groups such as Fight Toxic Prisons and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee continues.

According to prisoner reports, some facilities have shut off state phone service as of Tuesday, January 16. A Security Threat Group (STG) investigator employed at a prison in the panhandle confirmed that multiple prisons across the state were placed on lockdown in preparation for the strike. Shakedowns have occurred where independent means of communication were confiscated and their alleged owners/users were thrown in solitary confinement.

We’ve heard reports that widespread investigations are occurring for anyone who has received or sent mail to organizations offering support on the outside and certain individuals are being labelled a “security threat” for doing so which can result in heightened custody levels, which means a loss of privileges, and continued harassment by the STG unit. One prisoner was told, “As long as you communicate with these people you’re always going to be labelled a security threat and you’re always going to be put under investigation.”

Given the past two years of prisoner organizing in Florida, it’s understandable that there is an expectation to hear of something distinct on the inside marking the start of the strike.

RWU Statement Upon the Acquittal of Canadian Railroad Workers

By Ron Kaminkow - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 19, 2018

Railroad workers – together with all citizens concerned with worker justice – across the continent are celebrating the acquittal of Canadian railroaders who were wrongly accused by the Crown for the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic in which 47 people were killed when a long and heavy oil train crashed and exploded in the middle of that small town in July of 2013.

At the time of the wreck, Railroad Workers United (RWU) had spoken out quickly, releasing a statement within a week condemning the reckless practices on the rail carrier – the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MM&A) – and its renegade CEO Ed Burkhart. Since then, RWU has defended the railroad workers, denying that they in any way should be charged with a criminal offense, demanding that the charges be dropped, and that the Crown charge the real criminals – the MM&A bosses and the government regulators who had turned a blind eye to their irresponsible actions regarding safety.

Once the workers were arrested, RWU took part in protest actions, assisted with organizing a defense committee, began raising funds for the defense, and attempted to raise awareness of the issue on both sides of the border. Despite the overwhelming evidence of company recklessness and irresponsibility, the Crown refused to drop the charges, and proceeded onward to the trial which finally commenced – more than four years after the event – in September 2017.

While the prosecution focused largely on a single event – the alleged failure of the locomotive engineer to tie enough handbrakes, they were tripped up at every turn by their own witnesses – government, company, “expert” and otherwise – who, by their testimony, incriminated the company and the government regulators rather than the defendants.

Some of the highlights that were revealed at the trial include:

1 – The implementation of single employee train crews just months earlier, had played a key role in the wreck. One other railroad that had been operating trains in this fashion for years (QNSL) had provided 10 days of training and made 69 safety accommodations prior to the implementation of such operations. The MM&A did none of these, while the government stood idly by. After the wreck however, Transport Canada outlawed the further implementation of the practice.

2 – The MM&A had allocated practically no funding for safety or emergency training, nor standardization of rules compliance, and had a terrible safety record compared to most rail carriers.

3 – The train in question was thousands of tons over limit. Significantly, the company had no set policy for the number of handbrakes that were necessary to secure such trains. That number remains in question, but experts now agree that the number for such a train on such a grade is well more than had been considered at the time.

4 – The train – by company policy – was left unattended on the mainline on a steep grade with no derail or other means of protection against runaway.

5 – The train’s lead locomotive was defective, and ultimately this fact would catalyze the runaway. Despite awareness of this fact, the company had failed to make necessary repairs to it, nor utilize it as a trailing unit in the consist. In addition, the mainline trackage was in a dilapidated state because of deferred maintenance by the carrier.

6 – Company policy was to leave the train’s automatic brake in the release position, even though the generally accepted practice by railroad policy and law is to leave unattended trains with the automatic brake in the “full-service” (fully applied) position. Every car of the train could have had its air brakes fully applied, but the company – against general rule and wisdom of a hundred years – insisted that engineers not set the air brakes on the train when leaving the train alone. Had this reckless and bizarre policy not been insisted upon by MM&A, the train almost certainly could not have rolled away.

All told over the course of four months, the jury gained a picture of a railroad company that was oblivious to safety concerns, one far more interested in making money than in the safety of its workers or trackside communities. While RWU applauds the jury’s verdict and sees the acquittal as a victory – not just for the MM&A railroad workers but for all railroad workers – we must remain vigilant. Railroad carriers in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are intent on criminalizing employees, pointing the finger at them when something goes wrong, as a means of deflecting attention away from their own failures, whether it be inadequate training, lack of qualifying time, chronic crew fatigue, deferred maintenance, dangerously long and heavy trains, inadequate staffing and more. Railroad workers must be ready, willing and able to come to one another’s defense to prevent the rail carriers and the state from criminalizing our behavior while they – the real criminals – get off Scott free.

Inmates Launch Month-Long Strike to Protest 'Slavery Conditions' in Florida Prisons

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, January 14, 2018

Inmates in Florida's prisons launched a month-long strike on Monday in protest of the state's use of "modern day slavery" within its correctional facilities.

In a statement released by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, one of several advocacy groups supporting the movement, the state's prisoners urged the prison population to refuse all work assignments during the strike:

We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances...Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.

African-Americans make up about a third of Florida's prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state's overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state's inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections' price-gouging practices and Florida's elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.

Florida is one of five states that offers no payment to inmates for their work—from washing prison uniforms and cooking meals to completing maintenance work and serving on cleanup crews after Hurricane Irma hit the state last September.

"There's a word for that, it's called slavery," Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian. "Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don't pay prisoners anything, they're not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level."

On top of receiving no compensation for their work, inmates—and their families—have to come up with money to afford food and other items sold in prisons.

"We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families' hard earned money by over-charging us," wrote the inmates in their statement. "Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It's not just us that they’re taking from. It's our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of."

Black Lives Matter, several local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Florida State University's NAACP chapter are among more than 100 groups that have announced their support for the movement. Many of the groups planned to hold a rally with inmates' friends and families at the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday.

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, January 10, 2018

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales.

Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India.

This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement. World governments may have agreed to keep warming to 1.5C, but it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With so many governments still dependent on a fossil fuel economy, they can’t be relied upon to make the radical change required in the time we need to make it. In the 21 years it took them to agree a (non-binding, inadequate) climate agreement, emissions soared. It’s now up to us to now hold them to account, turn words into action and challenge the power and legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry with mass disobedience.

Florida Gears-Up to Offer Solidarity to #OperationPush

By staff - It's Going Down,

On January 15th, prisoners in Florida are set to take action against prison slavery across the state.

According to Fight Toxic Prisons:

[T]hese prisoners plan to initiate a work stoppage or “laydown” beginning Monday, January 15th, coinciding with MLK Day, in nonviolent protest of conditions in FL prisons. They are calling it Operation PUSH.

Their primary demands are clear and concise: end prison slavery, stop price gouging, and fully return parole. They believe these issues have directly created the overcrowding that is responsible for the deplorable conditions in Florida prisons.

Their statement also raises other major issues that need to be grappled with, including the death penalty, voting rights and environmental health conditions.

Prisoners themselves have also issued a statement about their reasons for organizing the action:

We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.

We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:

1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates

Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:

• Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
• Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
• Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
• Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.

Also, Haitian prisoners in Florida have issued a statement in support of Operation PUSH, both the Final Straw and Kine Line have released interviews with organizers involved with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) about supporting the strike, and IGD’s Bloc Party was able to conduct an interview with an incarcerated organizer, which you can read here.

From Automation to the Gig Economy: Mapping Capital’s Networks

By the collective - It's Going Down, December 12, 2017

Listen Here - link

From Trump tweeting about how low unemployment is to patting himself on the back for a ‘roaring’ stock market, we are bombarded daily with news about how great “our” economy is doing. So how can the economy be doing well, but so many American workers are barely getting by? Moreover, many Americans are having to work a variety of jobs in order to put food on the table and pay their rent, as the cost of living continues to climb while wages stay stagnant. As the saying goes, “someone is gettin’ rich, but it sure isn’t me.” 10 years after the Great Recession, and the gap between rich and poor has grown even wider, while wealth has accumulated into fewer and fewer hands. Meanwhile on the horizon, automation seeks to amplify this process while at the same time the elites are signalling a push to gut basic programs for the poor, the elderly, and the infirm.

Wanting to know more about the forces causing this reality, in this episode, we catch up with two people involved in the Global Supply Chains, which works to map the strengths and weaknesses of modern capitalism and looks at ways in which working-class people could possibly take action at choke points, leveraging the maximum amount of power.

In the first part of the podcast, we begin the conversation with a discussion about the massive transfer of wealth in the wake of the Great Recession, the rise of the ‘precariat,’ the growth of the service sector and the gig economy, and how capitalists in big cities are literally running out of workers as gentrification pushes out more and more wage earners. We then discuss economically, what has taken place under Trump over the last year, looking at both the “economic nationalism” of Bannon and the tough talk by Trump to leave behind neoliberalism. Lastly, we discuss the growing push towards automation and robotization and what this signals for everyday people.

We then switch gears and discuss the work of Global Supply Chains, and how this work can inform both current anti-capitalist workers struggles as well as environmental battles taking place against resource extraction.

As both tech capital and gentrification rearranges the world around us, pushing millions into the margins while working us harder and longer for less and less money, we find our lives becoming more and more precarious. In this context, we need to find ways of analyzing and understanding the networks of power, energy, and capital in ways benefit our struggles on the ground.

One Big Union, One Long Fight

By Robert Young - Monthly Review, November 2017

The Wobblies, a film directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer (1979; Docurama, 2006), 89 minutes, color, DVD.

Fred W. Thompson and Jon Bekken, The Industrial Workers of the World: Its First Hundred Years (Cincinnati: IWW, 2006), 247 pages, $15, paperback.

In recent decades, both the U.S. and global economy have become mired in a prolonged stagnation. As a shrinking number of large corporations dominate a greater share of industries and sectors, business investment has slowed and wage growth has stalled. Although the economy has been on this trajectory for quite some time, a series of financial bubbles has obscured the trend. The collapse of the most recent of these, and the subsequent Great Recession of 2007–09, has laid bare this overall macroeconomic condition, to the point that even mainstream economists such as Larry Summers openly recognize “secular stagnation” as the economy’s dominant course.1

A stagnating economy is most immediately characterized by a general decline in business investment, static or falling wage levels, and deficit spending by governments trying to reignite sustained growth. In the wake of each burst bubble, the economy makes a weak “recovery,” without returning to its earlier strengths.2 Thus, over time, although specific sectors may experience some growth, the overall economy continues to slow in terms of investment, jobs creation, and wage increases, and appears increasingly fragile in each of these spheres.

The longer-term implications of an economy caught in stagnation are quite serious. As the situation continues to worsen, both corporations and the general public demand that steps be taken to stimulate economic growth. Politically this pressure has yielded two possible—and very distinct—paths. The first is a sharp turn to the right, as has happened in the United States and elsewhere in the advanced capitalist core. This reactionary tendency scorns liberal democracy as weak and inefficient, embracing chauvinist and conservative attitudes and vilifying the poor and marginalized. The other path is a shift to a more progressive politics based upon solidarity, community, and innovation, one that seeks to remake the economy on new foundations of justice and equality.

The stagnation in real wages described above has been compounded by a historic decline in job security, as flexible employment, temporary work, informal labor, and short-term contracting replaced steady, full-time, “family-wage” work. Together, these factors are transforming great swathes of the workforce into a newly precarious proletariat, or a “precariat”: not an “underclass” of the unemployed or unemployable, but people with job experience, education, and some assets, who must often work several part-time positions to make ends meet.

The question, then, is how to organize politically and economically to revive economic growth and strengthen equity, fairness, and democracy, and how is this to be done in the face of an increasingly globalized, monopolistic economy with a fragmented, precarious workforce. After decades of declining union membership among U.S. workers, where should we seek effective strategies for organizing the unemployed and under-skilled?

The best starting place might be the earlier labor history of the United States. Before the establishment of the National Labor Relations Board, sanctioned collective bargaining, and other labor legislation, the country’s situation at the turn of the twentieth century was strikingly similar to today’s. Corporations were growing exponentially in political and economic strength. Workers were largely unorganized, especially those without specialized skills, and unions, however active, represented only a small fraction of the workforce. Unorganized workers often had to work on short contracts or with no job security at all—a tableau not unlike the conditions facing many workers today.

Into this highly precarious situation stepped the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), whose history and experience offer insight into how to grapple with these problems today. Founded in Chicago in 1905 by a veritable who’s-who of the era’s leading labor militants, including Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, and “Big Bill” Haywood, the IWW sought to build “One Big Union,” uniting workers across industries and sectors as a counterforce to an emerging monopoly capitalism. The key to this strategy was to organize industrially, as opposed to the then-dominant practice of organizing workers on the basis of specific crafts, the approach promoted by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The IWW (or Wobblies, as they became known) saw the self-defeating nature of the AFL strategy: when workers were organized by craft under separate contracts, employers often pitted one group of workers against another. AFL activists also sought only to organize skilled workers, leaving the vast majority of the workforce out of the equation.

True to their vision, the Wobblies set out to organize any and all members of the working class, skilled and unskilled, in manufacturing and service industries, black and Latino as well as white, women as well as men. To do so, IWW activists lit out across the country (and eventually around the world) organizing workers wherever the jobs were. From logging and mining operations in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin, to the dock yards along the east and west coasts, to the auto industry, wheat fields, and orchards of the Midwest, the Wobblies began agitating for higher wages, safer and more dignified working conditions, and ultimately industrial democracy.

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Refusing the Fascist Future: An Interview with Shane Burley

By Anti-Fascist News - It's Going Down, December 17, 2017

So where did the Alt Right come from?

The Alt Right really comes from a few converging political movements, both inside and outside the U.S.  The real beginnings of this goes back to France in the 1960s when a number of far-right intellectuals laid the groundwork to “rebrand” fascist ideas using the language of the left.  The European New Right, led by figures like Alain de Benoist and Guillume Faye, used the language of the New Left, appropriated the arguments of post-colonialist and national liberation movements, and attempted to engage in a type of “cultural struggle” as proposed by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.  Their ideas really were to pick up where the German Conservative Revolutionary movement and Radical Traditionalist thinkers like Julius Evola left off and argue for a going after the culture with nationalist values.  If they change the way that Europeans think about the world, and think about themselves, maybe this can allow a radical shift in politics down the line.

They argued that they were “anti-colonialist” and that white European nations had been “colonized” by forced of “globalist” capitalism and modernity.  Their argument was then for “Ethnopluralism,” a sort of “nationalism for all peoples,” that could then fight the destructive elements of modern multiculturalism, internationalism, and capitalism.  This approach avoided racial slurs, violent white nationalist politics, and the baggage of fascist political parties, and really laid a heavy intellectual groundwork for a new generation of fascists who wanted to appear as academics rather than Klansman.

The next is really paleoconservatism, a sort of far-right American conservatism that defined itself in opposition to the hawkish foreign policy of the neoconservatives that were coming into power inside the GOP in the 1980s.  They saw themselves as a part of the “Old Right,” which was likely a fantasy rather than a reality, which was isolationist, traditional, and America First.  The paleocons were aggressively conservative on social issues, especially in reaction to queer rights and the AIDs crisis of the 1980s, and were reactionary on racial issues.  Pat Buchanan was the best known of these figures, though he was moderate by their standards.

Worker Solidarity with Camp Makwa and the Movement for Environmental Justice

By the Twin Cities GDC - It's Going Down, December 14, 2017

On Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the Twin Cities IWW unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the IWW’s opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as officially declaring its opposition to the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline. The Twin Cities IWW pledged material support to water protectors, rejecting Enbridge’s arguments that the pipeline is necessary for jobs and prosperity for working class people, and put forward a vision of a “Just Transition” to a sustainable economy.

The resolution pledged two donations of $100 each to the legal defense fund and the supply fund of Camp Makwa, a resistance camp using direct action to protect the land and water that Anishinaabe people and other working class Minnesotans depend on. The resolution further endorsed the Black Snake Killaz Circuit, a series of fundraising concerts for Camp Makwa running across the Twin Cities and other towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin throughout the winter.

No Jobs on a Dead Planet

In the resolution, the Twin Cities IWW rejected the attempts by Enbridge and certain unions to paint the pipeline as good for workers. Instead, the resolution focuses on the harm that the oil industry does to its workers, surrounding communities, and the environment.

Enbridge’s existing Line 3 is the cause of the largest inland oil spill in US history, spilling 1.7 million gallons of oil into the Prairie River in 1991. In 2007, tragedy struck in Minnesota again with a pinhole leak explosion in Clearbrook, killing two workers, sparking a large fire, and spilling 15,000 gallons. This spill burned for three days, contaminating the air in the surrounding community. In 2010, Enbridge’s Line 6B pipeline also spilled, releasing around a million gallons of oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River and causing 30,000-50,000 houses to evacuate—and leaving twice as many without clean drinking water. In the aftermath of these spills, union workers have spoken out against Enbridge for failing to clean up their mess which has resulted in birth defects, illness, cancer, and death of both humans and animals in the area of the disaster.

In addition to these specific acts of negligence, the resolution noted the way in which the oil industry exposes working class communities and especially communities of color and indigenous people to the worst risks. These communities are often ignored and their well-being violated during the permitting process for pipelines and other infrastructure projects. For example, pipeline routes often avoid wealthier or majority-white towns and are directed rather through poorer areas, especially near indigenous land. This was the case with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the same pattern can be seen with Line 3.

The resolution further emphasizes the reality of climate change, an accelerating trend that is already disrupting and destroying lives, economies, ecologies, and communities around the world. As the resolution notes, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.”

Faced with environmental dangers on a local and global scale, and unable to stop the lobbying power of well-connected companies, marginalized communities of workers are left with few choices except direct action. Water protectors face violence from the state and private security to defend the land and the people who live on it from the harm done by the oil industry.

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