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What in the World is going on at CSX and Amtrak?

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United, February 7, 2018

The latest round of tragic incidents at CSX and AMTRAK is causing a number of news outlets to reach out to Railroad Workers United to gain a rank & file worker perspective. In the past few months, RWU has been contacted by The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and several other news outlets, including a business journal that is based in none other than CSX’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL.

The Voice of the Working Railroader is what is Needed

The questions are wide ranging, understandably well intentioned, and urgent. The common complaint from the journalists that we have talked to is that they lack the perspective from union officials and working railroaders. Many of the journalists report that the company press agents as well as the unions are only willing to release broad generalized statements that offer no real content that would help them with their investigative reporting. RWU hopes to engage rank and file workers in the discussion, providing the media and the general public with the invaluable “inside” perspective that only working railroaders can provide.

CSX Background to Disaster

Before Mantle Ridge and their CEO, superstar Hunter Harrison hedged their way into CSX, employees had already been through several recent rounds of harsh top down management changes, decreed under Cindy Sanborn’s leadership. Union safety programs that were working with management were abolished. Company safety councils were implemented with no input from or involvement with union safety coordinators. Rules violations that were historically not a disciplined offense were now considered major rules infractions.

Very strict rules were put into place that were designed to address safety, especially rules pertaining to switching operations. Draconian attendance policies were put into place. Employees needing to mark off to visit the doctor were being disciplined due to the inhumane nature of these new policies. Seniority rosters were being dovetailed, causing workers to qualify at locations far from their home terminals, being forced to qualify upwards for thirty days or more on their own time (i.e., no paycheck) with no reimbursement for lodging.

Brain Labor Report 1.31.18 - JP Wright, Railroad Workers Safety

By Wes Brain - Brain Labor Report, January 31, 2018

On the Brain Labor Report for January 31, 2018 we talk with J.P. Wright, railroad worker, singer, songwriter and organizer with Railroad Workers United. We discuss safety and the deadly impact of austerity and missed priorities.

Download Here - Via archive.org

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.

Brain Labor Report 7.5.2017 - JP Wright

John Paul Wright interviewed by Wes Brain - Brain Labor Report, July 5, 2017

On the Brain Labor Report for July 5 we talk with labor, railroad and folk singer JP Wright.

railroadmusic.org

download here via archive.org

EcoUnionist News #120

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 7, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistle Blowers:

The Revolution Will Be On Rail, Part I

By Matt Stannard - Occupy.Com, June 14, 2016 (image by Jon Flanders)

Trains have the ability to move America into a post-carbon economy with fewer cars, cleaner air and stronger communities. But railroad bosses are telling their workers they have to support more oil and coal extraction, and faster, more dangerous train routes in order to keep their jobs.

John Paul Wright is concerned about this contradiction. The husband and father is a locomotive engineer, union and labor organizer, and a singer of protest songs. As the national lead organizer for [Railroad Workers United] and a member of the organization’s steering committee, part of his job is bringing together railroad unions who’ve been told by the bosses that they have incompatible views and interests. “This is the very nature of big business craft unionism,” he tells me. “The workers are caught in the middle.”

Wright says that “the railroad could be the most efficient way to move anything we move today. But we’ve been sold on an economy that doesn’t represent our best interests.”

Part of our job as storytellers and advocates for a new economy is to articulate how the interests of working people converge with those of a healthy and just planet. Trains are a crucial part of that picture. “The railroads built the small towns, passenger service was the transportation policy before cars,” Wright says, “and small farming communities had access to larger markets.”

But now, the trains and often the land on which they travel are owned by big corporations. “So us workers are forced to move whatever America wants. We move coal, oil, products from sweatshops overseas, fertilizer, plastics, etc,” he says. All because corporate capitalism “sees no profit in a transportation policy built on service and access.”

This isn’t just the market following around people’s preferences like a faithful dog. The story of the decline of public transportation and railways is one of criminal manipulation by capitalists, not honest brokering. In the first half of the 20th century, a group of executives colluded to buy and literally dismantle the electric train systems in many of America’s major cities in order to artificially create a market for oil, cars, trucks and eventually an interstate system.

America’s public transit was like a Library of Alexandria for the United States: if it had survived and been regularly upgraded, we’d have quite a system today, one that would likely be transitioning to completely renewable power, as smaller nations are in the process of doing.

The potential ecological and socioeconomic benefits of rail are overwhelming. For transport of goods, trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. They also reduce highway gridlock, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce pollution. For personal travel, trains emit on average between 80 and 90 percent less carbon output than airplanes per passenger.

Although some trains still run on diesel and oil, and a growing number of cars are hybrid or totally electric, trains could make the jump forward by going totally renewable, as they have in other countries. And a well-planned and executed mass transit system could make travel virtually free, replacing vehicles that are expensive to buy and maintain.

As usual it comes down to who makes the decisions: citizens and railway workers, or corporate shareholders and bosses. The corporations are in control now, and the results are unsafe trains that are about to become even less safe due to labor-saving proposals to decrease crew members; trains speeding through ecologically sensitive areas carrying lethal crude oil and frequently causing spills and explosions; and a passenger transit system that doesn’t come close to living up to its efficiency potential. Contrary to what the railway bosses are telling workers and the public, these issues are interrelated and must be part of an agenda for economic and ecological justice.

A Just Transition: Break Free

By John Paul Wright - RailroadMusic.Org, May 17, 2016

There is a suggestion called a Just Transition that is floating around parts of the labor and environmental communities. To fully understand this term, we as workers, community members, union members and activists would need to explore,

  1. What we used to have.
  2. When and how we transitioned historically.
  3. Where we want to go.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, commissioned a U.S Army expedition called the Corps of Discovery. The task was to map and claim the west before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. Part of the mission was to find a water transportation route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition set sight on the Pacific Ocean. After finding no direct water route, they returned to St Louis in 1806. it took industry and the U.S Government sixty-four years after Lewis and Clark returned, to connect the nation by rail, from sea to shining sea.

In 1869, Leland Stanford, railroad baron and co-founder of Stanford University, drove the “golden spike” that connected the rails of the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad spike sits in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Before the spike was driven into the ceremonial railroad cross tie at Promontory Point, Utah, the United States had not yet been connected, ocean to ocean with a transportation policy.

As the railroad companies grew and people moved at speeds never before traveled across land, small communities were rapidly becoming connected to larger markets. Farming communities had access to rail transportation and industries popped up in the railroad towns. In 1913, Ford starts mass production on his first assembly line. On June 29th, 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was enacted. It took industry 43 years to get a policy in place, that would give the automobile industry the green light to further transition this country from rail transportation of people, to personally owned vehicles.

The trucking industry was born, the railroad transitioned from steam to diesel fueled locomotives. The movement of industrial commodities replaced the passengers that were owning personal transportation. The nation’s population rapidly grew with the workers needed to build these new innovations and dreams. New industries were created with investment and taxation. The nation was more, so called secure, or was in a better position militarily, hence the name of the government policy that created the nation’s highway system.

Of course, this is a broad over simplification of many ideas, policies, historical facts and timelines. There were many other policies that were discussed and pitched. There were many laws, taxes and industrial failures and successes, as well as, iconic brands, dreams and ways of life that were transitioned or simply disappeared as one industry won favor over another.

Interview With John Paul Wright

By John Carico - Fifth Column, March 26, 2016

John Carico: What got you involved in social justice and labor organizing?

John Paul Wright: I got involved in social justice activism as a result of my mother going to college late in life. In my teens my mother went to the University Of Louisville and found herself. She joined an organization called The Progressive Student Leauge. I looked up to her new friends. They had organizing meetings in our home while they were fighting to have the university divest funds from companies that supported South African Apartheid. I joined a group at my high school called Youth for Peace at this time and also got involved in another group called Nuclear Free Zone of Louisville.
My union work started when I became a member of The United Transportation Union when I was hired on with the railroad. I grew up in a very union family. My father is an IBEW 369 electrical contractor and my grandmother worked at the union hall.

John Carico: What do you see as priorities in terms of securing a liberated and sustainable future?

John Paul Wright: Wow! What a question! I see as a priority a focus on human need to be at the focus of the what some are calling a just transition. Over a hundred years ago Upton Sinclair said this in his book Profits of Religion…

What I would like to say to young radicals–if there is any way to say it without seeming a prig–is that in choosing their own path through life, they will need not merely enthusiasm and radical fervor, but wisdom and judgment and hard study.

So, to move to a sustainable future, I think we as a people are going to need to study what has worked from the many movements and social shifts of the past. I think many times we as a people are looking for “new” ways to approach very complex issues, when many times there are plenty of examples of successes that can be drawn upon. Specifically, it is my experience in many a situation, basic communication skills seem to be where the problem lies when folks start to enter very difficult territory. For years language and culture has been born at the foot of a capitalist model that has taught people how to fight and take sides. Our media, that should be ours, has created a myth of who we are, our history has been re-written for profit and people make laws and decisions based on moral codes that are drawn from corporate entity myth makers. Media is owned by very large empires that have a culture package to sell… so I guess what I am trying to say is a liberated future depends on a very serious re-settling of how we see ourselves as a people. As inhabitants of a planet, members of communities, and free thinking compassionate individuals who have a real need of each other to exist. Especially in these days as the machine get closer and closer to being able to wage war by drones and computer driven models.

John Carico: What are some of your favorite labor stories?

John Paul Wright: The story of Joe Hill because of how much myth it has with it. There are so many stories about who Joe was as a person. What I like about his story is how important he really was to the process of culture and the I.W.W. Joe Hill was a journalist, organizer and songwriter. His skills at organizing are mostly myth or, one would have to do extensive research into the drives that he worked on. But his music is a very big insight to what he was thinking back in the 1910s. There were many writers that were writing the Socialist/Communist literature such as Upton Sinclair and Eugene V. Debs. We can only imagine how connected as people they really were, but their muckraking style was very similar. I also think Upton Sinclair’s EPIC (End Poverty In California) campaign is something very interesting.

As for labor issues today, without a doubt, the story about CORE (caucus of rank and file educators) and the Chicago Teachers Union rise of Karen Lewis, is one of the greatest labor stories of my lifetime. Especially as someone who has been very involved in many reform movements. What Labor Notes Magazine has done to keep a more radical element to the labor movement alive is nothing to shake a stick at either.

Apocalypse on Trial

By Stephyn Quirke - Street Roots News, January 21, 2016

Video: Delta5 Defendents and supporters sing a version of I've Been Working on the Railroad by Railroad Workers United organizer and IWW member, J.P. Wright in honor of the links of solidarity they forged with railroad workers during their struggle.

On Jan. 15, Snohomish County Judge Anthony E. Howard handed down sentences to five people who say our political system is rigged to destroy the planet.

The trial was the latest in a series of protests against the increasing volumes of fossil fuels traveling through the Pacific Northwest, bound for Asian markets, despite the considerable damage to regional eco-systems already resulting from climate change, including ocean acidification, loss of snowpack in the Cascades, rising stream temperatures and summer deadzones along the coast.

In September 2014, Abby Brockway, Patrick Mazza, Jackie Minchew, Mike LaPointe and Liz Spoerri locked themselves to a 20-foot tripod at the BNSF railroad’s Delta yard in downtown Seattle. Dubbed the Delta 5, their protest was designed to draw attention to the danger of crude oil on rail lines in the Pacific Northwest, and to their contribution to irreversible climate change.

In a historic and highly anticipated trial that lasted four days, the Delta 5 were allowed to argue that their action was the lesser of two evils when compared to the status quo. In court shorthand, it’s called the necessity defense. Specifically, the Delta 5 presented evidence and legal arguments showing that their occupation of BNSF property was necessary to protect the public’s safety, calling numerous expert witnesses who testified to the public health risks of oil trains, both in their immediate risks to neighborhoods and to the damages climate change is bringing to Washington state. They included Richard Gammon, professor of chemistry and oceanography at the University of Washington, and Fred Milar, a hazardous-materials expert and former consultant to the railroad industry.

In another groundbreaking lawsuit concluded in November, King County Superior Judge Hollis Hill ruled that the state of Washington had a constitutional duty to uphold the public trust in natural resources and that this created a binding obligation for the state to protect the atmosphere for future generations. In an unusually dire ruling, Hill said, “Survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming … before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”

One of the elders in that room was Abby Brockway. Reflecting on the trial, she recalled, “Everybody wants to kick the can down the road. … They said, ‘Well, the Legislature’s supposed to do it,’ and they’re saying ‘No, ecology’s supposed to do it,’ so nobody wants to try.”

Andrea Rodgers, who represented eight youth plaintiffs in the November climate lawsuit, who in turn brought the lawsuit on behalf of future generations, explained: “What Judge Hill said in our case is really important for the world to know: that the climate crisis is real, it’s happening now, and the government in Washington state is not doing anything to address it. And they need to step up and protect the fundamental rights of these people. … People are starting to speak out and defend their own rights in a variety of ways, and hopefully the judges of the justice system will catch up with that.”

Full Disclosure : In Resolution Form

By J.P. Wright - RailroadMusic.Org, January 1, 2016

Whereas:
2015 kicked my ass. I got way to involved in too many things. I burned out and now I am standing in the center of the highest point in my life. I would have to thank all that put up with me this year. To all that I put up with, I also thank. My family and the life that gives me is something that I cherish. I care, and that is a problem – for me …. It is the ultimate calling.

Whereas:
I spend hours at the throttle of my trains pondering how I can be of assistance. Dreaming of a way to get involved. Strategizing new ways to lend my voice to the struggle. I have done some amazing things and met some amazing people in 2015. When I say that, I am far from boasting. I was taught to share. To teach. To explore impossibilities as possible. I was raised like that. I must move, at all times.

Whereas:
My mind sometimes, in on fire – from a deep feeling that comes from my heart., I have Vision. I think deeply and sometimes get myself into very dark places. Sometimes, when I am playing music with the right people, i see things. I hear voices. I do not suggest anything by mentioning this, except what comes with the territory. This is the training, that comes from the job I do as a Djembefola. I accept it and have learned how to learn from it.

So be it resolved that:
In 2016, as that last page of my Chapbook suggests … I am closing shop. My training is over. I will be 46 years of age in January. I will never master this life. We are not supposed to, and any master you meet will always suggest that they are not, if they suggest that they are, they are not.

So be it further resolved that:
Many times, the answer really is, I do not know. That is the sign of a mastery of exploration. Follow a person who does not know and you will probably find your bliss. Your bliss is always following you, shadowing you as a possibility. I plan to turn around in 2016. I plan to focus. I make resolution to be.

So be it EVEN FURTHER resolved that:
I will never give up! This life requires it and my mother told me, I can be whatever I want to be – So Be It !!

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