US: All out strike to defend rail jobs and the rail industry!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Railroad workers cannot afford another drawn-out, “business-as-usual” bargaining process. BNSF and Union Pacific railroads carried out mass layoffs this past winter, and the corporations are attempting to eliminate freight conductors and implement one-man crews. We need to fight, all-out, for the future of our jobs, unions, and the rail industry.

Union railroad workers should launch a serious contract campaign this year. The Independent Socialist Group (ISG) fully supports the Railroad Workers United (RWU) resolution proposing how railroad labor should fight back.

We need to build real unity between railroad workers of all crafts and all unions. The last round of negotiations quickly exposed “coordinated bargaining” between 12 unions to be in name only. Individual unions broke ranks and accepted a tentative agreement (TA), leaving those remaining in negotiations in a weaker position. No union should accept any TA until all unions are satisfied. Key to winning the strongest possible contract will be open negotiations, democratically-elected negotiating teams with rank-and-file observers, and special union meetings with reportbacks.

Workers must organize a credible strike threat. The railroad companies delay negotiations because they don’t fear repercussions from union action. In 2023, both UPS Teamsters and Big 3 UAW members organized rallies, practice pickets, and other actions, including the auto workers’ strike, to pressure the companies. The rail unions should jointly organize similar actions through democratically elected Contract Action Teams (CATs) with the active involvement of members. CATs should also educate members on tactics from successful strikes.

The rail unions need to build strong links with the rest of the labor movement. Alone, none of the rail unions have the numbers to organize impressive rallies or effective picket lines. But joint actions or strikes, with real solidarity from other unions and support from railroad families and working-class communities, could bring together the numbers to win.

Railroad corporations can rest easy because labor disputes in the rail industry are heavily regulated through the Railway Labor Act (RLA), ensuring the federal government has the power to intervene. The pro-corporate nature of the Democratic and Republican parties gives the companies confidence. The Presidential Emergency Board’s proposal, nearly identical to the companies’ final offer, was forced through by a bipartisan act of Congress with Biden at the helm.

A plan is needed to confront and deal with pro-corporate government action. Rail unions need to join with other unions to build a workers’ party that could overturn the undemocratic RLA. Immediately, unions can organize a campaign opposing intervention by the government. Illegal labor actions that were successful, including teacher strikes, need to be looked at to determine how to have the greatest impact with the smallest amount of risk. A strong, well-organized strike with active solidarity from the labor movement and the public can prevent the government from taking away our right to strike.

Winning a strong national contract could set a precedent for negotiations on supplementary contracts with individual railroads and unions, including local agreements. It could begin to reverse the decline in railroad jobs and service, launch organizing at the non-union railroads and contractors, and fight for Railroad Retirement Benefits to be extended to other workers like intermodal workers and crew cab drivers. The key to a railroad system that moves freight and people efficiently and safely will be public ownership and democratic control of the railroads, taking operational control away from profit-hungry private companies and handing it to railroad workers, passengers, trackside communities, and the working-class at large.

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May 2024