Statement by Workers’ Voice/La voz de los trabajadores
On Nov. 30, the House of Representatives voted 290 to 137 to block a potential nationwide rail strike by intervening into the dispute between the unions and the railroad companies and imposing a contract on the workers. The Senate now has to consider the action.
The members of four out of the 12 rail unions—including the Sheet Metal Workers’ Transportation Division (SMART), the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), and two smaller unions—had voted earlier against the contract that was cooked up in September by the Biden-appointed Presidential Emergency Board. The contract was tentatively agreed on by the rail companies and union officials but failed to address key demands of the workers. The four unions represent 60,000 of the 115,000 unionized rail employees.
As the Dec. 9 strike deadline approached, President Biden called on Congress to use the Railroad Labor Act to force a contract on union workers that favors the interests of the bosses like Warren Buffet, owner of BNSF Railroad. The president said in a statement, “I am calling on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the Tentative Agreement between railroad workers and operators—without any modifications or delay—to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.” Biden has claimed to be the most “pro-union” president, yet his statement shows his and the Democratic Party’s loyalty is toward maintaining the profits of the railroad bosses.
The BMWED released a statement replying to the president, saying, “It is not enough to ‘share workers’ concerns.’ A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts a tentative agreement that excludes paid sick leave ignores the Railroad Workers’ concerns. It both denies Railroad Workers their right to strike while also denying them of the benefit they would likely otherwise obtain if they were not denied their right to strike.”
By a vote of 221 to 207, the House of Representatives approved a separate bill to allow the rail workers seven days’ paid sick leave—less than half of what the unions were asking for. The mandated contract also fails to address the railroads’ onerous scheduling policies. Currently, 50% of workers at BNSF Railroad have to work “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week and then risk being fired because they are sick or have other emergencies. The crisis for railroaders is compounded by the fact that they have faced job cuts for the past six years. Today, they are working longer hours under abusive conditions to maintain the bosses’ profits.
A fighting example from unions is what workers everywhere need. Should the rail workers stand their ground and strike, they will find solidarity from all corners of the working class. What this episode shows is the need for working people to form a party of our own, a Labor Party. We need an independent party rooted in the movement of organized labor that does not rely on the Democrats or the Republicans, which are both in the pocket of the corporations. A conference called by labor to organize such a party could take on the bosses and begin to rebuild union strength on the basis of rank-and-file worker participation and militancy.
A valuable lesson is being learned about the priorities of the politicians in Washington. We stand against striking breaking by the government and bosses and oppose any scab labor to keep the railroads running without the consent of union workers. We have no faith in the bosses, President Biden, or Congress to enact a fair decision for railroaders. Your strength is in the street and on the picket line in withholding your labor. Hit the bosses where it hurts, in their pockets.