Above photo: Activists in support of unionized rail workers protest outside the U.S. Capitol on November 29 in Washington, D.C. President Joe Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation averting a railroad shutdown ahead of the December 9 coordinated strike date. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.
While Railroad Workers United (RWU) finds it despicable – but not surprising – that both political parties opted to side with Big Business over working people yesterday and vote against the interests of railroad workers – not once, but twice, within hours. We suffered a one-two punch at the hands of, first the Democratic Party; the second served up by the Republicans.
First, responding to the wishes of President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House voted to legislate a contract that the majority of U.S. freight rail workers had previously voted to reject. The Senate would quickly follow suit. In effect, their actions simply overrode our voices and desires. Rail workers – like all workers – should have the right to bargain collectively and to freely engage in strike activity if and when the members see fit and when they democratically elect to do so.
Within hours of the Senate vote sealing our fate on Thursday afternoon, we would suffer a second defeat, this time at the hands of the other party of Big Business, the Republican Party. That bill – which would have mandated that all railroad workers receive seven days of paid sick leave – would receive just a handful of votes from Republicans in the House and, crucially, in the Senate, where it went down to defeat.
“This one-two punch from the two political parties is despicable,” according to RWU General Secretary Jason Doering. “Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic, the essential nature of our work, the difficult and dangerous and demanding conditions of our jobs. Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class One rail carriers every time.”
Railroad Workers United understands that this fight for justice will continue in the coming months and years. “The rail carriers are too powerful and are a scourge to the national economy,” according to RWU Steering Committee Member Paul Lindsey, “They need to be taken into public ownership and run in the interest of workers, shippers, passengers, and the nation, not a handful of wealthy stockholders.”
RWU believes that railroad workers need to explore options other than the existing two political parties since neither appears to have our backs. RWU also believes that railroad workers need to consider doing away with the archaic and divided craft union system that hampers our unity and solidarity, and initiate the process of building a single and powerful railroad workers union that can win in future rounds of contract bargaining. According to RWU Organizer Ron Kaminkow, “We have been played for well over a century by politicians and union officials alike. The fiasco of recent months will show that perhaps the time has come for railroad workers to push for a unified and powerful labor organization of all crafts, together with a political party that will better serve the interest of not just railroad workers but all working-class people.”