Socialist Workers Party campaign statement

“Back rail workers’’ struggles! No worker has to die on the job!

October 3, 2022

This statement by Naomi Craine, a rail worker and member of the SMART-TD union and Socialist Workers Party candidate for governor in Illinois, was released Sept. 20.

Rail workers continue to face a relentless offensive from carrier bosses determined to keep their profits and those of their capitalist investors high. President Joseph Biden’s administration — like all its Democratic and Republican predecessors — stands firmly behind their assaults.

Over the last year the seven major North American rail companies raked in a combined net income of $27 billion, up from $15 billion a decade ago. Over that decade, the six of them that are publicly traded paid out $146 billion in stock buybacks and dividends to investors, $30 billionmore than they put into their railroads.

They’ve done so by slashing jobs while pushing to step up workers’ productivity, building longer and longer trains with smaller and smaller crews forced to work inhuman schedules. This makes conditions more dangerous and threatens the lives of workers and people living near the tracks alike.

On the back of these growing profits, CSX rail bosses have seen their stock price soar 300% in the past decade. Over the same period CSX slashed the workforce by a third. Since February, the Warren Buffett-owned BNSF has set an example for all rail bosses, imposing a harsh new point-based attendance policy. It forces workers to be on call and show up for work regardless of their health, family needs or anything else, or face harsh penalties including losing their jobs.

This leads to the death and maiming of rail workers, like the three Union Pacific crew members killed this month in Texas and California. And disasters like the massive derailment and fire that killed 47 townspeople in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013.

This shows that government regulation of the industry does nothing to safeguard lives. It only serves to further the employers’ ravenous thirst for profits. Rail bosses refused to include key questions of crew size, attendance policies and safety in recent national negotiations with our unions. They continue to push to cut crews down — one-person “crews” on the road and movements in the yard are done by one worker using a remote control device.

No worker needs to die on the job! Using union power to fight for workers control over operating conditions and safety is the only way to reverse the treacherous conditions rail workers face. Our unions need to fight for trains no longer than 50 cars, and for four-person crews, with two engineers on the engine and two conductors on a caboose or rear engine.

President Joseph Biden claims he is the most “pro-union” president ever, but when it comes down to it, he backs the bosses as all capitalist politicians do. Biden joined the rail bosses, capitalist shippers and the boss press to insist that any disruption of rail traffic would mean a “real economic crisis” that had to be avoided. When bosses and politicians howl about “the economy,” they mean defending the profits of the capitalist class — not the jobs, safety or living conditions of working people.

Biden used his authority to quash our use of union power, using the anti-labor Railway Labor Act, federal mediation, a Presidential Emergency Board and more to tie our unions up in red tape and provide crucial assistance to bosses who kept raking in profits.

The sharply counterposed class interests of workers and the employers cannot be reconciled. All politics boils down to class against class.

We need to use our unions to build our own political party, a labor party, to organize working people in our tens of millions to fight for our class interests and those of all who are exploited and oppressed by capital, in the U.S. and around the world. Along this road, workers and farmers can take political power into our own hands.