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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.”

Eco Wobbles: the Lesser Known Story about the Delta 5 Case

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 22, 2016

By now, dear readers, you may have heard about the victory of the Delta 5, but in case you hadn't, here's a short review: In September 2014 five activists, Patrick Mazza, Mike LaPoint, Abby Brockway, Liz Spoerri and Jackie Minchew, entered the BNSF Delta railyard in Everett, Washington, and blocked an oil train with a tripod of steel rods to which they locked themselves. Motivated by frustration about the climate, workers safety and public health from the recklessness of the oil and railroad industries, they stayed on the tracks for eight hours before BNSF police arrested and charged them with trespassing and obstructing a train.

At their trial, during the first half of January 2016, they introduced the "necessity defense." They argued that their actions were not a crime because they were necessary to prevent a much greater harm, climate disruption and the immediate threat of oil train derailments, spills, and explosions.

To establish the necessity of their action the defense brought in expert witnesses to testify about the urgency of climate disruption, the danger from oil trains, railroad industry’s disregard for worker safety and the fact that pollution from trains is already killing people. Their testimony went largely unchallenged by the prosecution. Judge Anthony E Howard, who presided over the case, even expressed some sympathy for the activists, but at the end of the trial ruled that the jury would have to disregard these arguments because the defense had not sufficiently demonstrated that there was no other legal alternative to achieve the same ends. "Frankly the court is convinced that the defendants are far from the problem and are part of the solution to the problem of climate change," Howard said from the bench. But, he added: "I am bound by legal precedent, no matter what my personal beliefs might be." With those very narrow set of instructions, the jury returned with their verdict -- finding the Delta 5 guilty of trespassing, but not guilty of obstructing a train. The obstructing a train charge carried a potentially much more serious penalty.

After the trial was over and the Delta 5 and jury were released three of the six jurors came back into the courthouse, hugged the defendants, and sat with them and their supporters while they were sentenced by the judge.

While the ruling can still be appealed by BNSF, for now climate justice activists are celebrating the ruling as a partial victory, though not a resounding victory, because Judge Howard ruled out the possibility of using the "Neccessity Defense".

What's less talked about, however, is that this case represents another small victory, in this case (no pun intended) a victory for Green Unionism. During the blockade, Abby Brockway (shown in the accompanying image) sat atop a tripod which bore a sign which read: "Cut Oil Trains, Not Conductors - #Greens4Rails" which was in reference to a concurrent rank and file BNSF railroad workers' struggle (aided in large part by the organizers of Railroad Workers United (RWU)) to beat-back a concessionary contract proposal (detailed on ecology.iww.org) which would have allowed for the reduction in train-crew size from two to one employee. This was directly relevant to the Delta 5's blockade, because the latter were concerned about stopping any future disasters like the crude-by-rail train derailment which killed 47 people and devastated the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, in which an overworked and poorly trained Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway engineer, Tom Harding, had been the single employee on the train in question.

The rank and file railroad workers' fight against concessions succeeded. The Delta 5's soldiarity with railroad workers (in addition to support from many other enviornmental activists) sent a clear message that these climate justice activists do not blame railroad workers for the careless profiteering of the fossil fuel corporations or the railroad bosses, and see the workers as potential allies. Indeed, partly as a result of such overtures, BNSF whistleblower and railroad worker, Mike Elliot, testified at the trial of the Delta 5 on behalf of the defendants, and though his testimony was ultimately not allowed by the judge to be used as evidence, it still offers a glimpse of the potential strength that both the labor and environmental movements can bring to each other.

There's still much to be worked out in the case of railroad workers and climate justice activists opposed to crude-by-rail, including matters of railroad workers' working conditions and just transition. And far too many railroad workers believe the lies their bosses tell them about environmentalists being responsible for the current downturn in railroad work (which is primarily due to the crash of the shale oil boom and the economic meltdown currently unfolding in China, both of which are typical busts in the boom-bust cycle of the capitalist market). Some initial groundwork took place during three conferences organized by RWU and others last year, called "Railroad Safety: Workers, Community & the Environment". On the heels of the Delta 5 victory, there's no better time to think about continuing that work. An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

Report on Oil Train Response 2015 Crude Awakening Network Founding Conference

By Fritz Edler - Railroad Workers United, November 16, 2015

I attended the Oil Train Response Conference in Pittsburgh as a representative of RWU under assignment from the RWU Steering Committee.  I was the only railroader present.  The conference was pulled together primarily by Forestethics and Frac Tracker.  The goal was to create the first continent wide network coordinating opposition to the shipment of volitile oil  shipments by rail, although they were never too careful to distinquish between volitile and non volitile shipments.  There were about 250 attendees, and a broad representation of organizations including a fair representation from Canada.

The conference was mostly in the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center, except for the Saturday evening Keynote presentation. 

The first day was hosted by the Heinz Endowments and entitled "Community Risks Solutions Conference.  It consisted mainly of panels of recognized experts and activists (program is appended).

The next two days were "Training" for "Oil Train" activists.  I was able to present a railroader perspective in a breakout section, although it was as minimal a participation as we could have been allowed without having no presentation at all.  The presentation was well received.  More on that below.

There were pros and cons for railroad workers at the conference.  On balance, it's a good thing and an opportunity.

It is clear that across the continent, there are people actively working to prevent unsafe shipments of oil by rail.  Many of them are doing very good work.  It is equally clear that there are many things most of them do not understand about railroads and our role on them as workers.

RWU had many friends in attendance at this conference.  It was solely due to the hard work of RWU members in working with these folks and others in regional safety conferences that the job of winning them over to understanding the importance of an alliance with railroad workers has a chance.  I would like to think that that work has now been furthered.

Coming out of the Conference, there is now a continentwide network of activists on this issue that will coordinate and cooperate and probably meet again regularly.  They have hit the ground running by coordinating continentwide phone conferences beginning on December 4, 2015.

Labor Beat: Railroad Safety--Workers, Community & the Environment

By Milo Wolf - Labor Beat, October 26, 2015

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.

Motivated by the need to prevent dangerous and toxic railroad accidents, railroad workers, environmental and community activists met on Sept. 19, 2015 in Chicago for a conference organized by Railroad Workers United. A recurring topic was the 2013 railroad disaster in Lac-Megantic, Canada involving what is known as a "bomb train" of oil tanker cars that wiped out a significant part of that community. That doomed train in fact went through Chicago on its way to Lac-Megantic.​

This video demonstrates how squeezing increased productivity from rail workers produces negative effects that extend into the community and environment, in addition to the problem of exploiting workers.

After years of debating with management, retired locomotive engineer Fritz Edler concluded: "We demanded that they produce the evidence that you could do these [work] schedules and have it not be unsafe. And what they would do is stand up in the room and say 'fatigue is not a safety factor'. This is why we can't have this discussion just inside the railroad. We can't do that because they would never say that out in public."

Interviews and speakers featured: Ron Kaminkow, General Secretary of RWU; Dr. Lora Chamberlain, Chicago Oil by Rail; Jeff Kurtz, former BLET Iowa State Legislative Chair; Rozalinda Borcila, Artist, Compass; Ed Michael, RWU; Fritz Edler, BLET Div. 482 Local Chair (ret.); Vince Hardt, Chicagoland Oil by Rail.

RWU Resolution of Support for Charged Railroad Workers

Resolution passed by Railroad Workers United - October 7, 2015

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.

Whereas the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A) had a record of compromising the safety and security of employees and the communities through which the railroad operated, scoring very low on the indicators of what makes for a safe railroad; and

Whereas the MM&A Railway did not keep its equipment in a state of good repair; operated with single employee crews; did not effectively manage crew fatigue; and had a poor “safety culture”; and

Whereas the MM&A Railway is primarily responsible for the disaster by placing Tom Harding and the residents of Lac-Mégantic in a hazardous situation, placing profit over safety; and

Whereas, MM&A former CEO Ed Burkhart has had a history of buying and selling railroads around the world, attacking the existent unions, and degrading safety and working conditions of the employees; and

Whereas Transport Canada did not effectively enforce its own railroad safety rules through proper oversight, inspections, or relevant operations testing: and

Whereas the relevant laws, operating rules and policies in place at the time of the Lac Megantic, Quebec disaster allowed for that a very heavy train carrying a highly dangerous substance could legally and operationally be left on the main line with an unlocked cab on a steep grade, unattended, with only one faulty locomotive running in order to keep the braking system charged; and

Whereas the failure of an employee to perfectly perform all job functions at all times might be grounds for discipline and/or dismissal by the company, but should not never be grounds for a civil trial and a murder charge; and

Whereas RWU has continually advocated for railroad safety programs that eliminate hazards rather than blaming victims of railroad accidents; and

Therefore, Be it Resolved that RWU once again calls on all North American railroaders and our unions to take an active role in making our nations’ rail networks and communities safer by insisting upon rail safety programs which focus on hazard elimination rather than simply worker behavior; and

Be it Further Resolved that RWU believes that in the aftermath of this tragedy, railroaders and our unions must focus on how to prevent future tragedies such as Lac-Mégantic through such efforts as: eliminating hazards; strengthening rules governing movements of trains carrying hazardous materials; restricting the length and tonnage of trains; reducing crew fatigue; and supporting measures to ensure two person operations of freight trains; and

Be it Further Resolved that while RWU does not take a position on their possible role in the train’s runaway, RWU considers the civil charges against Tom Harding and Richard Labrie to be outrageous and absurd, an attack on all railroad workers that could set a dangerous precedent for all workers involved in future accidents and as such, these charges should be dropped; and

Be it Finally Resolved, that RWU demands an immediate end to the injustice of this witch hunt and this attempt to scapegoat these fellow workers, and insists that any criminal charges should start with Transport Canada and MM&A CEO Ed Burkhardt.

Railroad Work Is Getting More and More Dangerous. These Workers Want To Change That

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 10, 2015; image by Jon Flanders

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.

CHICAGO—Railroad workers from around the country and Chicago residents stood on an overpass on a recent bright September Sunday, watching a seemingly endless line of black tanker cars pass on the railroad tracks below. The train was likely carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota, judging by the red hazard placards on the cars and widely documented trends in crude oil shipment.

Chicagoans have become increasingly worried about oil trains carrying the highly explosive Bakken crude through the city, a major transport hub on the way to East Coast refineries. A conference hosted by the progressive labor group Railroad Workers United in Chicago Sept. 19 brought together railroad workers and local residents and train buffs to discuss how railroad workers’ safety and labor rights issues dovetail with safety and environmental concerns for the larger public.

Oil trains are a perfect example, speakers and participants at the conference noted. Just look at the July 6, 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when a parked oil train dislodged and plowed into the town, killing 47 and causing massive destruction and ecological devastation.

The train was operated by a single crew member, engineer Thomas Harding, who now faces the possibility of life in prison, with trial starting in November.

While prosecutors and the now-defunct Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway have blamed Harding and several other railroad employees for the disaster, labor unions and other advocates say such tragedies are bound to happen more often if railroads are allowed to operate trains with single-man-crews and otherwise make staffing and management decisions driven by the bottom line rather than the needs and rights of railroad employees plus public safety.

This weekend, October 11-12, there will be rallies in Lac-Mégantic and Chicago, demanding freedom for Harding and railroad traffic conductor Richard Labrie, accountability from railroads and government regulators including bans on one-man-crews and a continued ban on shipping crude oil through Lac-Mégantic. A flier for the Chicago rally, held at noon on October 12 outside the Canadian consulate at 180 N. Stetson Drive, calls on “environmentalists, neighborhood organizations, railroad workers, steel workers, firemen, all unions and all justice-loving people” to support Harding and Labrie and demand strict safety regulations from the federal government.

Oil “Bomb” Train, Lac-Megantic Solidarity Protest

The following protest took place on October 12, 2015 at the Consulate General of Canada in Chicago, at Randolph and Stetson, 1 block east of the NE corner of the Randolph and Michigan and was endorsed by Railroad Workers United following #RailCon15

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.

No Oil Bomb Trains in Lac-Mégantic, Chicagoland or Anytown. Keep the explosive oil in the soil and out of our towns!

The coalition of groups endorsing this action are determined to send the message that we stand with the railroad workers in their efforts to keep our communities safe from the inherent dangers of these volatile oil trains, and that the railroad and oil corporations involved in the tragedy of July 6th, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic are the principal offenders. Specifically, we demand:

  • 1. More than one man crews for all freight trains, especially the High Hazard Flammable Trains, such as the Bakken oil trains. In light of fatigue and emergency situations, a single man crew is insufficient for handling all possible dangerous scenarios.
  • 2. No oil should be transported through Lac-Mégantic by rail until all the tracks in the town have been repaired and passed inspections. The people of Lac-Mégantic have been adamant about this and their demands should not be ignored.
  • 3. We agree with the victims and residents of Lac-Mégantic when they call for the Canadian government to stop scapegoating Mr. Harding, the engineer of the train involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster. The residents are asking for further investigations, and that the blame for the accident climb up the chain of command and throughout the entire unsafe infrastructure of the railroad and oil corporations.
  • More information can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/events/920554121361635/
  • Endorsed by: Chicagoland Oil By Rail, Pilsen Alliance, McKinley Park Progressive Alliance, Chicago Greens, Frack Free Illinois, Near West Citizens for Peace and Justice, 350Kishwaukee, Forest City 350, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, Railroad Workers United, Fox Valley Citizen's For Peace And Justice

RailCon15: Chicagoland Conference Reflections

By Hieronymous - LibCom.Org, September 30, 2015

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.

In his 1914 poem, “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg called the city a “Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler.” Others have called it the “Rome of Railroads,” as in all railroads lead to Chicago. It’s the biggest, busiest and most complex rail hub in the world, with at least 1,300 passengers and freight trains passing through it daily. It remains the central node of the North American rail transportation system. Despite the city’s vast size, you can’t visit a neighborhood without seeing traces of how railroads developed the city – in the process connected the eastern U.S. with all of the West through this major portal. And it’s not just railroads, as barges, tractor-trailers, and bellies of planes make Chicago a hub that ranks just behind Singapore and Hong Kong for the world’s highest intermodal volume – not to mention the pipelines that carry liquid commodities into the city.

So Chicago couldn’t have been more fitting for the third Railroad Safety Conference. I arrived the day before, Friday, September 18th to help prepare. From O’Hare Airport I took the CTA "L" Blue Line to the Loop downtown, strolled over to Millennium Park and immediately discovered it was built a decade ago on a steel superstructure over Illinois Central’s original Chicago rail yard. An RWU member met me at Union Station and gave me a tour of its once grand interior, detailing its demise. Until 1969 Chicago had six intercity passenger rail terminals; Union Station is the only one that is in any way close to its original form.

The conference location at the union hall of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) couldn’t have been more appropriate either. In response to McCarthyism inspired raids by competing unions, UE left the CIO in 1949. By 1950 eleven unions left or were expelled from the CIO; only two remain today, UE and the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). Both remain strong unions, with democratic governance, and have led some of the most inspiring recent struggles. For the UE, it was the week-long occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory on Goose Island in Chicago in December 2008. For the ILWU it has been the willingness to take political stands, like the work stoppage on May Day 2008 when all 29 ports on the West Coast ceased operating for the day.

The conference, titled Railroad Safety: Workers, Community and the Environment, carried on the agenda of the previous two conferences in California and Washington State with around 80 in attendance. Carl Rosen, President of UE, gave us a warm welcome to the hall, then RWU General Secretary Ron Kaminkow gave a brief history of RWU and mentioned the recent defeat of a union proposal for single-person crews at BNSF. Conference attendees introduced themselves, showing how far some had traveled to attend, from as far as New York, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco and Quebec, Canada; in addition, each cluster of tables came up with their goals for the conference. Most concerned educating affected communities about the realities of fossil fuel transport, especially rail, as well as upholding the principle of keeping energy resources “in the ground.” Next RWU members gave two sessions about the safety concerns of railroad workers. Included in the first were Single Employee Train Crews, Teamwork, Chronic Fatigue and Scheduling. In the second they were Long & Heavy Trains, Track Maintenance, and Rail Safety Programs. A guest, Michael Termini from the Government Accountability Project, talked about legal protections for whistleblowers.

RailCon15 Announcement - Chicago Conference

By John Paul Wright - YouTube, September 16, 2015

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.

Framed-up rail workers win support in Quebec town

By John Studer - The Militant, September 21, 2015

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.

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec — After less that 15 minutes, Judge François Tôth ordered further delay in the Canadian government’s frame-up campaign against rail workers Thomas Harding and Richard Labrie, as well as company operating manager Jean DeMaître. They are threatened with life in prison, as scapegoats for the July 6, 2013, disaster where a crewless Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying 72 cars of crude oil rolled down a grade, derailed and burst into flame, destroying the downtown here and killing 47 people.

Tôth set a Dec. 1 court “management hearing” where lawyers for the government and the defendants would discuss potential witnesses and possible trial dates, and debate a government proposal to move the trial from Lac-Mégantic to Sherbrooke, a college town some 100 miles away.

“The crown doesn’t want the trial in Lac-Mégantic,” Thomas Walsh, attorney for Harding, told the Militant, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and other media after the hearing. “But it is the people here who were affected. They are in the best position to judge. All they want is justice.”

And many know Harding, who has been running trains through the area for years. They think the wrong people are in the dock.

“The big bosses should be charged. They’re the ones that gave the orders to the workers who had to carry them out,” Sylvie Carrier, an auxiliary nurse at the local hospital and member of the Quebec nurses union, told Communist League member John Steele from Montreal and this reporter as we went door to door showing people coverage on the defense campaign from the Militant and asking them what they thought.

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