Bad Crow Review: End Of The Line
The train done run out of track
Links are at the end.
I love trains. Trains and crows are the things I most miss from the mainland. We have one train on Oahu, the restored sugar cane train which runs on a stretch of track by the ocean on the west side.It’s a fun ride but we’ve no real passenger trains. Where would they go?
Our light rail system, which is years behind and billions over budget — because of things like laying rails of a gauge nobody else uses, and fitting the cars with wheels that don’t fit the rails, and most recently cracks in some of the columns supporting the elevated tracks before they’ve even been used — will stop short of the originally planned terminus.
Oahu will be a boondoggle case study in an urban planning textbook one day soon.
“Biden was right to step in, but he backed the wrong side”
Democrats utterly failed rail workers.
The threat of a railroad strike presented the first time that Mr. Biden’s statements about unions have been put to a stress test. Americans are learning, as a result, that this president shares with many of his predecessors a queasiness about letting workers wield power.
Tens of thousands of freight railroad workers have labored without a contract for two years. In September, the Biden administration narrowly averted a strike by brokering a deal for a new contract, including a significant pay increase. But that deal was rejected by workers in four of the 12 covered unions, which together represent more than half of the industry’s unionized work force. Many of those who voted against the deal said they were holding out for paid sick leave, which the railroads have refused to provide.
Mr. Biden is not just a vocal proponent of unions. He is also a vocal proponent of requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. But this week, fearing the economic consequences of a strike, he intervened again, urging Congress to pass legislation that would impose on the unions the terms of the September deal — with no paid sick leave — without their agreement.
. . .
In a statement that perfectly captured the yawning gap between Democratic Party rhetoric and behavior, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced railroad companies as rapacious profiteers who “have been selling out to Wall Street to boost their bottom lines, making obscene profits while demanding more and more from railroad workers.” Then, just one sentence later, she announced that House Democrats would stand with the profiteers.
(Note that the unions rejecting the tentative settlement represent a majority of rail workers. Democrats who voted to screw the unions prefer to frame the contract vote as having had more unions approving it than rejected it.)
The issue for workers is larger than just paid sick leave. The railroads have cut their workforce to the bone; consequently they don’t have enough workers to safely cover unscheduled sick days, which of course is how sick days work. The companies would rather have workers coming in sick to avoid losing their pay, or have workers work longer exhausting hours to cover, than rehire some of the workers they’ve laid off, which would cut into their record profits.
The quote above is from New York Times editorial board member Benyamin Applebaum. Times editors defenestrated their labor desk some years ago and are not generally known to favor workers seizing or freezing the means of production, so this is something of a departure.
Historian Rick Perlstein has a good thread on Twitter,which one hopes he’ll turn into an article for the Nation, about the difference between the situation with rail workers now and the air traffic controllers when Reagan busted their union. Along with offering his own view, he interviewed labor historian Joseph McCartin, who wrote a book about the air traffic controllers strike and the ramifications of it.
One way to think of the big picture in the railroad labor issue is to compare it to the opportunity Reagan seized in 1981 to fire the air traffic controllers. That, too, temporarily ground a key vector of American commerce to a halt. Reagan ventured the risk to signal that a new sheriff was in town, helping break the back of worker power in the U.S. The contrast to today is that the notion of Democrats taking a short-term risk to send a long-term signal in the opposite signal is pretty much inconceivable--as we've just seen.
That’s Perlstein. McCartin says that rail workers should have been in a much better position with Biden and congressional Democrats in the event of a strike or just the rejection of the settlement prior to a strike. He argues that union negotiators and Biden both buckled rather than forcing the issue to provide workers with what Biden has said is a fundamental right.
“Biden could have conceivably used the leverage provided by a short strike to strong-arm the RRs into granting more sick days by highlighting the underlying injustices that have built up under the precision-scheduled railroading paradigm, whereby RRs have cut back crews by 30% and doubled profits, enough profits to spend $25b this year buying back their stock.
“Even had he been inclined to do that, and his vote in the 1992 CSX strike indicates that he knows how the RRs game this broken system to force federal action to protect the RRs, Biden apparently didn't feel strong enough and certainly didn't feel much pressure from the labor movement to do more than he did.”
By Forcing a Contract on Railworkers, Joe Biden Is Betraying Workers Everywhere
One would expect a socialist magazine to side with the workers, as they’re not especially fond of Democrats or the institutional press in any event, so it’s notable when Applebaum at the Times is aligned with Luke Savage at Jacobin.
Democratic leaders are, in effect, declaring their solidarity with the American working class while actively siding with the very business interests they say are exploiting it. It’s a clear violation of fundamental labor rights and a concession to the US Chamber of Commerce, which has issued predictable pleas for Congress to intervene and prevent a strike ahead of the holiday season.
In the foreground of the dispute is the issue of paid sick time. More than one hundred thousand workers employed at America’s railways do not currently receive paid sick days and face strict and punitive attendance policies that leave many with no weekends and little time off. At the Warren Buffett–owned BNSF, for example, workers are allotted a point balance that diminishes if they’re unavailable for work — even in cases of illness or emergency. Those who reach a balance of zero can incur a ten- or twenty-day suspension, with a subsequent zero balance resulting in termination.
These are degrading terms of work no reasonable person would accept as fair. As engineer Ross Grooters put it to Mother Jones in September, workers are essentially “fighting for the basic right to be able to be people outside of the railroad.” Michael Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen — one of four unions that rejected the deal now likely to be imposed — explained that the problem has been long-standing but, for obvious reasons, has been of particular concern to workers over the past two years: “This became a glaring issue during the pandemic when we had members who were forced by their employers, the railroads, to stay home and quarantine without pay.”
Biden is averting a railroad strike but missing an opportunity
Paul Waldman at the Washington Post is in on the party as well, although he’s framing the administration’s actions as inept rather than deliberately undermining the unions.
At President Biden’s urging, Congress is likely to step in soon to prevent a railroad strike by forcing unions to accept an agreement some recently rejected. Democrats’ calculation is simple: Even if this represents a defeat for labor rights, the damage to the economy imposed by a strike would be almost catastrophic.
It’s an understandable position. But this is also a missed opportunity, not only to make good on Biden’s promise to be the most pro-labor president in history but also to help Americans rethink our beliefs about work — beliefs that to much of the world are dysfunctional or even borderline deranged.
The phrase “internalizing your oppression” describes what happens when you take on the perspective of those who are holding you down, believing you deserve nothing better. That’s what American workers have done for too long, and Biden seemed to want to change this.
But Biden keeps missing his chances.
I’d characterize Biden as avoiding his opportunities and chances rather missing them, but Waldman is inclined toward meekness. He does say that Biden should be attacking railroad bosses at the same time as he screws the rail workers.
So even if Biden has decided he needs to sign a bill to avert this strike, what if he did it with some pro-worker brio?
What if he walked out in front of the cameras, called out the rail CEOs by name and brought some good, old-fashioned fire and brimstone? Imagine the response if the president said, “Lance Fritz, from Union Pacific. You got $14.5 million in compensation last year. Your company made $9.3 billion in profits. You spent $7.3 billion on stock buybacks to juice your share price. And you won’t give the men and women who made that money for you four lousy sick days?”
What you want is unconscionable, but we’re going to give it to you anyway. Biden wouldn’t even go that far. Pelosi did, though not in detail. Imagine the response. Hurrah.
When one sees two of the most staid, both-sidesing press institutions in solidarity with (some of) the unions and the socialists — Appelbaum at the Times more so than Waldman at the Post, who struggled with the concept of a strike — at the expense of Biden and the Democrats, one should probably take that as an indication that Democrats did in fact fuck this all up.
Tiny Soot Particles from Fossil Fuel Combustion Kill Thousands Annually
I can’t leave you without highlighting a little pollution news, this time about the lethality of soot and efforts to address it.
The current standard for particulate matter from soot pollution is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an annual average. The advocacy groups asked Biden to toughen that standard to 8 micrograms per cubic meter.
Soot pollution has been linked to cardiac arrest, asthma attacks and what experts call “premature deaths” from a range of cardiovascular and breathing disorders. Most particulate matter is generated by vehicle exhaust, and emissions from power plants and other industrial operations.
Who knows, could happen, but the courts have not been a friend to executive action recently.
“Star” by Belly started us off this morning followed by Camper Van Beethoven with “New Roman Times.”
That, comrades is all we got. Take care, be well and give your elected representatives hell.