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Here’s How Rail Workers Are Fighting On After Biden Blocked a National Strike

By Jeff Schuhrke - In These Times, January 18, 2023

Politicians may have headed off their strike, but rail workers haven’t stopped organizing for paid sick leave and safe staffing.

While the high-stakes labor dispute on U.S. freight railroads has receded from headlines since President Joe Biden and Congress imposed a new contract last month, rail workers are continuing their fight for dignity and better conditions — albeit without the threat of a national strike on the table.

“The American people should know that while this round of collective bargaining is over, the underlying issues facing the workforce and rail customers remain,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department said in a statement.

The major underlying issue remains precision scheduled railroading (PSR), the business model adopted in recent years by Class I rail carriers like Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and CSX. Designed to maximize shareholder profits by cutting costs to the bone, PSR has been blamed for a dramatic reduction in the freight rail workforce, increased supply-chain congestion and deteriorating safety — all while investors rake in record profits.

As a potential railroad strike loomed late last year, the absence of guaranteed paid sick leave in the rail industry came to symbolize the immense strain PSR puts on workers. Without sick leave, and with the railroads implementing draconian attendance policies to deal with understaffing, workers face discipline for missing work due to illness and have to burn through their vacation time if they or their family members get sick. 

The tentative agreement between rail carriers and unions, brokered by Biden last September, did not include any guaranteed sick days — prompting a majority of the union rank and file to vote against ratifying the deal. 

Late last year, when Biden called on Congress to override union democracy and impose the contract anyway, progressive Democrats attached a separate resolution mandating seven paid sick days, without the president’s public support. The measure passed in the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate, where all but six Republicans voted against it. 

“President Biden campaigned on a week of paid sick leave for all working people, and then he had the opportunity right here but didn’t take action. He favored the corporations,” said Matt Weaver, a rail worker and member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) in Ohio. 

Statement of Solidarity with Railroad Workers

By Staff - Industrial Worker, December 23, 2022

The Industrial Workers of the World stands with U.S. rank-and-file railroad workers as owners and politicians collude to strip them of their most basic rights. The right to withhold our labor is inviolable and cannot be prohibited. Further, we believe that an injury to one is an injury to all. We are disgusted by the hypocrisy of so-called leaders in the U.S. government, who enjoy the luxury of virtually unlimited paid sick leave while legislating against any paid sick leave at all for railroad workers, and we are unsurprised when even the progressive wing of the Democratic Party ultimately aligns with their class over the workers. IWW members throughout the country are prepared to support railroad workers in every way possible as they lead this fight.

We hold that the failure to reach an agreement is undeniably the fault of the owners, who have enriched themselves and their shareholders at immediate cost to the workers generating the profits. One study of financial reports and internal communications for all the major rail carriers shows their unbridled avarice and total disregard for their workforce. They are well aware that wages have been stagnant for years. This was by design. They know that workers have fled the industry due to its destruction of workers’ quality of life and the carrot-and-stick system that prevents their use of promised benefits. They know that injuries on the job have reached record highs in recent years due to understaffing and impossible demands placed on workers.

The agreement being imposed by Congress is unacceptable. Wage increases to compensate for the lack thereof in years past, as well as skyrocketing inflation and cost of living more recently, are inadequate. Workers have univocally demanded more predictable scheduling and safer working conditions. Paid sick leave was a compromise many workers may have been willing to accept. It is the owners and their lackeys in government who refuse to compromise. It is despicable.

We in the IWW encourage workers from all industries to stand together with railroad workers. United we are strong. Together we can win.

For more information on Railroad Workers United, please contact RWU General Secretary Jason Doering, via email or at 202-480-0587.

For anyone who faces detainment for exercising their right to strike, or who knows someone who does, the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee conducts public pressure campaigns and facilitates empowerment through solidarity. They can be contacted at IWOC@iww.org.

Additional statements of solidarity from members and local branches of the IWW throughout the U.S. are being prepared and issued even as mainstream media declares the “crisis averted.” For workers, the crisis only deepens. These conditions can be changed only when we stand together as one. Workers of the world: unite!

Railroad and UC Workers Solidarity

By Steve Ongerth (with suggestions from Baltimore Red)- IWW Environmental Union Caucus, December 6, 2022

I gave the following speech at a rally on the UC Berkeley Campus (a video of the rally follows)

Fellow Workers, Comrades, and Friends:

My name is Steve Ongerth. I am a union mariner of over a quarter century (I am a member of the IBU, an ILWU affiliate, and the IWW); I grew up in a railroad family, and I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1994.

I am here today to deliver a message on behalf of Railroad Workers United (of which I am a solidarity member):

The Class One freight railroad bosses:

  • Have been reaping record profits for 25 years, and yet...
  • they are moving less freight than at any time since 2006;
  • they are swimming in money, while industry is contracting when it should be expanding due to its efficiency, and its potential as a major climate solution;
  • meanwhile, during that time, 30% of workforce has been lost in the last 4-5 years;
  • in spite of the potential for rail as a climate solution, the freight bosses are hostile to expansion of passenger trains;
  • in fact, the greed of the capitalist railroad bosses has grown so egregious, that the Class Ones have possessed off every major shipping group with their BS, thus even turning much of the capitalist class against them;

The "deal" brokered by Biden and rammed down the throats of the working class by the Republicans and Democrats alike won't solve the problem.

This is not only naked class war, it's a recipe for the complete implosion and meltdown of the nation's rail system.

Major Strike Looms as Largest Rail Union in US Rejects White House-Brokered Contract

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, November 21, 2022

"It's about attendance policies, sick time, fatigue, and the lack of family time," said one union official. "A lot of these things that cannot be seen but are felt by our membership. It's destroying their livelihoods."

The largest railroad workers union in the United States announced Monday that its members voted to reject a contract negotiated with the help of the Biden White House, once again raising the prospect of a major strike or lockout as employees revolt over profitable rail giants' refusal to provide adequate paid sick leave.

The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said in a statement that just over 50% of its members voted to reject the proposed contract. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET)--the second-largest rail union in the U.S.--voted to ratify the contract, the union said Monday.

If any of the rail unions decide to strike, the others have vowed to honor their picket lines. SMART-TD said a strike or lockout could begin as soon as December 9.

"SMART-TD members with their votes have spoken, it's now back to the bargaining table for our operating craft members," said Jeremy Ferguson, the union's president. "This can all be settled through negotiations and without a strike. A settlement would be in the best interests of the workers, the railroads, shippers, and the American people."

"The ball is now in the railroads' court. Let's see what they do. They can settle this at the bargaining table," Ferguson added. "But, the railroad executives who constantly complain about government interference and regularly bad-mouth regulators and Congress now want Congress to do the bargaining for them."

Musk Abuses TX Construction Workers

Conservatives back down on anti-worker law in face of general strike threat. Rank and file resolute

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, November 17, 2022

Ontario’s Conservative government officially repealed its anti-worker, anti-union legislation, known as Bill 28, on November 14.

The Keeping Students in Class Act suspended human rights in an effort to prevent education workers in the province from striking. The government had introduced the bill only two weeks earlier — on October 31 — sparking a wave of union mobilisations and protests.

When word began to circulate about cross-union plans to launch a general strike across Ontario — with a tentative start date, coincidentally, of November 14, the government backed down.

Ukrainian Miners Win Their Wartime Strike, but Victory Looks Short-Lived

By Kateryna Semchuk - Open Democracy, October 21, 2022

On 6 October, Ukraine’s energy ministry dismissed Trotsko following pressure from a delegation of strikers that visited the energy minister twice. But some workers at the mine and the union representative fear this is not the end of their struggle against what they allege is a continuous corrupt attempt to take control of the mine.

“This is not a victory. Victory is when we mine an extra 1,000 tonnes of coal. This [whole situation] was a misunderstanding,” said Volodymyr Yurkiv, the mine’s previous director, who during the strike period was demoted to chief engineer. In the month of strike action, the mine could have earned five million hryvnias (£110,000), Yurkiv added.

Workers at Mine No. 9 have been fighting to keep Yurkiv – who was reinstated as director by the ministry on 8 October after Trotsko was dismissed – in office, as they say they are completely satisfied with his management. But Mykhailo Volynets, a Ukrainian MP who is also chair of the Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners, is among those who think Yurkiv could be dismissed once again. He told openDemocracy that the latest events “are not the end of this story”.

“It will happen again,” Volynets said, claiming the energy ministry will try to appoint a new director at mine No. 9 for a third time. Volynets believes there are still corrupt insiders at Ukraine’s energy ministry, claiming the recent new managerial appointments have been made on behalf of the smotriashchiy.

Labour and Climate Activists Protest Against Anti-union Laws

By staff - Free Our Unions, October 12, 2022

Around 80 activists from a range of campaign groups and unions protested outside the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 10 October, as part of an action called by Free Our Unions and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative. As far as we know, this is the first piece of direct action called specifically to protest the Truss government’s plans for new anti-union laws since Truss revealed the policy.

BEIS was chosen because it will likely be central to developing the legislation for new restrictions on strikes, and because it is a key department in terms of climate policy. Free Our Unions has sought active coordination with activists from the climate movement, and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative seeks to highlight the specific ways in which anti-union laws constrain workers’ ability to take action in defence of the climate.

Speakers at the protest included Mark Boothroyd (A&E nurse and Unite activist); Sab (Earth Strike UK activist and Industrial Workers of the World organier); Ruth Cashman (Lambeth Unison); Jared Wood (RMT London Transport Regional Organiser); Ria Patel (Green Party Equality and Diversity spokesperson); EC (PCS rep); Andy Warren (firefighter and local rep for the FBU); Hamish (Exctinction Rebellion Trade Unionists); and Benedict Flexen (Earth Strike UK: Empower the Unions).

Speeches were punctuated by chanting, accompanied by drumming from the Extinction Rebellion samba band.

Following the protest, an assembly took place in a venue nearby, discussing various aspects of the politics of anti-union laws, and proposals for campaigning on the issue forward in our workplaces and unions.

I Survived the Rig Explosion That Caused the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill; This Is What I Saw

By Maximillian Alvarez and Leo Lindner - In These Times, October 7, 2022

It’s been 12 years since the catastrophic explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 workers and causing the largest marine oil spill in human history. A lot of forgetting can happen in that time. A lot of cultural amnesia and historical distortion has set in over the past 12 years, whether that came in the form of a years-long PR campaign from British Petroleum (BP), the high-budget Hollywood-ification of the disaster in the 2016 movie starring Mark Wahlberg, or just the general lack of workers’ voices and stories in the media. 

In this episode, we talk with Leo Lindner, who worked for 10 years at the mud company M-I, the last five of which were spent working on the Deepwater Horizon. Leo was on the rig on April 20, 2010, the day of the explosion. We talk to Leo about his life, about moving to and growing up in Louisiana as a kid, working on tugboats and in oil fields, and about the experience of being a worker in the midst of one of the most devastating industrial and environmental disasters of the modern era.

The labour movement must take this moment to build a powerful resistance to anti-union laws

By Matthew Hull - Bright Green, October 5, 2022

It has become commonplace to refer to 2022 as a turning point for organised labour. The year is not out, but already it is being referred to as a year of strikes and industrial action.

This is all relative. Strike days are up from a low base, with 2018 marking a 125-year low watermark in the number of work days lost to strike action. When published this year’s figures will surely be dwarfed by the previous peak of 27.1 million in 1984.

Nevertheless, we are seeing a marked and welcome change in perspective and a renewed appreciation of the importance of worker action to defending social progress.

As we press deeper into autumn, however, we face the growing risk of 2022 becoming another, darker turning point for the UK’s trade union movement.

The prime minister Liz Truss was selected by a tiny, overwhelmingly older and wealthier Tory Party membership largely on the basis of her commitment to tear up people’s rights and freedoms. And the rights of trade unionists to organise, campaign and strike freely and effectively are in the firing line.

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