Union Pacific Locomotive 8619. (Credit: Arvell Dorsey/Flickr)

Railroad workers across the United States voted by 99.5 percent to authorize strike action, the Brotherhood Of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen announced Tuesday. The near unanimous vote is a powerful show of opposition and expresses a determination of railroaders to fight. A strike could legally take place as soon as July 18, at the expiration of a 30-day government-mandated “cooling off” period.

The reason for this overwhelming vote is not difficult to see. More than 115,000 railroad workers have been without a national contract for nearly three years. Because of this, they have not seen any wage increases over that time, in spite of runaway inflation, which has now topped 9 percent.

Conditions in the railroads are intolerable. Workers labor for long hours and are badly understaffed, as tens of thousands of workers have resigned from the industry in recent years. On top of the ever-present danger of COVID, derailments and other accidents are a daily occurrence. Through “Hi Viz,” “Precision Scheduled Railroading” and other punishing attendance schemes railroaders are on call 24/7, leaving them without the ability to plan their personal or family lives.

The strike is part of a global uprising by railroad workers. Following a week of nationwide strikes last month, a second round of railroad strikes has just been announced on the British commuter rails. Around the world, truckers, dockworkers and other freight and logistics workers are taking a stand.

For US railroaders, the strike vote is not simply a symbolic gesture. When they say they want to strike, they mean it. Workers know there is no other way to reverse decades of deteriorating working conditions and wages, and prevent an imminent collapse of the entire industry after endless rounds of cost-cutting by the billionaires and Wall Street firms that run the industry.

But the railroad unions have made clear they have no intention of calling a strike. BLET President Dennis Pierce sought to immediately walk back workers’ expectations in the very statement announcing the voting results. Instead, the unions have been demanding for months that the Biden administration block a strike by appointing a Presidential Emergency Board, which will attempt to enforce a contract settlement. It is likely that Biden will seek to do this almost immediately after the end of the “cooling off” period on July 18. The railroad unions’ demand for a Presidential Emergency Board amounts to a demand that the government illegalize a strike by their own members.

Pierce writes, “Today, the rail industry is running a full-blown media blitz asking for government intervention to save them from a possible legal job action by the employees that they have abused for years. Consider the hypocrisy in that.”

Consider the hypocrisy in Pierce’s own words! The unions themselves have been engaged in a “media blitz” of their own, even before the railroad industry, demanding that Biden save the union bureaucracy from a job action!

Pierce’s own statement exposes as a cheap fraud the unions’ claims that a PEB could be made to rule in workers’ favor. If that were the case, why would the industry also be demanding it? The companies know, as do the unions, despite their public statements, that Biden’s top domestic priority is to reign in wage increases. In spite of claims that railroaders and other “essential workers” must stay on the job for the sake of the “economy,” Biden and the entire political establishment are even willing to trigger an economic recession by ramping interest rates, in order to sharply increase unemployment and beat back workers’ wage demands.


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