An Open Letter to Railroad Workers and Their Unions

Dear U.S. Railroad Workers:

As you are no doubt aware, a major labor battle has erupted throughout the Midwest, ground zero being Madison, Wisconsin, where public workers and their allies are waging a gallant fight for survival.  While the immediate struggle revolves around the public workers’ fight for preservation of collective bargaining, the battle is ultimately one of grave concern to all working people — railroaders included.

To date, countless private sector workers have rallied to the cause of the embattled public employees — Sheet metal Workers, Plumbers, Steelworkers, and Transport Workers among them.  The Madison-based South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL) AFL-CIO has endorsed the call for a general strike.  The heads of national unions from the United Steelworkers of America, the AFL- CIO, AFSCME and others have travelled to Madison to speak to the crowds and express their solidarity.  What we are witnessing is nothing short of a potential revitalization of the American labor movement.

Thankfully, rail labor has begun to take part in the struggle.  Railroad Workers United commends all those rail union leaders and rank & filers who have taken action to date, and urges ALL rail labor leaders and members to get even more involved!  It’s time for rail labor to come together, to issue a joint and unified statement of support for our sisters and brothers under fire.  It is time to travel en masse to the center of these struggles and show our support.  It is time to lend both material and financial aid.  And last but not least, we should all stand ready to support whatever actions these workers are forced to undertake — from sickouts and slowdowns to strikes and even, as is being discussed, a general strike.

Rail labor once was at the center of national workers struggles.  The Great General Strike of 1877 was touched off and, in many cities, led by rail workers coast-to-coast.  The Pullman Strike — one of the defining labor struggles of the 19th century — was led by Eugene V. Debs and railroad workers.  Throughout the 20th century, railroad workers were instrumental in the Labor Movement, bringing unions and unionism to the four corners of the continent.  And while our numbers pale in comparison to what they once were, we still have immense power as our labor is still vital to the day-to-day functioning of our economy.  As the anthem of the American Labor Movement “Solidarity Forever”states, “without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn!”

We support the public workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere not just because they are workers like us, not just out of sympathy and the goodness of our hearts.  We support them because their fight is our fight, their victory would be ours, while their defeat would just as assuredly be ours.

And if the anti-union forces beat the public workers in this round, they will — without a doubt — be coming after what’s left of the private sector unions next.  And don’t think for a minute that railroaders’ working conditions would not be on the chopping block.  FELA, the Railroad Retirement system, and the RLA are certainly not immune from attack and/or outright dismantling.

The Staggers Rail Act of 1980 deregulated the railroads and the carriers have been extracting massive concessions from rail labor ever since.  Unfortunately for the last couple of decades, we have seen our elected union leaders become less willing to stand up to the carriers’ efforts to dismantle our collective bargaining agreements.  Railroaders are divided amongst 13 unions in the U.S. and we seldom see any active efforts to unite them around common interests.

The union-busting actions of the Governor of Wisconsin must serve to unite rail labor into a vocal and aggressive force willing to support our brothers and sisters who are fighting for the rights of every worker.  The leaders of our unions must not hide behind the Railway Labor Act.  They must undertake substantial actions to support those who are now fighting for the rights of all union members.  They must mobilize our members and support all actions to win this battle.  If our leaders are too timid then rank-and-file railroaders must do it ourselves.  We cannot stand idly by and watch the rights of all union members be destroyed.

Therefore, Railroad Workers United stands squarely in solidarity with the public employees in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest and the nation.  We pledge our support in word and deed to our brothers and sisters engaged in the struggle, and encourage the membership of the myriad rail craft unions — ALL railroad workers — to do the same.

In Solidarity & Struggle,

RWU Co-Chairs
Jon Flanders
Ed Michael
Robert Hill

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