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A new coalition demands healthcare and justice for East Palestine

Coalition of residents, unionists and activists coming together in East Palestine to demand health care

By Steve Mellon - Pittsburg Union Progress, March 19, 2024

Here’s the story of two men. One is a Trump-supporting blue-collar conservative from a small town in rural Ohio; the other is the son of a Mexican immigrant and describes himself as a socialist and a “lefty nut job.” They’ll be getting together later this week, and of course they’ll soon come to blows, right? Or at least hurl insults at each other?

That’s the narrative we’ve all come to expect. You see it on cable news shows, on social media. Division is hot these days.

But in the real world, the one in which trains fly off their tracks and spill toxic loads in America’s backyards, Chris Albright and Maximilian Alvarez recognize they have more in common than that which separates them.

That bond will be on display Saturday, during an event in East Palestine, Ohio, involving local residents, unionists, community activists and environmentalists from around the country. They’re getting together to demand the federal government step in and make certain those affected by the derailment are provided with health care.

The get-together will feature music and a lineup of speakers that includes residents of East Palestine and other communities affected by toxic contamination as well as union organizers and journalists. Initiated by the newly formed coalition Justice for East Palestine Residents and Workers, the event runs from noon to 5 p.m. at East Palestine Country Club, 50834 Carmel Anchor Road, Negley, OH 44441 (moved from the First Church of Christ).

Rail Jobs Don't Have to Be Deadly

Has anything changed one year after the derailment in East Palestine?

As Norfolk Southern Reports Billions in Earnings, East Palestine Residents Wait for Justice

By Christa, Chris Albright, Jessica Albright, Stella Gamble, Daren Gamble, and Maximillian Alvarez - The Real News, January 31, 2024

Public Ownership of Rail Is on the Agenda. Here’s What It Could Look Like

By Alex Press and Maddock Thomas - Jacobin, January 7, 2024

Nearly one year ago, on the night of February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Videos of the smoke and fire released by the nearly two-mile-long train went viral, and residents in the community reported severe health effects.

The rail disaster triggered an outcry: Why did this happen, and what can any of us do about it? Soon, there were articles detailing the alarming state into which the country’s railroads have fallen: accidents are up, and oversight is hard to come by. Plus, there is a severe squeeze on rail workers, many of whom lack sick days of any kind and are effectively always on call.

Railroad Workers United (RWU), a caucus of rank-and-file workers spanning all thirteen national rail unions, recently released a video offering one answer to the rotten state of US rail. “Putting America Back on Track: The Case for Public Rail Ownership” opens in East Palestine, with a resident of the area showing the viewer photos he took the night of the Norfolk Southern derailment. The video goes on to make the case for public ownership of rail, which has been a focus for RWU over the past year.

As Ross Grooters, RWU cochair and a union locomotive engineer, told Jacobin, the workers came out with the demand amid their ugly contract fight in 2022, which ended with Joe Biden intervening to quash a potential rail strike.

“It became really clear between the contract negotiations and the fact that the railroad companies are making obscene amounts of money operating the railroads purely for the purpose of extracting wealth from what should be critical infrastructure, that the only way for rail to work would be outside the for-profit model that it exists in currently,” said Grooters.

So RWU passed a resolution endorsing the campaign. The case has been articulated by RWU members in several publications, from Jacobin to In These Times to FreightWaves, but with the release of RWU’s film, I wanted to hear more about the models under debate, so I called up Maddock Thomas, who is writing a policy paper on public rail ownership for RWU. We spoke about the current structure of rail ownership, alternative public models, and which country has the most functional rail system. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Socialize the Railways!

By Tom Wetzel - East Bay Syndicalists, November 13, 2023

The downward slide of the major (Class 1) American freight railroads in recent years shows how capitalist ownership of the railway system is dangerous and inefficient — and fails to make use of the potential of the railways as a solution to the global warming crisis.

Downward slide has been accelerated over the past decade due to the adoption of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” (PSR). This has no precise definition but the aim is to reduce costs. As in “lean production” management theory, any expense not directly needed for profit is regarded as “waste.” PSR is a cost-cutting strategy that puts short-term profits for stockholders as the controlling priority. To maximize the rate of return, the railroads cut corners on maintenance, constantly work to reduce the number of railroad employees, and actively discourage shipments that are less profitable for them to haul. To keep Wall Street investors happy, they work to maximize short term profit. To enrich stockholders, the rail companies have poured billions of dollars into stock buybacks rather than invest in system improvements.

The Big Strike in Pennsylvania That No One is Talking About

Transportation Webinar: Where is This Train Going? Freight Rail in the Public Interest

From East Palestine, Silicon Valley & Hunters Point, Toxins, Workers & Whistleblowers


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