Capitalists’ disregard for safety that led to the deaths of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic and the subsequent effort by the bosses and the Canadian government to frame up rail workers underscore the need for working people to bring union power to bear and wrest control of railroad operations. Only the working class puts the lives of workers and those who live near rail lines ahead of profits. And only fighting unions strong enough to bring trains to a halt can put working-class priorities and morals into practice.
With government collusion, rail bosses intentionally hide the volatility of fracked crude and fight tooth and nail to put off safety upgrades that government agencies themselves are demanding. At the same time, rail workers are pressed to work on shrinking crews, take on more responsibilities, run longer trains and work shifts with less downtime. And when something inevitably goes wrong, workers are framed and branded as criminals.
Oil train derailments and volatile shipments through residential areas are rapidly rising. The amount of crude spilled in train accidents last year — 1.15 million gallons — far exceeds the total of the previous five decades.
Passenger train derailments are also increasing. Just last month, two crew members on a Union Pacific freight train in Arkansas were killed in a head-on collision.
Over the past month, workers on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and their families have been protesting demands by bosses, given a green light by some union officials, to reduce the crews on main-line freight trains to one engineer. These protests deserve the support of all working people.
Immediate measures workers and our unions should demand include: reduce train length to 50 cars, reinstitute the eight-hour day with adequate rest, return the caboose to the rear of every train and double the crew size to four — two on the engine and two in the rear.
With a fighting union movement, rail workers could press for control over safety operations and force rail bosses to open their books for public inspection to reveal how they operate and collude with government agencies against us. They could back demands of working farmers across the Midwest, who face a shortage of rail cars to haul their crop to market as rail barons divert the needed cars to more profitable traffic in shale oil.
The owners of the railroads, factories, mines and mills are targeting the living standards, working conditions and safety of all workers. Today we are beginning to see initial stirrings of resistance. Workers can take the moral high ground as the only true defenders of industrial safety and fight for workers control under union power to enforce it. Such a course would win solidarity from working farmers and strengthen our unions as instruments of class combat that champion the interests of all working people and boost their confidence.
Fast-food workers: ‘It’s not just wages, we need a union’
On the Picket Line
Quebec: Workers framed up for rail disaster win union support
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