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Donald Trump

Railroad Workers and Our Allies Must Unite in Support of AMTRAK

By Ron Kaminkow - Teamsters for a Democratic Union, April 25, 2017

On March 16th, President Trump released a blueprint budget that proposes to slash funding for the Department of Transportation by $2.4 billion, including funding for all Amtrak “long distance” trains, along with funding for dozens of transit expansion projects nationwide. In recent months, Trump has voiced support for massive investment in the nation’s infra-structure. Yet ironically, his first proposed budget not only fails to deliver, it guts funding for existing infrastructure.

The blueprint budget proposes the elimination of most Amtrak routes across the country. If we are to save the national passenger rail system, railroad workers and their unions must unite with passenger advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and communities across the country. The vast majority of Americans want more - not less - passenger trains. In this fight, just like in others, railroad workers have lots of potential allies.

All railroaders – freight, as well as transit and passenger – should be alarmed and concerned by this proposal. Should Amtrak be defunded and dismembered, it is near certain that nothing would replace it. Privately run passenger trains fail to turn a profit – the reason that the rail carriers abandoned such service in the 1960's. And it is highly unlikely that private vendors – even if there were any – who wished to enter such a market would even be allowed by most – if not all – carriers access to their railroads. Amtrak is barely tolerated by the host railroads as it is, and then only because the act which created the entity in 1970 mandates that it be entitled to operate passenger trains on the nation’s railroads.

Thankfully, the President’s blueprint budget is not the last word on the question. We have the potential to save Amtrak – and transit funding too – over the course of the coming weeks and months, as Congress fashions what will be ultimately be the final budget. We have been down this road before of course, when George Bush was President. We will need to mobilize now like we did then. Because if Amtrak is defunded, thousands of fellow rails will lose their jobs, and as a result, we will all potentially suffer as the income for Railroad Retirement is dramatically diminished.

Ironically, as it turns out, Amtrak is one of the most efficient passenger railroads in the world, covering 94% of its operating costs at the fare box! Adjusted revenue of $2.15 billion was the most ever for a fiscal year (2016). Amtrak set an all-time ridership record despite record low gasoline prices inducing travelers to drive rather than seek public transportation. Demand for trains is out there! Considering that all forms of transportation – including airline, inland waterway, as well as automobile, bus and anything else that goes down the highway – are heavily subsidized by the states and federal government, far more than Amtrak, we are getting a great deal with the limited subsidy that Amtrak receives to keep the trains running. And in some cases – especially in rural areas – the train is the only form of public transportation available!

And trains are the safest form of transportation known to humanity. Railroad transport utilizes less land and space to transport an equivalent number of passengers in any other mode. And trains emit less pollutants than other forms, and can make use of alternative and renewable energy. As the nation’s highways and airports become ever more congested, we should be expanding passenger train options, not reducing them! As fossil fuel shipments decline, and demand for public transportation continues to grow, passenger trains could fill the void and excess track capacity in certain lanes. And in select mid-range corridors of 400 miles or less; e.g. Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Twin Cities; Bay Area to L.A., Houston to Dallas; Jacksonville to Miami; L.A. to Las Vegas, there is great potential to develop and expand multi-train departures on faster and more reliable schedules.

But to save Amtrak and expand the use of passenger rail – thereby increasing union rail employment, and ensuring the future of Railroad Retirement – will take a gallant effort. Rail unions cannot do this themselves, passenger advocacy groups cannot, neither can environmental organizations nor municipalities, all of whom are supporters of passenger rail. Therefore, we need a “Grand Alliance” of all of these forces to win the day. While all of us may have a specific agenda and focus, we have far more in common with one another than we have differences, there is far more that unites us than divides us. It is high time that our labor unions reach out, network, and build the necessary alliances with these forces, not just for a one-time lobbying effort for a specific narrow goal, as important as it may be. Rather, we need to build a strategic long-term alliance – despite our differences - with these forces, where we come to see one another as natural coalition partners for the long run.

Governments around the world are investing heavily in passenger rail. They understand that it is the safest, most convenient, environmentally sensitive, and often fastest way to get around. We can do it here too. But it will take the political will power and the formation of a lasting progressive coalition to bring it about. What better time than now to get started!

It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues

By Clancy Sigal - CounterPunch, April 25, 2017

Don’t go down in the mine, Dad,
Dreams very often come true;
Daddy, you know it would break my heart
If anything happened to you…

— in honor of 1907 South Wales mining disaster

I’ve never been down an American coal mine, among the least safest in the world, though have plunged thousands  of feet into the dark bowels of British pits in Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland, the world’s safest until they were closed by politicians and bean counters.

I have a selfish interest in coal mining since it was English pit men who first opened up their world to me  and encouraged my first writing.

Deep down in the hard-to-breath darkness at 2000 feet below the surface miners educated me how they’re aseparate culture, with its own taboos and permissions. At the coal face, hand-getting or machine-cutting, I saw them as skilled surgeons, or code breakers using logic to solve life and death problems underground, with super-sensitive ears for the faint early warning crack of a wall collapse or groan in a roof support.

Miners are a special, ancient breed whether in China, Poland or Appalachia; at their union’s strongest, which it’s not now, militant solidarity is bred in their bones. (See the Battle of Blair Mountain where massed miners shot it out with  federal troops and even the US air corps for the right to unionize.)

Gradually I climbed into a social class where “coal” became a dirty word because the getting of the decayed vegetation with its high carbon content became synonymous with earth’s destruction and our asthmatic lungs.

You know, shaved mountain tops, poisoned rivers, massive health costs to miners (black lung, silicosis, injuries) and any of us who has to breathe in the fossil-fuel fumes. Not to mention the harm to climate change.

Gas powered electricity (fracking) is allegedly cheaper. Cleaner, more modern, more accessible. Anyway Appalachian coal is giving out, and privately owned coal companies – whose safety records are an obscenity – daily go bankrupt abandoning their workers’ health benefits. Right now Wyoming with its open cast strip mining produces  more coal than traditional deep pit mines in the eastern mountains.

So what happens to the aging coal miners who voted for Trump on his promise to bring back jobs and restore coal  which none of them believed but had hopes he would care for them in a declining industry?

One of the thousands of reasons Hillary lost was going to coal-mining West Virginia which she won in 2008 and  telling them, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” in the drive for clean energy. The voting miners preferred Trump’s hopeful lie to Clinton’s blunt death sentence. Who wouldn’t?

The gods of coal are vengeful. Today, the 80,000 or so remaining miners, out of a 1970 high of 140,000 and a  1920s high of 700,000, are getting royally screwed by Trump’s rich Republicans. In a word they’re being sent  on a fast ride to the cemetery by the people they voted for in such big numbers.

The Republican congress is twisting miners and their families in the wind by refusing, until the very last moment  and maybe not then, to honor promised federal health benefits that are used to beef up the much used Medicare and Medicaid. The loss of this government money is literally the difference between life and death for men on oxygen or  suffering other coal-related injuries.

A double kick in the face: Trump is also defunding the Appalachian Regional Commission and U.S Economic Development Commission set up specifically to cushion coal’s collapse.

An amazing number of people, still traumatized by Hillary’s defeat, say Trump’s betrayals are only what the miners deserve.  Or as one NYT reader wrote from W. Virginia, “I have run out of patience and empathy for these  people…They’re…ignorant… and generally not interested in anything but being a coal miner, shooting wild animals and each other, getting drunk or high,  and qualifying for disability.”

Oh, have I run into such soured Democrats! They can’t forgive coal miners for voting the wrong way but above all for  being the stubborn rednecks they are. Why can’t they be more like us, and vote the right way and stop being so damn poor?

The Republican agenda is clear. One by one knock off the most vulnerable then the least unionized then the rest of us, all in good time. The Appalachian miners are not our past but our future.

Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker Alternative to the Trump Agenda

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 24, 2017

We are in a critical political moment. The impacts of climatechange are increasingly severe, taking a toll on our health, environment and our economies. In the midst of this growing crisis, the United States now has a President and Congressional leadership that simultaneously attack climateclimate science and aim to comprehensively roll back climate protection measures and the rights of workers to organize.

Jobs for Climate and Justice exposes and challenges the Trump agenda and proposes the kind of economic program we must fight for. It also offers examples of the great organizing efforts around the country – led by working people – that provide the foundation for the a transition to a just and climate-safe economy. It is organized based on 4 elements:

  1. Create good jobs fixing the climate
  2. Protect threatened workers and communities
  3. Remedy inequality and injustice
  4. Lay the basis for a New Economy

The full working paper can be found [Here]

Kicking Them While They’re Down: What Trump is Doing to Appalachia

By Kenneth Surin - CounterPunch, April 11, 2017; Photo by Don O’Brien | CC BY 2.0

Appalachia voted overwhelmingly for Trump, who won it by a resounding 63%-33%.  Appalachia as a region is defined by federal law, and consists of 490 counties in 13 states.  Hillary Clinton won only 21 of these counties.  According to the right-wing Washington Examiner, “She did not win a single county in Appalachia that is mostly white, non-college-educated and has a population of under 100,000 people”.

Political analysts have used a fine-tooth comb to go over the issue of Trump’s popularity with less-educated whites, so there is no need to repeat their findings here.

More interesting, and not so much discussed thus far, is the potential impact on Appalachia of the budgetary policies announced recently by the Trump administration.  In a nutshell:  what’s been announced may “make America great again”, but it almost certainly won’t do this for Appalachia (not that the rest of the country, except for the plutocracy, is likely to benefit either).

Appalachia is one of the poorest regions in the US.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been earmarked for elimination by Trump, as has the Economic Development Administration (EDA)– more about this later.  The ARC compiles statistics on Appalachian poverty, income, and employment.

According to the ARC 2010-2014 Poverty Rate report, the poverty rate across the US was 15.6% compared to 19.7% in the Appalachian region of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There are significant variations between different Appalachian states where poverty rates are concerned.  For example, the Virginian statewide rate is 11.5% as opposed to an 18.8% rate for the Appalachian region overall.

(This statistic is however somewhat misleading when used in this way because Virginia’s overall poverty rate is greatly reduced by the economic contribution of affluent northern Virginia (NoVa) with its abundance of well-paid government and tech jobs.  There are “two Virginias” where income disparities are concerned, and the poverty rate in Appalachian Virginia, as opposed to NoVa, is a more accurate 18.8%.)

The state with the worst regional poverty rate is Kentucky with a 25.4% rate in its Appalachian portion as opposed to the 18.9% rate for the rest of the state.

The cause of this poverty is not so much unemployment (though that is a contributing factor), but desperately low income levels.

Union Leaders meet Trump: "almost giddy." Nauseating

By Sean O'Torain - Facts For Working People, April 10, 2017

The authors of this Blog have continually focused on the refusal of the trade union leaders to fight the bosses and the offensive of the bosses capitalist system against working people and the environment. We believe we are correct to do so. The US trade union leaders control organizations with a membership of up to 14 million and with huge full time resources, a massive infrastructure and hundreds of millions of dollars. Their potential power is confirmed by the fact that people like Obama, and now Trump stroke these union leaders to make sure they remain on their side. Just have a look at how far these union leaders are prepared to go to boot lick the bosses and their political stooges.

The New York Times Sunday April 9th had an article entitled: "Can Trump Win Over Big Labor?" The article showed he would not have a hard job if we are talking about the union leaders as opposed to the rank and file. Just three days after his inauguration - he was wasting no time, again this shows the potential of the trade union movement that he thought he had to move fast - yes just three days after his inauguration Trump invited the leaders of the building trades unions to the White House. The New York Times described what was going on as Trump "courting" these leaders. Well this courting worked, the romance is so far going well. The New York Times describes the mood of these union leaders after the meeting as "almost giddy" (it is nauseating) and went on to point to the news release from the laborers' union which was headed: "It is finally beginning to feel like a new day for America's working class." Yes it is a new day alright. The whip will be laid with even greater ferocity across the back of the US working class.

Then there is McGarvey the head of the North American Building Trades Unions and supporter of the Keystone Pipeline and other such destructive projects; he said: "So far so good - our concern is the economic trajectory of our members." In other words screw everything else, the workers who are not their members, the planet, women's rights, the fight against racism, sexism, police brutality, the wars and occupations abroad, health care, education, screw them all it is just the "economic trajectory" of his members. Oh how these bureaucrats like using big words. It makes them sound learn ed and, they hope, cover up their cowardice and refusal to fight for their members. And if this betrayal of the working class as a whole, this betrayal of the fight to save the planet and against war were not enough, the economic trajectory of his members has already been going down for years. McGarvey went on: "We're creating a building trades majority, Democratic and Republican whether state or national. We never want to be in a position where losing an election changes the economic trajectory of our membership." So he wants an alliance of the Trumps, the Clintons, incredible. On top of that  this moron refuses to see that the "economic trajectory" let us speak plainly, the living standards of his members and the US working class has been going down for decades. A new fighting leadership has to be built in the rank and file of the unions and the workplaces. This old boot licking pro capitalist leadership has to be removed.

Prospects for Social Democracy in the US: Insights From a Syndicalist in Sweden

By Enrique Guerrero-López and Adam Weaver - Truthout, April 10, 2017

In the era of Trump, there's a clear and growing interest in socialism, especially among young people. The first measurable shift began to peek over the horizon in polling data done in the wake of the Occupy movement, showing 49 percent of people ages 18-29 favored socialism over capitalism. The political terrain of the US was rocked to such a degree that even the Republicans took "capitalism" out of their talking points. As the narrative of free markets and unquestioned neoliberalism publicly unraveled, we reached the point in 2016 where a majority of those under 30 rejected capitalism and had a positive view of socialism. This crisis of the political establishment was further deepened by the emergence of Black Lives Matter. Ferguson became symbolic of the deep racial inequality that exists across the US, but it was also the rebellion of urban centers like Baltimore -- traditionally Democratic and with significant Black elected leadership -- which melted away the "post-racial" mythology that took hold during the Obama years.

So when Bernie Sanders stepped into the ring for the 2016 presidential election as the anti-establishment candidate building a "political revolution," he slid through the door kicked open by social movements, exceeding even his own expectations and gaining unanticipated popularity. The Sanders campaign simultaneously popularized and clouded understandings of socialism. When asked about his vision of socialism during a CNN presidential debate, Sanders responded that we should "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway," conflating a social democratic welfare state with the anticapitalist core of socialism.

Taking a cue from Sanders, we decided to "look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway" to take a deeper look at social democracy from the perspective of those who live in "actually existing" social democratic countries. We recently spoke with Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian-born author living in Sweden and involved in radical labor and migrant solidarity efforts, about his analysis and experience of social democracy. Kuhn, the author of numerous books including Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging A Militant Working-Class Culture, is a member of the syndicalist SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation) and has in recent years mainly been involved in migrant solidarity projects. 

The Fights to Protect Science, People and Planet Are Inherently Connected

By Lucky Tran and Jamie Henn - Common Dreams, April 16, 2017

The election of Donald Trump has sparked an unprecedented outpouring of public mobilization across the United States and around the world. From the Women’s March to rallies against the Muslim Ban, people are demonstrating creative and powerful ways to take action, in Washington, D.C. and beyond, to resist Trump and fight for the world they want.

This April, two powerful mobilizations will take place in D.C. and around the world, one to stand up for science and truth, the next to defend our climate, jobs, and justice. Together, the March for Science and the Peoples Climate March provide a powerful way for all of us to take action—together.

How the Democrats Lost West Virginia and the Coal Miners To Trump

By Les Leopold - Common Dreams, April 7, 2017

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You’re going back to work.” ― Donald Trump on signing an executive order to reverse the Obama Administration’s rules on coal, March 28, 2017.

Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964 buried Barry Goldwater in West Virginia, 67.9 percent to 32.1 percent. By 2016, Trump completely reversed that landslide by defeating Hillary Clinton 67.9 percent to 26.2 percent. What happened to turn such a deep blue state into flaming red?

The Democratic Party establishment has a simple explanation: West Virginians are so hung up on cultural issues like guns, gays, abortion and their mythical self-image as “coal country” that they vote against their own material interests. They seem impervious to the fact that they are major beneficiaries of Obamacare and Medicaid. They don’t seem to notice that health care jobs far exceed coal-related jobs which have been decimated by new technologies, and market competition from natural gas and renewables.

As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently writes, “So West Virginia voted overwhelmingly against its own interests. ....Coal country residents.... were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more.”

Cutting Off 'Fly-Over' States, Trump to Axe Amtrak for 220 Cities

By Lauren McCauley - Common Dreams, April 6, 2017

In addition to slashing funding for the arts, education programs, climate change research, and worker protections (among many other things), another lesser known casualty of President Donald Trump's "morally obscene" budget proposal: Amtrak.

The president's so-called "skinny budget" will eliminate all federal funding for Amtrak's national train network, meaning 220 cities will lose all passenger service, the  National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) warned this week.

"It's ironic that President Trump's first budget proposal undermines the very communities whose economic hardship and sense of isolation from the rest of the country helped propel him into office," said NARP president Jim Mathews.

"These working class communities—many of them located in the Midwest and the South—were tired of being treated like 'flyover country,'" Mathews continued. "But by proposing the elimination of Amtrak's long distance trains, the Trump administration does them one worse, cutting a vital service that connects these small town economies to the rest of the U.S.."

"These hard working, small town Americans," he added, "don't have airports or Uber to turn to; they depend on these trains."

Specifically, Trump's proposal slashes $2.4 billion (or 13 percent) from transportation spending, threatening long distance routes including the east coast's Silver Star and Silver Meteor lines, the New York-Chicago Cardinal train service, the Empire Builder, which connects Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, as well as the effort to restore the Gulf Coast line.

In addition to cutting Amtrak's national network—which provides the only connection to the national network for 23 states and 144.6 million Americans—it also cuts $2.3 billion in funding for new transit and commuter rail projects that would have provided thousands of construction and long-term job opportunities.

Further, in one of her first official acts, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indefinitely suspended a grant which would have provided funding for two electric, high-speed rail lines in California: one which would have run from Los Angeles to San Francisco and the other a Bay Area commuter line.

Mathews noted that the cuts come at the same time that Trump continues to "promise that our tax dollars will be invested in rebuilding America's infrastructure."

"Instead," he continued, "we have seen an all-out assault on any project—public and private—that would advance passenger rail. These cuts and delays are costing the U.S. thousands of good-paying construction and manufacturing jobs in America's heartland at this very moment."

Trump's planned infrastructure investment has been largely panned as a "huge tax giveaway for the rich," as it will largely go to subsidizing developers and investors rather than be used for much needed projects and services.

Building Trades Activists Stand Up to Trump

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, April 05, 2017

When they heard President Donald Trump would address the Building Trades national legislative conference, activists from Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 569 knew they had to do something.

“We couldn’t let him come and speak to us and just sit there,” said William Stedham, a “workaday Joe” and executive board member of the San Diego-based local. “If we hadn’t, everyone would think that the Building Trades was on board with him 100 percent, and we’re not.”

So a few minutes into his speech, six of them stood up with signs that said “Resist” and turned their backs on the billionaire-in-chief. The gesture flew in the face of a directive from Building Trades leadership that attendees should “be on their best behavior.”

Demonstrators included the political director and business manager of Local 569 as well as the president and political director of the San Diego Building Trades.

San Diego activists are hot about Trump’s decision to appoint a top lobbyist from the anti-union Association of Building Contractors to a key role on his incoming Department of Labor team.

They’re also furious that former Heritage Foundation staffer James Sherk is now the White House Domestic Policy Council’s labor and employment adviser. Sherk has written a seemingly infinite number of articles attacking union workers. A sample: frequent pieces attacking minimum wage increases, an argument in favor of requiring unions to be re-certified every two to four years a la Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and a report titled “Right to Work Increases Jobs and Choices.”

“The things we’ve been fighting hard for—more project labor agreements, more local-hire agreements, and better training and workplace safety—none of them are being supported by the Trump administration,” says Gretchen Newsom, political director of Local 569.

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