Thursday, December 1, 2022

Dems History on railway strikes, Democrats Dithering on Railworkers’ Rights. The Left Just Forced Their Hand - Or Did They?

(nationalize the rails!) - DSA. I'd add nationalize health insurance while we're at it.

Republicans who voted to deny sick leave to rail workers have unlimited sick days themselves. See Newsweek, Republicans With Unlimited Sick Days Vote Against Time Off for Rail Workers.

Railworkers have understandably savaged Biden, while big business groups have sung his praises... Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put out a similarly tone-deaf statement, patting Biden and his labor secretary on the back as “proudly pro-union” while hailing the contract they were forcing on railworkers as having “secured important advances for workers.” Pelosi lamely added some condemnation of railroad companies’ “obscene profits” for good measure, even as she made clear she was intervening firmly on the side of helping the carriers maintain those profits....Jacobin

I really believe the people in control of the Dem party may have just cost them any real chance of winning in 2024, leaving a pseudo pro labor policy open to Republicans on the right.

The request for Congress to impose contract terms that several unions had rejected rankled rank-and-file members who had rallied behind the president.... While some rail workers have weighed in on social media with calls for illegal wildcat strikes should Congress impose the agreement, local union officials said that such strikes are unlikely, and they were not aware of any meaningful effort to organize them. Much more likely, they said, is an accelerated flow of workers out of an industry that, according to federal regulators, has lost nearly 30 percent of its employees over the past six years.

Mr. Kindlon, the electrician in New York, said he had already accepted a job in another industry after more than 17 years of railroad work. “I’m telling you now, as soon as Congress decides to jam this contract down the BMWED and BLET and SMART guys’ throats, you will see a mass exodus like no mass exodus from any industry ever,” he said, alluding to some of the unions involved. “It’s going to be like having a strike without having a strike.”

Truman orders army to seize control of railroads - Aug 25, 1950

On August 25, 1950, in anticipation of a crippling strike by railroad workers, President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order putting America’s railroads under the control of the U.S. Army, as of August 27, at 4:00 pm. Truman had already intervened in another railway dispute when union employees of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railway Company threatened to strike in 1948. 

Truman did veto the Taft-Hartley Act, a 1947 U.S. federal law that extended and modified the 1935 Wagner Act. It prohibits certain union practices and requires disclosure of certain financial and political activities by unions. The Wagner Act of 1935 gaveth and TH of 47 tooketh away. - 

The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft–Hartley Act, is a United States federal law that restricts the activities and power of labor unions. It was enacted by the 80th United States Congress over the veto of President Harry S. Truman, becoming law on June 23, 1947.

Taft–Hartley was introduced in the aftermath of a major strike wave in 1945 and 1946. Though it was enacted by the Republican-controlled 80th Congress, the law received significant support from congressional Democrats, many of whom joined with their Republican colleagues in voting to override Truman's veto. The act continued to generate opposition after Truman left office, but it remains in effect.

The Taft–Hartley Act amended the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), prohibiting unions from engaging in several unfair labor practices. Among the practices prohibited by the Taft–Hartley act are jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. The amendments also allowed states to enact right-to-work laws banning union shops. Enacted during the early stages of the Cold War, the law required union officers to sign non-communist affidavits with the government.

The Dem Left speaks:
Ro Khanna: Am I missing something here? Why wouldn’t the rail companies just allow workers to have paid sick days? The new agreement only gives them 1. That’s absurd. We need to stand with workers. This is not complicated.
Bernie more on message:
The corporate greed never ends. Last year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits after cutting their workforce by 30% over the last 6 years. Meanwhile, rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. Congress must stand with rail workers.
Here at Ed Notes, we've explored the Dem Party connections to center/right policies despite a more active left flank over the past few years - a left flank that has not often used its potential power. I always note that our  own UFT leadership is and has been lined up with the right center of the party. Witness the regenerative pro-corporate Mulgrewcare MedAdv. Dems tail the public - Mulgrew undermines Medicare the public option - which the public supports - right in line with Dem Party.
Biden talked about how a strike would cripple the economy but said nothing about how the workers are often crippled by the industry where profits, stock buybacks, cuts to working staff etc are operative. Has the UFT made a statement in support of sick pay for the workers yet?

Now the Dems put forth a bill to stop the strike but instead of including the sick days they put forth a separate bill - so forcing them back to work will pass but the other one is in doubt despite some support from the tiny Republican so-called pro worker Rubio and Hawley. I think they are full of bullshit in trying to take advantage of the fact Dems have been hemorrhaging union rank and file support:

Marco Rubio slams Biden's shutting down a rail strike for workers who want more paid sick leave: 'I will not vote to impose a deal that doesn't have the support of the rail workers'...

His tweet is informative - The railways & workers should go back & negotiate a deal that the workers,not just the union bosses,will accept But if Congress is forced to do it,I will not vote to impose a deal that doesn’t have the support of the rail workers.

"As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement," Biden said. "But in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families – I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal." Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg echoed Biden's sentiment. The pro-business US Chamber of Commerce has estimated that a strike could cost the economy $2 billion a day and bring a slew of services to a standstill.

Pete just fucked himself for a presidential run. And Biden cannot be pro-labor. All virtue signalling. Midterms are over so screw them.
Biden and Dems in essence back industry and Rubio and Bernie back workers? WTF.

Michael Paul Lindsey, a locomotive engineer in Idaho and steering committee member for Railroad Workers United, told Insider it was a "blatant betrayal" but he wasn't surprised.

"I thought it was kind of laughable that anyone would think that either the Democrats or the Republicans actually cared. Bottom line, they care about money," he said.

Even so, he added, "there was always that hope in the back of my mind that maybe someone would do something that was actually right for the American worker for once — instead of just what's right for corporate America."

 I just saw on twitter:
Dems tail public
Americans say the rights of rail workers should be prioritized above economic growth in the handling of the rail strike, 39% to 33%, even when told a strike would harm the U.S. economy, per YouGov.

Robert Reich: The one thing you need to know about the railroads -It's not that a rail strike would be bad for the economy --
- legislation effectively prohibiting a strike would impose unfair working conditions on employees in one of the most profitable industries in America — further tilting the nation’s economic imbalance toward large corporations and Wall Street, and against working people. Here, a concentrated industry has gained record profits by understaffing — squeezing its workers to the breaking point. Prodded by Wall Street, the big rail companies have intentionally gutted their own spare capacity. Union Pacific, the largest publicly traded US railroad, paid its investors more than $41 billion in dividends and share buybacks over five years through 2021. In the first six months of 2022, it heaped an additional $5 billion on them. Why are railroads so profitable? Largely because they’re spending so little on labor.

The Jacobin article below has some hope. I'd bet they are forced back with no more sick days -- you can't part corps from their money without a crowbar.

Branko Marcetic

Democrats were ready to throw railworkers to the wolves, letting even Republicans outflank them on labor rights. But thanks to a last-minute legislative push by Bernie Sanders and his allies today, railworkers may be getting the sick leave they’re demanding.

With the baby steps the Democratic Party’s taken toward a more economically progressive, pro-working-class politics over the last two years, it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is still a corrupt, out-of-touch party divorced from any such tradition. And with his loss in the 2020 Democratic primary, it’s easy to forget the value of Bernie Sanders’s continuing presence in American political life, especially the US Senate.

Yet the events of the past twenty-four hours should serve as reminders of both.

For the past week or so, Congress has been consumed by the prospect of a looming and potentially monumentally disruptive strike by railworkers, who have spent three years negotiating with rail carriers for a better contract, centered on their lack of rights to take paid time off work if they fall ill. After four unions representing more than half of the unionized rail workforce rejected a deal put together by President Joe Biden’s White House and a panel of experts that didn’t do enough to fix these grievances, labor secretary Marty Walsh and, eventually, congressional leaders themselves pushed for congressional intervention to end the stalemate, effectively by forcing railworkers to accept the deal anyway ― in the process, stripping the workers of leverage in negotiations. The whole episode came to a head yesterday.

In a statement on Monday calling for Congress to end the impasse, Biden ― the self-proclaimed “most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history” ― misleadingly hailed the White House–brokered deal that cut the legs out from under railworkers as a grand victory agreed to “by both sides.”

Casting himself as a “proud pro-labor president,” he stressed the potential economic downsides of a rail strike to explain why he was reluctantly overriding “the views of those who voted against the agreement” ― meaning, striking railworkers ― and rejected letting Congress modify the deal for workers’ sake, claiming “any changes would risk delay and a debilitating shutdown,” even though unions set the strike deadline for December 9, nearly two weeks after he put out the statement. Ironically, the president has ended up to the right of where he was in the 1990s, when the then senator Biden was arguably at the terrible peak of his neoliberal transformation yet nonetheless voted against letting Congress end a major rail strike. Railworkers have understandably savaged Biden, while big business groups have sung his praises.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put out a similarly tone-deaf statement, patting Biden and his labor secretary on the back as “proudly pro-union” while hailing the contract they were forcing on railworkers as having “secured important advances for workers.” Pelosi lamely added some condemnation of railroad companies’ “obscene profits” for good measure, even as she made clear she was intervening firmly on the side of helping the carriers maintain those profits.

This was more or less the position of other prominent Democrats: expressions of regret and even condemnations of corporate greed meant to mask the fact that they were intervening on the side of the corporate profiteers. The House’s number two Democrat, Steny Hoyer, insisted he was “sympathetic to the issue of sick leave” and thought “the labor unions make a very valid case” as he lined up behind the White House. Even otherwise pro-worker Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Kirsten Gillibrand ― who had rebranded herself as a progressive in order to run for president in 2020 ― borrowed from this playbook as they made clear they would go along with Biden’s plan. Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, meanwhile, didn’t even bother with this formality, simply saying it was “vitally important” for the thing to pass due to the “devastating impacts on our economy.”

A more common response was to do as the number three House Democrat, Representative Jim Clyburn, did and simply ignore the matter entirely. By yesterday late afternoon, prominent Democrats like Cory Booker, Ed Markey, and ex–presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar ― who had seen fit to tweet that afternoon about the United States winning its soccer World Cup match and an elderly retiree hiking the Appalachian trail ― hadn’t said a single thing either way. The ranks of Democrats staying silent on the situation unfortunately included a number of high-profile progressives, including “Squad” members Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley, and Illinois progressive Chuy García.

The political malpractice on display here became clear when several Republicans used it as an opening to posture as pro-worker. Ted Cruz called railworker demands for sick leave “quite reasonable,” while, more significant, Marco Rubio put out a subtly union-bashing statement calling for both sides to “go back and negotiate a deal that the workers, not just the union bosses, will accept” and affirming he would “not vote to impose a deal that doesn’t have the support of the rail workers.”

Likewise, Josh Hawley, who has moved to brand himself as a pro-worker populist in advance of a planned 2024 run, stated that workers “said no and then Congress is gonna force it down their throats at the behest of this administration.” Even Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper, hardly a progressive firebrand, saw which way the wind was blowing and affirmed that “any bill should include the SEVEN days of sick leave rail workers have asked for.”

In other words, several Republicans and a guy who drank fracking fluid were to the left of the “most pro-union president” in history.

Left-Wing Pushback

This abysmal state of affairs was injected with a modicum of hope thanks to the small but significant presence of left-wing lawmakers in Congress, whose pushback against the Democratic leadership’s move was led by Sanders in the Senate.

Sanders had made clear for months he would back whatever decision railworkers made and had criticized billionaire Warren Buffet ― who owns the parent company of BNSF Railway ― earlier this week, pointing out that “in one day, Mr. Buffett made twice as much money as it would cost to guarantee fifteen paid sick days a year to every rail worker in America.” More important, while Democrats got in line behind the president and party leadership, Sanders ― who had withheld his support for the president’s agreement for months and blocked Republicans’ earlier attempts to ram the inadequate deal through ― criticized the plans and made clear he’d block any such legislation until seven paid sick days for railworkers were included.

He was joined by a number of other left-wing lawmakers, like “Squad” member Jamaal Bowman, who called it “an inhumane deal being pushed onto workers even after a majority voted it down.” Fellow “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“If Congress intervenes, it should be to have workers’ backs and secure their demands in legislation”), Rashida Tlaib (“I stand with rail workers”), and Cori Bush (“I will not support a deal that does not provide our rail workers with the paid sick leave they need and deserve”) also took the side of workers.

Before long, Sanders made plans to introduce an amendment in the Senate to the legislation mandating seven days’ worth of sick leave for the railworkers, joined by Bowman doing the same in the House, daring Republicans to vote against it. “Look, you have a number of Republicans who claim — claim — to be supporters of the working class,” Sanders told Chris Hayes last night. “Well, if you are a supporter of the working class, how are you going to vote against the proposal which provides guaranteed paid sick leave to workers who have none right now?”

These efforts rapidly rearranged the political terrain, with Pelosi suddenly and subtly shifting her position late in the day and announcing plans to allow lawmakers to vote today to add the seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement. Previously silent lawmakers like García expressed support for the move. It all culminated in the House passing the seven-day sick leave amendment just now by a vote of 221-207, with all Democrats and only three Republicans voting in favor.

Despite the dearth of House GOP support for the measure, Republican senator John Cornyn had earlier predicted it could get the required GOP support needed to reach sixty votes in the Senate, because “there will be a lot of sympathy for providing sick leave for workers.” In many ways, this is something of a repeat of events at the close of 2020, when Sanders and other progressives in Congress, with the belated aid of Hawley, forced the foot-dragging then-president Donald Trump, president-elect Biden, and Democratic leadership to all reluctantly back another round of stimulus checks. But whether progressives will succeed here is an open question and one that’ll largely depend on how many Republicans see it in their political interest, as they did when they just voted to legalize marriage equality, to move to the center, away from their long-standing hostility to workers’ rights.

Whatever happens, this has been another sign of the modest but significant political shift that’s taken place in US political life thanks to both the larger prominence of Sanders and his progressive allies in Congress, and the resurgence of labor militancy and an organized socialist movement in recent years. Forty years ago, a Republican president dealt a terrible blow to the union movement by breaking an air traffic controllers’ strike. Decades later, Republicans may force a Democratic administration into a more pro-worker position by following the lead of an openly socialist senator.

Branko Marcetic is a Jacobin staff writer and the author of Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Open letter from railroad workers united:

DSA Stands in Solidarity with Rail Workers

The Democratic Socialists of America call on Biden and members of Congress to force the billionaire railroad bosses to accept workers’ demands. Short of that, railroad workers must not be denied the right to strike. The Tentative Agreement has been rejected by members of the Maintenance of Way Union (BMWE), Sheet Metal and Rail Union (SMART-TD), Signalmen (BRS), and Boilermakers union (IBB), and though some union ratification votes supported it, the approval margins were narrow. All rail unions have pledged to honor the picket line in the event of a strike.

The billionaire bosses of the five largest railroads have paid themselves $200 million over the last few years. This profit has been made off the backs of workers, who are not even guaranteed a single paid sick day in their contract, risk being fired for unscheduled absences, and are forced to work long hours with short notice. Workers should control the conditions of their workplace! They should be able to work with dignity and at a pace that does not mandate exhaustion or sacrifice their health. The power of this unionized workforce comes in their ability to strike if their demands are not met, and yet President Biden is asking Congress to preemptively deny them the right to legally strike. It is exceedingly rare for a president to intervene to prevent a strike against private companies, and it is not the workers but the bosses of these private rail carriers who are threatening our national economy. Rail carriers have formed an oligarchical cartel that controls the supply chain. 

Exhausting conditions overburden rail workers and staffing rates continue to decline. Longer, more dangerous trains risk derailments that threaten workers’ lives and the safety of our communities. Price-gouging shippers causes costs to be passed to working-class consumers already suffering from rising cost of living. These oligarchs are counting on Congress to force a deal that will only exacerbate existing supply chain issues and cause further economic distress for the entire working class, all so billionaires can continue to rake in profits. 

Any member of Congress who votes yes on the tentative agreement is siding with billionaires and forcing a contract on rail workers that does not address their most pressing demand of paid sick days. Democrats claim to want to save democracy. There’s nothing more democratic than workers having a say over their own lives. By refusing to side with workers and respect their vote to reject a bad deal, the Democrats will create an opportunity for the Right to fill that void with false promises and further drive working people from politics during particularly crucial moments. 

We know no matter what party is in office, true power comes from organizing workers. Our focus should not be on the disruptions to business as usual but rather on the injustice that these workers have faced for years. As socialists, we know the resolve of these workers will be the only way forward to saving this country’s infrastructure (nationalize the rails!) and most importantly, securing dignity at the workplace in an industry that keeps the rest of the country afloat. The Democratic Socialists of America stands in solidarity with the 125,000 railroad workers fighting for a better quality of life: a fair contract or a strike! 



Anonymous said...

Another union/worker betrayal in a long list - the Democratic Party has completely lost their way. This nonsense may finally cost them the last of their most die hard long time supporters. Great post.

Normex said...

Historic railways I like so much;)