Should a 15,000-Ton Train Be Operated Single-Handed?

By J.P. Wright and Ed Michael - Labor Notes, December 11, 2012

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Back in the old days, in order to operate safely, a freight train used a five-person crew—an engineer, a fireman, two brakemen, and a conductor.

After two-way radios and electronic air brake monitoring allowed the railroads to eliminate the caboose in the 1980s, crew size went down to three.

Tough contract negotiations eliminated another crew member, so now almost every freight train rolling across the U.S. is operated by just an engineer and a conductor.

Railroaders fear the conductor will be next to go. The railroads say they want single-employee trains, and leaders have allowed language to seep into contracts that says if crew size is reduced to one, that last remaining crew member will be an engineer or a conductor—depending which union is negotiating the language.

With union officials asleep at the wheel on this dangerous prospect, Railroad Workers United, a cross-union coalition of rank-and-file railroaders, is taking up the challenge to stop the runaway train.

Some trains are over 10,000 feet long and weigh more than 15,000 tons. Engineers drive the train and take care of the engines, but the freight conductor does the rest. If anything goes wrong with the equipment, the conductor walks the train to find blown air hoses, broken couplers, or trespasser accidents. If the train stops in a busy town, the conductor can quickly separate the train to allow emergency equipment to reach blocked rail crossings.

Both engineer and conductor are licensed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), with constant retraining and on-the-job testing to ensure compliance with the many operating rules and regulations that govern trains.

We are drilled in the railroad’s Homeland Security awareness plan and told that the security of the nation’s railways depends on our two sets of eyes observing every inch of our unsecured railroad infrastructure.

On Bill McKibben’s ‘call to arms’ for the New York Climate Summit

By Anne Petermann - Global Justice Ecology Project, July 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The September climate march was called for by Big Green NGOs and Avaaz, who have thrown copious quantities of cash at it. But many environmental and climate justice organizations and alliances based in the New York/New Jersey region and across the US have demanded a seat at the organizing table to ensure that the voices of front line and impacted communities are heard, despite their small budgets.

The demands of the march: there will be none. That’s right. The march will simply bring together an estimated 200,000 people to march through the streets of New York and then…  There will be no rally, no speakers, no strong political demands.  Just people showing up with the overarching message that the world’s leaders should take action on climate change.


What kind of climate action should be taken is a question that has long been debated by climate justice activists, organizations, social movements and Indigenous Peoples all over the world for decades.   “Climate action” can include things like geoengineering schemes–manmade manipulations of nature on such a massive scale that the impacts can’t possibly be known, but could definitely be catastrophic.  They can also include actions already taking place, such as the building of vast hydroelectric dams that flood vast expanses of land and displace thousands of Indigenous Peoples or land-based communities. Climate action can also include ongoing grabbing of land for the development of vast plantations of oil palm, GMO soy or non-native trees for so-called bioenergy.

So no, not all “climate action” is created equal.  A lack of clear justice-based and ecologically sound demands in this “historic” march will leave a vacuum.  And no vacuum remains empty for long.  It’s simple physics.  The media will not cover a march with no demands. They will find a message.  And likely, as so often happens, those with the connections and the money will win the messaging game.

How Green is the Green New Deal?

By Don Fitz - Climate and Capitalism, July 15, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The world has over half a century of experience with programs that claim to help nature or feed the planet while they do the opposite.  The twin crises of the early 21st century are economic and ecological collapse.  Should we increase production to create more jobs and accept horrible environmental damage?  Or, should we protect a livable world at the cost of causing more unemployment?

An increasingly popular answer is the “Green New Deal” (GND): create “green jobs” in order to jump start the economy.   But the GND might not provide long term employment and could cause major environmental harm.  Digging beneath the surface appearance of the GND requires exploring its family tree: the Green Revolution, Green Capitalism and the Green Economy.

The Green Revolution

As capitalism spread across the globe, hunger and starvation spread with it.  Hoarding food and selling it to those who have plenty has always been more profitable than sharing food with those who need it.

By the middle of the 20th century, agribusiness decided that new plant varieties could be the focal point of a “Green Revolution” that would “feed the world.”  According to Stan Cox, dwarfing genes “allowed the plant to divert less energy to making stems and leaves and allowed the farmer to apply much more nitrogen fertilizer without making the plants get too tall and fall over.”  But these new varieties required pesticides and were more vulnerable to diseases. [1]

For at least 10,000 years, humans have been using “open pollination” seeds which could be gathered and planted the next year.  The Green Revolution also promoted hybrid seeds, especially for corn.  But hybrid seeds did not reproduce traits sought by farmers.  Those who use them must return to the seed company each year.  Hybrids fostered agricultural dependency.

One of the best summaries of the effects of hybrid corn is in Carmelo Ruiz’ story of Henry Wallace, the agrarian progressive who was Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture.  According to Ruiz, “Among the most celebrated attributes of hybrid corn is the ease with which it can be harvested by machine.”  Huge fields with “genetic uniformity created a dream situation for pests.” [2, p 10]  As with dwarf varieties, this generated a need for pesticides.  Rapid growth as well as pesticide destruction of the soil’s natural fertility created a need for fertilizers.

A huge increase in output resulted: “between 1950 and 1980, US corn exports were multiplied times 20.” [2]   Results also appeared in increased farming costs, impoverishment of family farmers, and further concentration of wealth in agriculture.

Was this truly the price that had to be paid in order to “feed the world?”  Is it possible that the same yield increases could have occurred if research had gone in another direction?  Ruiz quotes geneticist Richard Lewontin as concluding, “Virtually no one has tried to improve the open-pollinated varieties, although scientific evidence shows that if the same effort had been put into such varieties, they would be as good or better than hybrids.” [2]

Research focused on developing hybrids because they were part of an overall agenda to concentrate capital.  Proponents of the Green Revolution identified a real problem (hunger), but they trumpeted a solution friendly to big business which created as many problems as it solved.  Meanwhile, a low-tech solution was ignored.

IBEW, Fitters Locked Out by Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

To: Executive Board, Officials, and Business Agents, et al.

  • United Association Local Union 524
  • IBEW Local 81
  • IUOE Local 542
  • Teamsters Local 229
  • LIUNA Local 130

From:  Alex Lotorto

Electrical Workers, Fitters are Locked Out By Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

The proposed Milford and Easton Compressor Station expansions are part of Columbia Gas Transmission Co.’s (subsidiary of NiSource) East Side Expansion Project. Both proposed expansions do not utilize industry best practices to reduce or eliminate emissions that also require more manhours to install. This means that NiSource, which earned $5.7 billion in net revenue last year, is minimizing its costs, effectively swindling trade union members out of the best possible Project Labor Agreements. In this case, the cause of labor is also aligned with the cause of local environmentalists who seek to limit unnecessary harm to public health and air quality.

Specifically, it has been established by the gas industry associations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas Star program, that electric compressors, gas capture technology, and limiting production tank emissions are now the best practices for protecting air quality during transmission and distribution of natural gas. Columbia Gas is a partner in the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program and should be aware of their own recommendations.

In fact, technology like electric compressors and gas capture methods that eliminate blowdowns of methane during maintenance and inspections can pay for themselves as more methane is shipped to downstream customers. Methane that is now released into the atmosphere during blowdowns could be injected into the intersecting Tennessee and Transco pipelines at the Milford and Easton facilities, respectively, and sold to market. This would generate savings for NiSource within one to three years, depending on the price of methane. Above, you will find links to fact sheets for these technologies from the EPA, produced via industry partnerships.

Commonly, best practice recommendations become codified in EPA regulations once they have been shown to work in the field. This is the case for production tank rules limiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions to less than four tons per year, about to be enforced in January 2015 . Both Milford and Easton facilities will have waste liquid and condensate tanks that will be required to be fitted with VOC control technology next year. However, NiSource stated to Milford residents in pre-filing meetings that they will not be installing this technology, meaning lost work for union members and more exposure for neighboring families. In fact, there is nothing in their Resources Report submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describing VOC controls. There is also nothing in the Resources Report describing how hazardous waste will be tended, removed, and disposed of from the facilities, a responsibility best handled by trained union labor.

Capital Blight: The More Things Change...

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A recent article from the folks over at the Rocky Mountain Institute--a pro renewable energy, green capitalist think tank founded by Amory Lovins, Lessons from Australia: How to Reduce US Solar PV Costs through Installation Labor Efficiency, written by Robert McIntosh and Koben Calhoun, demonstrates all too clearly why it's not enough just to replace the existing fossil fuel energy system with renewable alternatives. To sufficiently transform our world, we must confront the root of the problem, and that's hierarchical command / control political-economic systems like capitalism itself.

Yes, it's certainly a good idea to strive for a reasonable degree of efficiency in accomplishing one's desired goals by minimizing input and maximizing output. Doing so is human nature. If this weren't true, humans wouldn't have developed tools and machines to minimize throughputs. The flaw in this concept is the tendency to "externalize" the negative consequences of maximizing this efficiency and to unfairly distribute the fruits of such efforts. A several thousand (or perhaps million) year history of combined and cumulative efforts has created hierarchical class structure and nearly brought about a sixth mass terrestrial extinction event.

The idea that such practices can somehow be reconciled with both a sense of fairness and with ecological sustainability is simply another way in which capitalism has poisoned our minds and our environment.

Trainmen & Engineers Say “No” to Conductorless Trains

By J.P. Wright - Railroad Workers United, July 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Holding the Line on the W&LE

It's been nearly 2½ years now since bargaining commenced between the Wheeling & Lake Erie (W&LE) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (BLET) for a new contract for engineers and trainmen on this Midwest regional carrier. Negotiations have "gone nowhere" as the two sides are diametrically opposed on the issue of single employee train operations.

By August of 2013, things came to a head when the W&LE insisted upon single employee operations of trains, while the union stated that they would never accept such conditions. Then on September 13th and 14th, the carrier unilaterally opted to run a pair of trains with a single manager. The engineers and trainmen of BLET #292 went on strike September 20th, but they were quickly ordered back to work under a temporary restraining order (TRO) by a federal judge. The strike by more than 100 union members completely shut down the railroad's operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Bargaining then resumed on the 23rd. However, the company remained intransigent and refused to negotiate the issue of single employee crews.

Since then, no negotiating sessions had been scheduled throughout the winter and spring. For nine months the two sides did not meet. Finally, after Local Chairman Lonnie Swigert's efforts, including a barrage of phone calls to Mediator Jack Kane, the NMB, the BLET national office, numerous BLET VPs and the General Chairman, the mediator scheduled a bargaining session for June 10-12th in St. Louis. Predictably, the carrier remained steadfast, and refuses to bargain on any issues unless and until the union concedes to run trains with a single employee. The union is holding fast, determined to stop any effort by the W&LE to open the door to single employee operations.

The Ideologue Who Tried to Make Environmentalism Mean Population Control

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, July 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Review of The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon and our gamble over Earth’s future, by Paul Sabin (Yale University Press, 2013).

It was the Indian food crisis of the mid 1960s that turned the biologist Paul Ehrlich from a field researcher on butterflies into one of the USA’s most vocal environmentalists and population control advocates.

Ehrlich published his best-seller The Population Bomb – which warned that “mankind will breed itself into oblivion” and called for “radical surgery” to excise the “cancer” of population growth – in the summer of 1968.

The American elite was receptive to Ehrlich’s “grim predictions about the future”, Paul Sabin writes in The Bet. That year, violent revolt swept through American cities; the USA was mired in the Vietnam war and faced opposition to it at home; and student and worker protests swept through the rich countries and culminated in the French general strike.

Ehrlich became a media superstar, doing more than 100 public lectures and 200 radio and TV shows in 1970 alone. The Population Bomb was reprinted 22 times in three years. In the introduction, Ehrlich explained that he had “understood the population explosion intellectually for a long time”, but that his tour of India in the summer of 1965 – during one of the subcontinent’s periodic food supply crises – had brought it home emotionally. One “stinking hot night”, he wrote,

My wife and daughter and I were returning to our hotel in an ancient taxi. The seats were hopping with fleas. The only functional gear was third. As we crawled through the city, we entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100 and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people watching, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people.

Sabin argues that Ehrlich’s “revulsion” at India’s street life was “common for western visitors”. But his instinct to blame “the sheer number of people” reflected a shift in emphasis in western thinking (The Bet, p. 22).

Join the Anti-capitalist Protest Against FERC on July 13th, 2014

By x365252 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On July 13th, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) will be organizing a march from the Capitol Building to the office of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to protest FERC's refusal to conduct an environmental impact statement on the liquid natural gas export plant Dominion is planning to build in the Cove Point area of Lusby, MD. FERC has also basically been cozying up to Dominion, and has not taken the residents of Cove Point's concerns about health and environmental safety into account.

While CCAN's efforts against the proposed LNG plant at Cove Point is being supported by some mainstream unions and environmental groups alike, there has been growing frustration from the residents and rank-and-file members of CCAN that the group is ineffective in stopping the plant.

To this end, some Fellow Workers from the DC GMB and members of Chesapeake Earth First! will be forming an anti-capitalist bloc at the protest to show that unless capitalism is abolished, agencies like FERC will do the bidding of companies like Dominion, with no regard for the environment or the safety of working class citizens.

We are meeting at the Capitol Building on Sunday, July 13th, at 12:30 pm. We will be marching from the Capitol Building to the FERC office, which will end at 2:30pm.

If you're free on Sunday afternoon, please come out and show your support! While I'm not sure the bloc alone will be effective in any immediate change, it can serve to help us get contacts with people interested in organizing workers around environmental safety issues.

For further details, contact x365252 [at]

Capital Blight - Smoke and Mirrors

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This past week reports of a recent trend (but hardly a new phenomena), called "rolling coal", have gone viral in the green media--in particular on Grist and the Huffington Post. Essentially, predominantly white, working class, rural truck drivers are venting their frustrations on "effete, latte sipping, Prius driving, city-dwelling, liberals" by installing devices in their trucks that actually belch smoke and lower their own gas mileage on command. This display of reactionary machismo is detailed in a recent article by Elizabeth Kulze. As the famous comedian, Jack Benny would probably say--in the complete opposite context--"Only in America...".

As one would expect, the comments sections following these articles are full of harshly critical comments directed at these coal rollers, and not entirely without justification, but the anger is misdirected.

To be sure, it's not a classist or elitist slur to properly refer to attitudes such as these as retrograde. Back in the day the Wobblies had a nickname for members of our own class who would side with the bosses. We called them "blocks" (after the block-headed Ernest Riebe cartoon character, "Mr. Block") or "scissorbills", cultural memes which may have influenced both Charles Schulz (Think of Lucy Van Pelt calling Charlie Brown "blockhead") and the Beatles ("Billy Shears" possibly derives from "William Shears), but our fellow workers never forgot who the real enemy was: the employing class.

Why would anyone in their right mind go to such lengths to actually pay money to install such a moronic device on their vehicle and vent their anger at members of their own class? Clearly this is not logical in any sense. Only a fool would deliberately set their own house on fire, crap in their own bed, or piss in their own beer, but that is precisely what these coal rollers are doing. No matter how much they hate those "Commie tree hugging unwashed-out-of-town-jobless-hippies-on-drugs" or whatever, they're ultimately shooting themselves in the foot by spewing more greenhouse gasses into the Earth's atmosphere. Even if the effect is mostly negligible by itself, it still enables the capitalist class by enabling the latter's divide and conquet tactics which keep the 99% divided and at each other's throats.

We've seen this type of behavior before. In 1989, in timber dependent communities, after the US Government (finally) announced intentions to consider listing the Northern Spotted Owl as a "threatened" species (after years and years of lawsuits, campaigning, and frustration by environmentalists), the big timber corporations used a combination of propaganda, pseudoscientific nonsense, and false front astroturf "wise use" groups (as well as a few compliant business union officials) to whip timber workers into a vigilante mob hysteria against the environmental community.

Unfortunately, many environmentalists foolishly vented their frustration at the timber workers and not the timber workers employers, but this was a tactical mistake. Most timber workers didn't actually support this vigilante mob hysteria (though the corporate controlled media made it seem otherwise), but the capitalists wanted us all to think that the divisions were greater than they actually are, and things are no different now. This whole, sorry affair is simply more smoke and mirrors from the employing class.

Earth Minute: July 2, 2014

By Anne Petermann - Global Justice Ecology Project, July 7, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On the weekly “Earth Minute” Anne Peterman, Executive Director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, discusses Portland Rising Tide’s recent direct action.

The Earth Minute is written and recorded by GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann in partnership with KPFK FM. 

Click here to listen:


The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.