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“What Next for Railway Workers?”

Guide to Action for Rail Labor

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 13, 1 April 1946, p. 2-M.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What Next for Railroad Labor?
Published by Railroad Workers Joint Action Committee, 506 15th Street, Room 607, Oakland 12, Calif. Ten cents.

Railway labor, despite its early organization in this country and a glorious heritage of struggle against the financial interests which dominate the industry, still lives in the era of horse-and-buggy unionism. While the industrial form of organization as exemplified by the CIO has proved its advantages to every section of organized labor, the railway workers are divided into 21 different brotherhoods.

This antiquated craft structure on the railroads which pits worker against worker and benefits only the railroad bosses and the union bureaucrats, has produced a courageous, progressive group of “rails” who aim to transform the numerous crafts into one big industrial union. Formed in 1943 by a group of rank-and-file workers of several different crafts and unions on four railroads in Oakland, Calif., and now grown to hundreds of members, with organized sections in the West and Northwest, these progressives are known as the Railroad Workers Joint Action Committee.

What Next for Railway Labor? is an eloquent and telling plea for industrial organization on the railroads. It begins with a short history of railroad labor, describing the “Rebellion of 1877” when the railroads, following the Civil War, began to cut wages faster than the decline in the cost of living. Pitched battles between workers and state as well as federal troops resulted when the government threw its entire weight behind the railroad companies. The strike was lost because of lack of organization, but wage cuts were halted because of public sympathy.

All the lessons of the past are adduced to point the needs of the present: a modern type of organization for a modern industry. Job security, wages and hours are the three main problems that confront all workers, regardless of craft, creed, nationality, color or sex. Aside from the unified action which industrial organization would achieve, the 21 national headquarters with their staffs could be cut to one headquarters, thus permitting lowering of union expenses and dues.

The RWJAC does not propose to set up a dual union beside the crafts. It proposes to work within the crafts to achieve amalgamation. What has prevented the crystallization of the large sentiment that exists for industrial organization up to the present, the pamphlet points out, is the lack of organization of the ranks. But the RWJAC does not stop with a plan for industrial organization. It proposes a program for the industrial union.

Role of Profit System

In Chapter IV, Struggle Between Capital and Labor, the pamphlet presents the ABC’s of the class struggle, the profit system as a breeder of depression, war and fascism and urges the railway workers to independent political action. Among the 26 demands which the RWJAC advocates for present action are: eight dollars a day minimum wage for any railroad worker; a guaranteed annual wage for all railroaders; a month’s vacation with pay after one year in service; full pay for time lost during disability due to sickness or injury; control by railroad workers of hospital plans for which railroad workers pay the bill.

The RWJAC stands unalterably opposed to the present infamous Railway Labor Act, which prevents a closed shop, hinders industrial organization and ties up grievance settlements in legal red-tape.

The pamphlet ends with the proposal for government ownership of the railroads as public utilities. It does not call, however, for the old- fashioned type of ownership which took place during the last wage movement, when “the government simply rechristened the old officials ‘government managers,’ the bankers and stockholders were assured of their holdings and profits, and nothing changed.” In order to assure that in addition to the obvious advantages of government ownership in the way of greater efficiency, lower passenger and freight rates, the interests of the workers in better wages and working conditions and guaranteed jobs will be upheld, the RWJAC program proposes workers’ control under government ownership.

The program of the RWJAC, it seems to us, is a realistic and realizable one that is designed to meet the needs of all railroad workers. To those who say that the program is “visionary” and “socialistic,” the RWJAC replies that in the past the eight-hour day and vacations with pay were considered equally so. It calls every progressive worker to start fighting now for the program of the RWJAC in his own craft: for industrial unionism, for a program of progressive demands.

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Last updated: 20 January 2019