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Railway Labor Gets Run-Around

Unions Protest Stalling by Railway Mediation Board
on Demand for Substantial Wage Increases

(February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 7, 15 February 1943, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A million and a half railroad-workers are getting the run-around in their demand for substantial wage increases. At the same time railroad profits, have soared sky high – to such an extent that it “Outrages any decent regard for equality of sacrifice in war-time,” according to the OPA.

The National (Railway) Mediation Board – the government agency responsible for considering the demands of the workers – is not even functioning today. It lacks the required number of members to make the board legally operative. Despite the unions’ request, President Roosevelt has failed to name a new member to the board.

Meanwhile, while the cost of living has risen sharply, the railroad workers are being stalled in their demands, for wage increases. Labor Action has previously reported on the low wage standards among railroad workers (in both the brotherhoods and the non-operative unions) which make immediate wage increases ranging from 15 to 30 per cent imperative. A statement issued through Thomas Cashen, president of the Switchmen’s Union, on behalf of the nineteen standard railroad unions, outlines the bad working conditions as well as poor wage status of the rail workers and strongly protests the obstructive, delaying tactics of the Railway Mediation Board and the government.

For instance, a large group of railroad workers have not received wage increases since 1937, despite recommendations by two presidential emergency boards to grant immediate increases. Further, railroad workers work forty-eight hours, and many of them fifty-six and sixty-three hours, at straight time. Time and a half and double time for excessive working hours is practically unknown. In addition, Cashen’s statement declares that the average hourly earnings of all railroad workers is only seventy-four cents. Thus the myth of high wages is blasted for the Brotherhood Unions as well, not to mention the notoriously low-paid maintenance men, laborers and other workers of the non-operative unions. Yet, obviously, out of the huge railroad profits, the wage increases can easily be met. The railroad owners are standing pat, unwilling to disgorge a cent. They believe that the workers are in a blind alley, anyhow.

Rail Labor Act Serves Bosses

Now, what is the situation of the unions in respect to their demands?

Above all, the hands of the railroad workers are tied by the machinery of the Railroad Labor Act itself, which calls for slow-moving, long-drawn-out mediation and arbitration methods. The non-functioning altogether, at present, of the Railway Mediation Board is only an added aggravation.

Because of the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, strike action can be delayed for years if need be. Thus, the essence of the effectiveness of the strike weapon – swift, militant action – is in fact nullified. The strike – the instrument which, if it were utilized today, would bring quick, positive results, is on the shelf.

Hence, while the railroad workers are sore about poor pay and working conditions, the railroad operators can gloat. For, through the class collaborationist machinery they were instrumental in setting up, together with the government, they have succeeded in their main purpose: namely, to prevent or slow up militant action by the workers.

Militant Union Is Need

Thus, once again it is demonstrated that the chief reason for the establishment of such instruments as the WLB, mediation boards, government agencies of every description, is to hamstring the needs and interests of the workers. They are the servants of the bosses, set up to defeat the workers obliquely where it cannot be done directly.

Probably, after still greater delay, the railroad workers will receive some meager handout. It will be small – that much is sure. Therefore, the chief lesson the railroad workers must learn from their serious predicament is the necessity for militant unionism. The railroad workers must aim to transform their unions into conscious organs of class struggle.

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Last updated: 30 January 2015