Air Date 12/13/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: You're gonna want to check out bestoftheleft.com/holiday, where we have a bunch of options for holiday shopping that help support the show. There, you'll find links to the best place to buy books, audiobooks, or gift certificates for either, as well as various apparel and merch, not just our stuff, and of course, gift memberships for the show. Again, find all that at bestoftheleft.com/holiday and we appreciate your support.
And now, welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at the labor dispute within our freight rail industry, as well as other unionization efforts that corporations are vehemently opposing, while the Democrats and Biden "the most pro-labor president ever" are doing precious little to help.
Clips today are from Bad Faith, The Brian Lehrer Show, Citations Needed, CounterSpin Economic Update, and The Real News, with an additional members-only clip, also from The Real [00:01:00] News. And stay tuned to the end where I'll explain the particularly fitting origin of the modern definition of the term "hot mess", which I used in the title of today's show because it was so fitting.
Railroaded - Bad Faith - Air Date 12-1-22
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: I wanna come to you, Justin, because you wrote a great essay in the New York Times back in October in which you traced some of the history as to how the railroads got to be so broken in the first place. Can you walk us through a little bit of how we got to the place where we've had these really dramatic cuts in the labor force and some of the systemic changes in terms of how rail and freight are delivered that caused there to be so much pressure on the individual employees and so much inflexibility in their timelines?
JUSTIN ROCZNIAK - CO-HOST, WELL THERE'S YOUR PROBLEM: Oh yeah. So this is sort of, uh, a culmination of a long historical process here, which I think really kicked off in the 1960s, and you had, after the failure of the largest corporation in America, the Penn Central Railroad, you know, you had to, the government had to take all of the northeast railroads into government ownership [00:02:00] just in order for, you know, the entire nation to survive.
They didn't want to do it, but they had to. They've created a railroad called Conrail, and Conrail survived largely through cutting tracks, cutting crews, cutting locomotives and rolling stock, getting, it was austerity all the way down. You know, it was a nationalized railroad and you'd think that would be something where you would have more investment, but no, it was all austerity. And this sort of management philosophy propagated.
One of the things is through something we call Precision Scheduled Railroading [PSR], which in theory is a very good idea. You know, it's good to run trains on schedules, but in practice it has largely been more and more and more and more and more cost cutting. This has been a long process of disinvestment, austerity. You've really seen in the last couple years where the trains have gotten longer, they're going longer distances, there's more delays, crews are being called at weird hours to go to weird places to take trains to other weird places. It [00:03:00] got really bad really quick, but it is a natural continuation of what a private railroad has to be, which is a, you know, if you have a private railroad, it's a money making business. And as bad as the railroads are at providing for workers or moving things or anything that they're supposed to do, they are very good at making money right now.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: To that point over at The Lever, they did a great write-up a little while ago about, what was it, 200 billion dollars of profit over the last 10 years or so?
JUSTIN ROCZNIAK - CO-HOST, WELL THERE'S YOUR PROBLEM: That's what's been set into dividends and stock buybacks, I wanna say.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: Oh, stock buybacks. That's right, that's right.
JUSTIN ROCZNIAK - CO-HOST, WELL THERE'S YOUR PROBLEM: If you, uh, you know, if you're like, We need a high speed rail network in America, that's about the amount of money you would want to make that happen.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: That's a good parallel here. And do we have a sense of what the cost would be to these railroad companies? I mean we have a sense of their profit, right? This is from The Lever, Matthew Cunningham-Cook: railroad CEOs were paid over 200 million as workers suffered. Warren Buffet alone - railroad giant, [00:04:00] obviously - his net worth jumped 50% during the pandemic to a hundred billion dollars. And the companies themselves have said that their record profits aren't attributable to the workers, and that's why workers aren't being paid more. They said, "the companies maintain that capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contribution by labor". Are you kind of doing a mental comparison, or are there conversations about the cost of actually satisfying these pretty modest requests for any time off whatsoever against the massive profits that are being, I won't even say earned, but appropriated by management?
ROSS GROOTERS: I'm not one to run numbers, but I do look at the impact on the lives of myself and my coworkers and we've seen deaths under PSR increase, we've seen derailments in increase, we've seen unsafe conditions, rolling stock and track is going under-inspected or less inspected than it used to be because of cuts to the [00:05:00] labor force. And we see the effect of not having paid sick time with, you know, just here in Iowa we had, I guess it was maybe Galesburg, Illinois on the BNSF, we had a worker who died of a heart attack and he knew he had problems but was unable to get the time off he needed to address them. And so those, to me, outweigh any cost to railroads, they're already making billions. It's not that they're not making money, they're making extreme amounts of money and there is never enough. Railroads are turning away business, not because it doesn't make money, but because it doesn't make enough margin for them.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: This is part of the PSR, right? The idea that you're doing kind of longer trains, sometimes three mile long trains, it's kind of incredible to wrap your mind around, but instead of stopping and changing out cargo at various stops throughout the country are basically doing end-to-end runs, which technically, abstractly, in theory, would enable you to have more of a regular schedule and have people to be able to anticipate [00:06:00] and schedule and, like, coordinate around deliveries. But in fact has basically meant that people who need to be supplied in between, like, different kinds of goods are now prioritized and people who used the other kind of goods are no longer profitable, perishables and things like that, are no longer so easily serviced by those train companies, and have to rely on trucks. And so there's winners and losers. Am I understanding that right?
ROSS GROOTERS: Yeah, that's right. And Precision Scheduled Railroading is a bit of a misnomer because the scheduling part is really on the railroad schedule. That's what that means. And the precision is about, it's not about really accommodating workforce or staffing, the precision part of it is how precisely can we cut the operation to the bone to where it functions? And unfortunately, they've cut so deep that when there's one breakdown, it just has a cascading effect and it impacts, has impacts throughout the entire system that caused the freight rail system to not operate the way it should. And it's all rooted in inadequate staffing.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: And you have a three mile train with, at this point, [00:07:00] only two people staffing it. When there's a breakdown, the individuals on board have to walk miles potentially to even resolve the problem. And there's a push now for there to be even leaner staffing with either just one human and a kind of auto-pilot, Tesla-type of driving system without the kind of redundancy that we kinda understand in plane travel and other kind of high risk travel is useful for, in case someone does, for example, have a heart attack like your colleague did?
ROSS GROOTERS: Yeah. It's not going to be enough to have the cuts, uh, to the workforce where they are, and accommodate them with this contract, however that happens. They're going to keep pushing to eliminate people from these jobs. And the end goal is to eventually completely automate the rail network.
The People's Guide To Power - The Power Of Labor - The Brain Lehrer Show - Air Date 10-23-22
BRIGID BERGIN: Gwen, you have been out there on the ground at a lot of the burgeoning organizing here in the city. You were on the ground in Staten Island this spring when Amazon workers voted to unionize at the JFK 8 [00:08:00] warehouse. Talk about why that was such a big deal.
GWEN HOGAN: Yeah, that was such an interesting campaign to follow. I had been talking to workers for months, just like I believe you were also talking to folks, Jane, but trying to understand like what was gonna happen here. And I think what was so interesting about that is speaking to experts at more established unions, labor experts in New York City, they had no idea what was gonna happen either on the eve of that vote. This was, to remind our listeners, a campaign that was not affiliated with any established national union at that time. This was a group of current and former Amazon workers, some laid off employees, the president who has now become an infamous labor celebrity nationwide, Chris Smalls was fired in 2020 after he organized a walkout where workers were raising concerns about COVID protocol and COVID safety. And that was in the height of COVID in New York City when the hospitals were overrun and New Yorkers were dying every day, and yet Amazon workers were working crazy hours and [00:09:00] doing more deliveries than ever because all the white collar workers who were staying home were ordering everything online.
BRIGID BERGIN: Everything on Amazon. Exactly.
GWEN HOGAN: So I think that idea of the essential worker that emerged in 2020 is, a lot of people will talk about the origin story of organizing that we're seeing last year and this year that sort of grew out of very discontent with working conditions and feeling like you had no power in the workplace to change them.
BRIGID BERGIN: Since that union vote on Staten Island for Amazon, they've had a couple other Amazon attempts to organize or attempts to organize Amazon workers that haven't gone so well. Can you tell me about the latest fights and what happened?
SOCHIE NNAEMEKA: Sure, yeah. Since that successful vote, which the votes were counted in early April, there was a subsequent vote at a warehouse literally across the street from JFK 8, and they, those workers did not vote to unionize. And we also saw in the past week, week and a half, voters in Albany also vote to not join the Amazon Labor Union. There had been a [00:10:00] campaign there as well. And there's been a lot of questions about what happened.
Amazon really, I think, was taken aback by this victory at JFK 8 and by all accounts has ramped up the tactics used to try to crack down on that organizing. The union has filed two dozen grievances or two dozen allegations of violations of labor law leading up to this election in Albany before the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that basically union organizers were surveilled, they were fired, they were targeted for discipline, all of which undermined the ability for workers to form, to build a successful campaign in those two locations.
And it seems like the ALU may choose to appeal that latest loss. It hasn't been filed yet, but I've been talking to attorneys there who will try to challenge what happened there, saying that this was not a free and fair union election. Yeah.
BRIGID BERGIN: Jane, even though we look at the success of the Amazon workers on Staten Island, you started to talk about this before, voting to unionize is step one, negotiating a [00:11:00] contract is the next big step. Is that right?
JANE MCALEVEY: Yes, absolutely.
BRIGID BERGIN: And how huge of an obstacle is that?
JANE MCALEVEY: It's just as big as the unionization itself.
And, I should back up by saying what's funny about this show is I'm the daughter of a very successful New York politician. So I grew up cutting my teeth on, I literally grew up with charts and maps and diagrams and turnout machines and trade unions running all over the house when I was a little girl. So I think that I came very early to the conclusions that Kaban was talking about last week on your show, about how she got sat down and she got taught about the science and the math of winning, right? I feel like I basically grew up knowing the science and math of winning because my father was pushed into the left side of the Democratic Party in the years that he was holding office.
And I have said to people my entire adult life, I've run straight up political campaigns, ballot initiatives, but most of my life has been running what we call unionization elections, and then continuing on with the workers through their first collective agreement or first contract.
In this country, the deck is so stacked -- to Gwen's point -- the deck is [00:12:00] so stacked against workers, I say to people, if you can help workers learn to win a union election, you can easily go straight into political campaigns, because it's so much easier, honestly, than winning a union election.
But what's great about the process is the clarity about the point of governing power. Because if we go immediately -- not on Amazon and JFK 8, Amazon has been contesting the election the whole time. They have not been given what's called union recognition yet. Amazon the company is contesting the JFK 8 election. We hope that there'll be an order from the National Labor Relations Board to force Amazon to start bargaining. But by the way, I don't have any faith that Amazon will abide by anything the National Labor Relations Board tells them to do because Starbucks is literally ignoring orders by the National Labor Relations Board.
This is the problem with the grotesque imbalance of corporate power in this country. They just don't care about the law. They don't care what regulators tell them. They just don't care. So I wanna return to [00:13:00] one key point that does play out in first contract negotiations and probably almost every single one in my life, which is: we strike. Because that's a very powerful weapon in a capitalist system. There is one thing big business leaders need workers to do and one thing only, and that is show up and keep the profits being made. And so the alternative to that is a 90 or 95% walkout, where actually the profit margin is immediately starting to be dented. And sidebar, we don't have time for all of it today, the US Supreme Court is now taken a case in, early in October, the second day of the court opening session this year, they're now taking on a case at Glacier Northwest to start making it so that employers can attempt to charge unions for the cost of strikes, which is just a reflection of how off the rails corporate power is, and that I'm gonna argue, as I have my whole life: Elections matter very deeply. Strikes matter equally [00:14:00] deeply. And part of the beauty of building a strike-ready union is it means that you have constantly got your rank and file member in the position to be politically educated about who's on their side. And if you have a high mobilization structure, you roll it straight into the ballot box.
And Gerard from Unite here and Mike from CWA are examples of two unions that do just that. There are not enough of them across this country, but those are great examples of unions that understand and operationalize every example I just gave you. You've gotta keep strikes active. It keeps the members active. It keeps the organization strong. It's a form of political education. And then they roll into the ballot box informed and in high numbers, and they go door knocking in swing states.
Biden, Congressional Dems Partner with GOP, Media to Discipline Rail Labor - Citations Needed - Air Date 11-30-22
MEL BUER - CONTRIBUTER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: It's particularly interesting because, media has a very short memory and the Biden administration took a victory lap after they pushed through this tentative agreement and got both sides to agree to send it back to their membership. This was this huge win to avert the [00:15:00] strike, the potential of a shutdown back in September. So we're seeing a lot of the same language in its framing. And of course, just like last time, as Max and I both commented on the various interviews that we did with a lot of folks who suddenly cared, it's about this sort of economic issues at play here. Billions of dollars will be lost. The economy will be crippled.
NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: It's also a Christmas story. It's a Christmas story!
MEL BUER - CONTRIBUTER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Right? Just ahead of Christmas. You're gonna lose out on fuel, and grain's gonna rot in the silos and all of these things, right? It's completely devoid of the humanity. But behind the supply chain that keeps the supply chain running, it's completely devoid of any sort of human element about what the workforce is going through. And if it's even mentioned at all, it takes to the bottom of most of these articles to draw attention to the issues at play and the reasons why we got to this place in the first place.
And it's all this deliberate framing that completely removes the [00:16:00] human element, creates this space where the Biden administration is coming in, sliding in at the last minute to take yet another victory lap saying, we are doing this because the economy is gonna be fucked. And look at us, we're saving the day.
And it sucks because I sent Adam this sort of master cut of CNN coverage today.
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: You wanna listen to that real quick and respond to it?
MEL BUER - CONTRIBUTER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Yeah, I would love to.
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: Just a warning to listeners, you're gonna get very mad.
NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Yes. This was actually put together and tweeted out by Steve Morris, senior political reporter at The Recount. Let's hear this nightmare now.
CNN NEWS COVERAGE: A rail strike is one of the most disruptive and expensive things that can happen to an economy.
A rail shutdown or strike would disrupt supply chains.
A strike means food prices could skyrocket.
Many experts are saying would be an economic catastrophe.
That could mean a big shortage and massive price hikes. Even gas prices could increase.
And it also could cost the economy a billion dollars within the [00:17:00] first week.
That would cripple the economy.
I'm not setting aside the concerns of your members, but are you and your members willing to stop the rails, in effect, and accept those costs to the US economy?
Do you believe a strike is worth it, if it cripples the US economy and costs up to 2 billion a day?
More than 2 billion per day?
Is it worth it?
And on top of all of that, the holidays are right around the corner.
So a little less than a month right before Christmas here --
Especially right before the holidays,
President Biden warning, if that happened, it would devastate the economy if we had a strike like that. So joining me now to talk about this and a lot more is Bank of America's Brian Moynihan, Chairman and CEO, one of the biggest banks in the world.
ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Yeah. So here you have --
NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: The best part is throwing it to the Bank of America CEO.
ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: So this is like the National Lampoon cover from 1973 where they have the gun to the dog's head saying, but if you don't buy this magazine, we're gonna kill this dog. Why do the greedy rail workers want little Jimmy to not have Christmas gifts this president, while he's in St. Jude's hospital on life support? That's right.
NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: [00:18:00] Jimmy needs his Hess truck and BB gun.
MEL BUER - CONTRIBUTER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: The framing is infuriating. I believe that's the B L E T President, I think is the person that they're interviewing there who's been a public face of these negotiations.
ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Why would you cripple the economy personally?
MEL BUER - CONTRIBUTER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: It's is a strike worth it if you're gonna bring the economy to its knees? And it's first off that is exactly the reason why you would withhold your labor, because it is the only weapon you have against a juggernaut like --
ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: Other than armed rebellion. It's the only weapon you have.
MEL BUER - CONTRIBUTER, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Against what is essentially a council of monopolies. These billionaires have all decided on their side that they are gonna work together to essentially keep hold of their own turf and make sure that no one else can edge in. It's not like people are building or buying more rail, they have control of this.
And this workforce is consistently being run into the ground, have been for years. Record numbers of people are quitting because they just can't do it anymore, and it's the choice between getting cancer treatment or watching their children grow up. Or spending the rest of their [00:19:00] lives or dying on the rails. They just don't wanna make that choice anymore.
This is the important piece here. And of course the media, corporate media, spends its time villainizing workers who are very rightly in my DMs, in Max's DMs, in everyone else who has been talking to the rank and file in the last couple of days, feeling very betrayed by the Biden administration and the sort of propaganda wing that is corporate media in this country are eating this shit up and just throwing it back in the worker's face constantly. It's very deliberate.
ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: And it, of course, it's never incumbent upon the railroad management and billionaire owners, billionaire companies to be the ones who concede. Cuz the main sticking point here, one of the main sticking points, I know there are others, but the primary one that keeps coming up is this idea of paid sick leave, cause they don't have any, they have zero paid sick leave. And it sounds extremely reasonable to the average person. And the railroad companies are stubbornly sticking to their guns of saying zero paid sick [00:20:00] leave.
And again, the framing is almost never -- with very rare exception, but almost never -- why are these greedy corporations not just conceding on paid sick leave? Why would they destroy the economy? Because they want to prevent people from having paid sick leave. It's never that framing. It's why are the people seeking paid sick leave want to torpedo the economy by withholding their labor until they get the thing that they want? And that is of course, never ever how it's framed. It is always incumbent upon the striker to concede to their own lack of dignity and basic demands.
NIMA SHIRAZI - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: The robber barons are not seen as holding the economy hostage.
ADAM JOHNSON - CO-HOST, CITATIONS NEEDED: No. Never.
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: All right. I'm gonna hop in here cuz I have a lot of thoughts. I'm very angry and I'm gonna try to focus this and hit all these points.
The thing I wanna say upfront is that covering this story, covering the crisis on the railroads as Mel and I have done at The Real News over the past year, has been a [00:21:00] truly gross object lesson in the role that corporate media play in laundering corporate malfeasance, and in fact helping to facilitate ongoing corporate plunder. As the clip that we just played is, that's like a perfect example of it.
But I do want to just note one more kind of preamble here. Mel was saying, cuz this undergirds everything. Cuz what are we talking about here? Like the coverage that Mel and I have been doing all year is primarily long extended interviews with workers trying to ___ the narrative about this crisis from the grassroots up, from the voices of the people who are actually making the railroads run. That's not a very sexy thing to do. It's been ignored by most other media outlets. And then when people started taking an interest in it, a lot of those mainstream media outlets started basically piggybacking off of our reporting, finding contacts through our reporting, taking arguments through our reporting, and never citing us at all, right?
But what we hope [00:22:00] we have offered people is a living archive of the voices of the folks who are being run into the ground by corporate greed on the freight railroad system. We are talking about a beleaguered workforce that has been slashed dramatically over the past 40 years. The railroads used to have over 500,000 workers working on them in 1980, and over the past four decades, they have slashed and burned and gutted that workforce down to around 130 [thousand]. And now the railroads are complaining about a labor shortage and they can't hire enough people. Motherfucker, the rail carriers, the seven main rail carriers have collectively laid off or furloughed or eliminated over 30% of their collective workforce since 2015 alone. This wasn't COVID. This is a deliberate corporate policy that railroaders call the cult of the operating ratio. This is what happens when you financialize an essential infrastructural system like the railroads and turn it into just a sort of [00:23:00] money making scheme. And that's what they, people like Warren Buffet have done in spades, right? They have cut the workforce, they've piled more work onto fewer workers, they've made the trains longer and more dangerous and more unwieldy with fewer people operating them, which puts all of us at risk. Stories of derailments with toxic chemicals leaking out of these trains. These stories are happening all around you.
Railroaded Part 2 - Bad Faith - Air Date 12-1-22-1
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: It was just confirmed today that Hakeem Jeffries is the next House minority leader. There was jockeying, apparently, or some presumption that there would be jockeying, for Pramila Jayapal to be in that role. And then we've seen repeatedly, stories that characterize her as shepherding the interests of the left, even though she seems consistently to stop just short of actually doing anything that manifests in any material benefit for everybody. And this latest case where there was all of this applause for her having gotten this amendment, including all of this sick leave stuff, passed along with the remaining resolution in the House. And your point about it being political theater, do you have any [00:24:00] confidence that this is a moment, that increasingly we're being confronted with moments, where the public at large better understands whether they're leftists that are disillusioned, or Republicans that are disillusioned, or liberals that are disillusioned, that this is one big club and none of us are in it?
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: I think so. I would say, you know, just giving my honest kind of gut reaction to that, like I said, my job is to interview workers about their lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles, and this comes up a lot. I mean, like, more and more people are convinced that there is no real political divide. That when it comes to, you know, the lives and dignity of working people and maintaining the sort of system of corporate pillage that is concentrated decision making power and wealth in the hands of a few, that no one's really gonna do anything to stop that. But as I think I mentioned earlier, there are real tangible things that Democrats can do here, and they really need to do something because they keep racking up a terrible [00:25:00] reputation for working people who don't forget all the times that they've been betrayed by them.
Again, apologies if I'm, uh, repeating myself, but I still have people saying, We remember when Obama promised, or campaigned in 2008 promising to, uh, push through the Employee Free Choice Act. And then he dropped it like a bad habit as soon as union workers helped get him elected. We remember when Obama and the White House did absolutely nothing when Scott Walker was taking a battering ram to public sector workers and ramming through Act 10, and then turning Wisconsin into a right to work state a couple years later. Democrats just sat by and watched that happen. They have also not made the PRO Act a priority. It went through the House and has just sat and died in the Senate. It has not been a priority for Democrats, even though as every person I've talked to has repeated, it would absolutely revolutionize labor relations in this country, that labor relations are so stacked in favor of the bosses, labor law so stacked in favor of the bosses, we can't go into all the reasons why, [00:26:00] but you mentioned one. Like, when we look at labor's heyday in the 1930s and early forties, right?, when we look at all labor was able to accomplish under, you know, like, very intense circumstances, a big part of that was when you saw entire cities essentially go on general strikes. Because like textile workers were going on strike and then you had like, you know, mill workers saying, you know what, we're going on strike, too. And the bosses were shitting their pants as were the people in DC. And so what did they do? They ran through Taft-Hartley as soon as they had the votes for it in the 1940s that essentially made that kind of action illegal.
And that is why we can't do, you know, legally, by the proper channels, the sort of sympathy strikes that we saw in that time period. Now the PRO act, I don't believe it would counteract that, but it would open up a lot of doors that were closed with Taft-Hartley over half a century ago. But again, that has not been a priority.
I already mentioned that the NLRB, you know, in many ways the beating institutional heart for supporting the labor movement, is on life support right now to the point [00:27:00] that they may actually have to start laying off people because they can't keep up. Their budget hasn't been raised. People in labor all look at this, they're like, Okay, you say you're pro-labor. You say you're the most pro-labor pro-union administration in, you know, a generation. Yeah, there are some arguments to be made, like there were like job creating measures that Biden ran through with the COVID relief package with the CHIPS Act, like, those do mean jobs, and union jobs, in certain parts of the country. But when it comes to supporting workers' ability to fight for what they need, when it comes to actually empowering workers, that is where the Democrats keep failing people. That is where they're showing that they're not actually serious, because you end up in situations like these. Where workers actually have to, are forcing you to make politically unpopular decisions. It would be politically unpopular to say, I'm not gonna get involved in this. These workers deserve what they're fighting for and the rail carriers need to get serious at bargaining.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: But would it, Max, be politically unpopular? Because it feels like that's actually, in this [00:28:00] moment, the politically popular [thing] to say, even if it's like not politically expedient in terms of campaign dollars and your interests to your corporate donor base. That's what's so incredible. I was watching a segment on Fox the other day where one of the hosts, she was interviewing a worker, and it was incredibly sympathetic. I mean, there was no bickering about the deservedness of sick days or the deservedness of pay or anything like that. And I think it's partly because the requests are just so reasonable and basic, and it's an industry that people have a lot of respect for. And so whatever pivot, you could try to do a quick pivot and turn rail workers into baristas, but it's gonna take more than this media cycle for them to accomplish that.
So there's no one really against it. Like even the people in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, when she says, Oh well I guess we gotta, we gotta force their hand, she first gives lip service to the value of the worker and how unconscionable it is that they're working in these conditions. But then says, I guess we just gotta do it. We just [00:29:00] gotta do it so the Christmas gifts arrive on time. The fact that they have to cloak it in, as though their hand is being forced, really demonstrates that public opinion is so solidly with the workers in a way that, frankly, I can't think of a parallel that I've witnessed, even as we've been seeing the Starbucks workers and the enthusiasm for the teacher strikes some years ago and all of those things, this feels different.
JUSTIN ROCZNIAK - CO-HOST, WELL THERE'S YOUR PROBLEM: It is interesting that if you are a big, burly, manly-man railroader, or you are a woke, blue-haired Starbucks barista, you have basically the same complaint, which is about scheduling.
BRIAHNA GRAY JOY - HOST, BAD FAITH: It was funny, one of the tags, I think the last time you were on, Ross, the episode was titled something that was like a joke about pumpkin spice lattes for exactly that reason. It came up on the show and I don't know, it frustrates me. In some ways it's like very optimistic to feel the energy being so supportive in a bipartisan way and another way it's very demoralizing because even in this context I can very, what else, see the path toward everybody getting away with this and Congress voting for this resolution [00:30:00] and nobody blinking an eye because, partly because of the coverage reasons that you were talking about before, Max, and partly because even though the coverage, some of the coverage, including on Fox, is sympathetic, it doesn't contemplate the possibility of what could be done. No one out loud on mainstream media says, Sympathy strike, general strike, wildcat strike. No one on like a mainstream network will call for or let the audience know this is where you can give money to help support a strike fund or what have you.
Like that is not the posture of the average American, and we're so far away from having a more densely unionized population for people to actually know how all of this works, that I think people are just living in this world where they know something's wrong, but they actually don't even really understand what the path to improvement would necessarily even look like.
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: Yeah, I think that's right. And two things I would say on that. The answer to this question in many ways depends on the stakes of taking the positions that we're talking about. Like I said, Marco Rubio is in a cushy position right now, cause at this point it [00:31:00] doesn't really matter what his vote is. So he can kind of like, you know, say what he wants, get like, you know, some fawning media coverage. But when it actually comes time to like put up or shut up or lead some sort of charge that may, you know, lose him popularity in his own district or within his own party, but actually requires him to stand up firmly for working people and to actually back that with legislation, not just nice words, then we'll see how committed he really is to this type of, you know, support for workers.
So, I don't know. I could always be surprised. I think that you're right. I think that the door's wide open for people on both sides of the political aisle. If they were smart, they would look at the fact that unions are more popular now than they've been in any of our lifetimes, right? So like, if you want to try to build popular support, there you go. Like, there's a great slam dunk, like sympathize with workers, stand up for workers, the public does as well.
John Logan on Amazon & Starbucks Organizing - CounterSpin - Air Date 10-7-22
JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Listeners probably know that organizing has been happening, but we hear maybe less about the lengths or depth, we might say, [00:32:00] that super-powerful, successful company owners are going to to resist workers getting together to represent themselves. While, meanwhile, we do see publicity for those companies all day and all night, you know, in ads and social media promotions, and supposedly earned news by outlets that present a secret menu or a hidden deal as a news event. So maybe let's start with your recent piece for Jacobin on this. Starbucks and Amazon have been violating actual law according to the National Labor Relations Board in their fight against workplace organizing. Yes? It's not just distasteful, they're actually violating the law.
JOHN LOGAN: Right. You know, an important thing to say straight off is the law itself is very weak, so there is so much that Starbucks and Amazon can do [00:33:00] to fight unions that is legal under the National Labor Relations Act. All sorts of things would not be legal in other advanced democracies, but, you know, are legal in the U.S. But they're not just doing that. They're doing things and doing them again and again that are clearly unlawful. And you know, in the case of Starbucks, the National Labor Relations Board currently has over 350 open unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks. And you know, that's a truly a stunning number within a relatively short period of time. We're talking about a campaign that really only started in August of last year in Buffalo and upstate New York, and for the first few months really until December, January, was only in Buffalo, and then subsequently spread nationwide. The only [00:34:00] comparable thing that I can think of is the UAW dispute with Caterpillar in the 1990s, where eventually there were over 400 unfair labor practice charges, allegations against Caterpillar. But that campaign took place over a seven or eight year period. So Starbucks, you know, is really just operating as if the law does not apply to it. What happens is that, you know, Starbucks violates the law. In Buffalo alone, the regional director in Buffalo issued a complaint against Starbucks in May, saying that Starbucks had committed almost 300 individual violations of federal labor law in Buffalo alone in a three month period leading up to the first elections in December. The company is alleged to have fired over 100 pro-union baristas. It has closed union [00:35:00] stores in Buffalo and Ithaca, New York, in Seattle, in Portland, and unionizing stores and other places. But this is a remarkable union campaign that's now spread to over 240 Starbucks stores around the country who've voted to unionize. But there's no question if it were not for this rampant, unlawful union busting practices, it would be 2000 or 3000. It would be far, far more stores. The one thing that Starbucks did that had the greatest impact is in April it announced that it was going to increase wages and benefits, but only for non-union stores. If you had voted to unionize or if you were engaged in organizing, you would not be getting these new benefits and wages, and finally it implemented these in August. Later in August, the NLRB said this was unlawful. This was clearly designed [00:36:00] to create a chilling atmosphere and to discourage workers from becoming involved in the nationwide organizing campaign. What did Starbucks do? It said, We think that is wrong, we're going to fight it. And then in September it announced yet another wave of increased benefits that apply only to non-union workers. And you know, with Amazon, Amazon is still contesting the result of the historic victory of the Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island on April 1st. Amazon is still not accepting that result. The NLRB recommended that Amazon's election objections be dismissed in their entirety. I mean, they were the most frivolous objections, many of them. They were all thoroughly investigated. They were all dismissed. Amazon has said, We don't accept that. It now goes to the regional director. Regional director will [00:37:00] undoubtedly agree with the hearing officer. Amazon will then appeal it to the full board in Washington, DC because its objections and not a complaint, they can't appeal to the federal courts immediately, but they can simply refuse to bargain on the basis of they don't accept the election result. Then the union has to make a complaint, the NLRB would come out with a bargaining order. Amazon can say, We're still not bargaining because we don't accept the election was fair. And so the board would have to go to the courts to enforce the bargaining order. All of this will take months, if not years. And Amazon and Starbucks know that time is on their side. Time is not on the side of pro-union workers, so Andy Jassy, the new CEO of Amazon, has already said this is going to be a really long fight over the election result, not over anything else, but over accepting the election result where workers very clearly [00:38:00] voted to support the Amazon Labor Union. And he said, you know, the NLRB's not gonna rule against itself, meaning they're gonna take this all the way to the courts. And so what that means, and, you know, I apologize for going on and on... What it means is that Amazon and Starbucks can win by losing at the NLRB, I mean simply because of their resources, because of their determination to fight to the death, because of their, uh, ability to appeal and delay at every stage, even if every decision goes against them, which almost certainly it will, they can still undermine these union campaigns simply by using months and months and years of delay.
Instability - Capitalism's Constant - Economic Update with Richard Wolff - Air Date 12-1-22
RICHARD WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE: And now the last of the first half program's updates: In Greece and Belgium in recent weeks, but also in other countries, as I'll go through, there have been [00:39:00] massive union-led strikes. Let me stress: unions have decided to pull their members out by the tens to hundreds of thousands. Greece in the last couple of weeks has had its second-of-this-year general strikes in which everything stops in that country. Belgium -- not a country given to this sort of thing all that often -- likewise.
What is it about? They are very angry in those countries about two or three things. The most important: the inflation, and their anger that the wage increases they're getting, if they get any, are systematically less than the inflation, which means if you are lucky enough and you fight hard enough to get any wage [00:40:00] increase, maybe two, four, 6% if you are really lucky, you're still falling behind because prices in Europe are now rising on average around 10%, some countries more, some countries a little less. So the working class is being told, you're gonna have less, you're gonna be able to buy less goods and services because even if we give you the raise you're fighting for, we won't give you enough even to keep up with the prices that are rising.
Unions are saying this violates their conditions of work and therefore they're not going to do the work.
But you know, you may be surprised to hear the country where the most of this is going on. France has some, Spain has some, Germany has some, but the country where the strikes are really taking off [00:41:00] by a coordinated labor union commitment is Great Britain.
Yeah, the United Kingdom. The economy has been falling apart for a long time. The Empire is gone. The Queen died. The country separated from Brexit because it was told by the conservatives that if only you break away from Europe, your economic problems will be solved. That was a straight out lie, meant to deflect the attention of the British working class from their problem, which is the capitalist class and the difficulties it has worked its way into with the empire it no longer has.
So what's happening? Well, since the summertime, the strike wave has begun. In the summer and in the fall, the railway workers, they took the lead as a long tradition of [00:42:00] miners and railway workers being union strong and striking.
But now I wanna read you some of the other strikes that have been authorized in Britain by the unions. Nurses, 500,000 nurses across Britain going on strike. The National Health Service, where many of those workers, the nurses work, but have many other kinds of workers -- doctors, technicians of all kind -- 350,000 voted to strike. 70,000 university teachers across Britain voted to strike. Airport workers, dock workers by the thousands. That's right: labor militancy, letting the government know you better do something about inflation, [00:43:00] insufficiently rising wages, crunching down on the working class, we're not gonna take it. And the first way we're gonna show it is by our words. And the second way we're gonna show it is by our actions. We're not going to work. We're not going to do what we are not adequately paid for. And of course the next steps will be political. We'll vote you right out of office, you conservatives. We'll give a bigger surprise to the Conservatives than the Democrats gave to the Republicans in the just concluded midterm elections.
But perhaps the most important point that I can make by telling you about unions and strikes and a real fight, a class struggle of the working class in Europe against the employer class that has made such [00:44:00] a mess there.
The real message is, where are the unions here in the United States? Where is the AFL-CIO? Where are the leaders of the unions providing the leadership, the organization, the know-how, the experience to make and mobilize the people for social change, particularly against an inflation. That's the real question.
How to show solidarity with railroad workers - The Real News Podcast - Air Date 11-16-22
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: I just wanted to highlight a quote that was written by the brilliant journalists and my colleague Mel Buer here for The Real News. Mel wrote back in July,
"Between the war in Ukraine, two-plus years of a deadly pandemic, extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, a 'trade war' between the US and China, and other larger than life factors, the supply chain has experienced a series of shocks that have experts sounding the alarm and businesses lamenting the seemingly unavoidable spikes in [00:45:00] the cost of goods which have been passed onto consumers."
These system shocks, "have provided ready-made culprit for delays and disruptions all along the US supply chain. Missing from the equation, though, are the rail carriers themselves: the billionaires who own them, and the overpaid CEOs who run them."
These are the folks who are raking in record profits as everything else is going to shit, pardon my language. So I think we have a clear case here of a corporate class demonstrating that they are not fit to run such a vital utility upon which our entire society and economy depends. And this is what Railroad Workers United and the proposal that they sent out for nationalizing the rail system. I think that's why it's so powerful.
And I wanted to toss it back to Ross to ask if you could say a little more about this proposal and about... This is not some pie in the sky dream, this is actually a very sensible move that people should be considering carefully.
ROSS GROOTERS: Yeah. I appreciate that. This is [00:46:00] not something that we passed, a resolution that we passed lightly. We gave it a significant amount of thought. In fact, going back several of our biannual conventions, it's something that we've talked about for a long time.
First and foremost, going into negotiations, you want to go in with the strongest possible position, and I can't imagine anything more that these rail carriers would hate than to have railroad infrastructure in this country be publicly owned, just like it is in most, if not the large majority of industrial railroad systems, freight railroad systems throughout the world.
And in fact it's not so unfamiliar in this country. When we think about public infrastructure, whether it be the interstate highway system or airports and ports, these things are publicly owned and operated for the good of the nation's supply chain. And so now is the time, I think. To push this idea more broadly and try to introduce that into the discussion because as I'm [00:47:00] totally in it up and looking here, third quarter railroad profits alone for just four of the six class-one railroads was over $6 billion in the last quarter.
That's three months profits that are, again, they're being extracted out of the system and they're gone. Whereas if we had a nationalized system that we were running for the good of the supply chain, we could ensure its safety and we could reinvest that money to make it even better.
RON KAMIKOW: Like Ross said, this is something that Railroad Workers United has debated and discussed for over a decade. And as we see the one two punch of the precision scheduled railroading, the decimation of the workforce, shipper complaints at an all-time high, practically every shipping group in the country, from trash and recycling to coal, ferris metals, to chemicals are all complaining. And this dates back [00:48:00] before the pandemic with the level of service.
There's so many reasons right now that American people should be thinking about putting the rail infrastructure of this country into public ownership. And as Ross said, this is, throughout the world, something that is routine. And in our own country, the inland waterways, the airports, seaports, interstate highways, local and city, county roads are all owned publicly.
And so this is not a radical idea, even though we may be baited as being radical. I guess that's a question of degree, and everything's relative. But if you look at the rest of the world's transportation infrastructure and even our own country's transportation infrastructure, this is hardly a radical idea.
So in addition to the low level of service, in addition to the railroad system in this country failing on almost every single metric, [00:49:00] whether it's car dwell time in yards, whether it's average freight train speed, customer satisfaction, there's only one metric that seems to matter and that is operating ratio and stock price and dividends and profits, and so on that, as Ross said, third quarter record profits being announced, it's just bold faced in the middle that they of a contract dispute that might bring the nation to a halt where they cannot provide us with a few days of sick time, but yet they are capable of making exorbitant profits year over year.
But a few other things to mention in case people aren't aware, the rail system in this country is moving less freight than it did 16 years ago, and this is really crucial because other means of freight transport are booming. The economy has grown enormously since 2006. [00:50:00] So the freight is moving, but it's not moving by rail. And this is tragic because rail is the most efficient means, the safest means of transportation known to humanity. And so why is the rail industry moving less freight? Well, because they can jack up prices and they have a different model of how to make their industry profitable. Most industries that aren't monopolies simply have to go out, beat the bushes and get more business. Not the US freight industry. It simply cuts costs, introduces new technology, doubles up the work on the existing workforce, contracts out work to non-union sector, eliminates tens of thousands of jobs, and then basically jacks around their customers, treats 'em like crap, and jacks up the prices.
So, as Ross said, this has other knock on effects. I work for Amtrak currently. Amtrak is in an all time low [00:51:00] situation in terms of being able to run its trains on time. As most folks know, Amtrak runs on the private rail system in this country for about 90% of its route mileage, and is beholden and subject to the terms of their host railroad. Well, the host railroads aren't very good, and we have trains that are chronically 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 hours late, held up by long freight trains. PSR, one of the hallmarks of precision scheduled railroading is very, very long trains and they don't fit in the sightings and they break down and they are slow and cumbersome and so forth. So, not only is the existing rail system not moving the handful of Amtrak trains on time, it is vehemently opposed to the introduction of new Amtrak trains and new frequencies and new routes.
There's a big conflict right now down in the Gulf where Amtrak would like to do a test run, and restore a route that [00:52:00] was eliminated after Hurricane Katrina, and just bring back two little trains from Mobile to New Orleans. And CSX and Norfolk Southern are vehemently vehemently opposed. Even though they're only running 10 trains a day on that route, they insist that any Amtrak trains is just not doable, and that's a huge amount of public subsidy, is granted to them.
So one more thing on the nationalization question. I know a lot of railroaders out there might feel like this is a radical notion and that private enterprise is the way to go. Well, a hundred years ago, the railroad system in this country was actually nationalized for a brief period for, about two years, during World War I. The railroad workers and their unions at that time voted overwhelmingly, like 98%, in a plebiscite of all rank and file railroad workers to keep the railroads under national [00:53:00] control with maximum worker participation in running those railroads. And it was what was known as the Plum Plan and a highly advise folks who are interested to check that out. And so here we are today, where this, once again, seems maybe off the charts, radical, but as we've already talked about, it's not radical at all, it's common sense, and it's a way to move the nation's freight and passengers going forward in a 21st century rather than having a, just a handful of corporations make self-serving decisions that is not serving shippers, passengers, workers, communities, the economy, or the nation. So I think it's time that we really give some thought to taking the railroads under public ownership.
Wall Street is holding the supply chain hostage to stop a railroad workers strike - The Real News Podcast - Air Date 9-15-22
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: One thing that we've been really trying to emphasize in our reporting over the past year on the railroad, we do a lot of labor coverage here at The Real News, and most of the folks that we talk to, they are [00:54:00] covered under the National Labor Relations Act. The railroads are not. Labor relations on the railroads are governed by the Railway Labor Act. There's an important history there that we can't go into for viewers and listeners, but a century ago this country saw how much power workers have and how much workers could bring the national economy to its knees if they struck on the railroads. We're talking about the great railroad strike of 1922, the Pullman strike of 1894 and the great railroad strike of 1877. It was after those strikes that Congress passed the Railway Labor Act to essentially prevent, if at all possible, prevent a rail strike from happening. That is why we have been going through such a long, drawn out process to get to this point.
That is why after negotiations stalled the, federal mediation board stepped in. The mediation board could not [00:55:00] broker an agreement between the rail carriers and the rail unions, officially declaring an impasse in the late spring, releasing the two sides. The two sides were offered to enter into binding arbitration. They refused to do that, so that started a 30 day cooling off period, which is mandated in the Railway Labor Act. Then President Biden, as is his purview also detailed in the Railway Labor Act, appointed a Presidential Emergency Board. That board met, assessed the situation, and offered its recommendations in late August, thus starting another 30 day cooling off period. During which the rail carriers and the rail unions could look at the PEB recommendations.
So when we talk about the deadline that we're approaching this Friday, that is the end of the cooling off period. Following the release of the PEBs recommendations. I'm sure Matt's bristling cuz I'm probably paving over some important details here, but I just wanted to make sure everyone watching and listening is keeping up with us.
And Matt, I wanted to ask if you could walk us through your experience over these [00:56:00] past four or five months. What do people need to understand about how this process UN has unfolded, what the hopes were for the PEB, and ultimately why workers are so dissatisfied with the PEBs reported recommendations?
MATT PARKER: Max, you did an excellent job right there of laying out some of the history and the difficulties that we face in the railroad industry that a lot of people don't understand, because the majority of the unionized workforce does work under the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act, or as the president of my Central Labor Council here I think is so eloquently deemed it the Railway Anti-Labor Act, being something that was written to prevent national rail strikes. And again, when I talk about 1980, when there was 45 carriers, if there was a dispute between the unions and the carriers and he struck one carrier, it didn't necessarily have national implications because there were other routes that freight could take.
Now through these mergers and acquisitions where we paired that down and the remaining railroads [00:57:00] bargain as a unit, they have very craftly positioned themselves to shield themselves from a national strike, and it's made it very difficult for us to fight and go forward. But particularly, as you say, within the last four to five months, there's been a lot of talk, and as we've come down to getting closer and closer to self-help and the employees are paying more attention to it about " what are we gonna get?" We're looking to get a better contract, cause our last couple contracts really have not been anything to shout about. They haven't been that great.
That dovetails into the problem with your retention and hiring employees too. These railroad CEOs for as much as they see that they pay us and everything, don't realize those wages are not that competitive in this market anymore. So there really needs to be a change in the thinking there. But in the last four to five months, people have looked at what the carriers are proposing, what the unions are proposing. There's been hopes in terms of our pay raises, in terms of what the effect's gonna be on our healthcare, but again, what it's come down to, I think, more than anything else, is the [00:58:00] working conditions and these draconian attendance policies that these railroads have Come up with that limit our time off and prevent us from taking time off. And a lot of the world doesn't realize that probably 70% of our members work on-call 24/7, 365, where they may have some idea of when they're going to work, but there's no certainty in that.
It's an entirely different world when we work out here, and the demands of this job and the amount of time that you spend away... I mean, literally on my daughter's 20th birthday, I looked at her standing almost eye-to-eye to me and thought, when did this happen? And then I realized, oh yeah, well, I was out working to pay for it. That's life on the railroad. And it's come to the point now where I think the workforce that is here, we've got a younger workforce, a lot of the workers that were around when things were a lot different, have retired now. We've got this younger workforce and new coming in and they're looking at these working conditions saying, this isn't acceptable. Something's gotta change. And particularly, when they clamp that screw down and make it to the point to [00:59:00] where, as our national president has pointed out, people are getting disciplined for going to the doctor, for taking off sick when they've got COVID or have serious health conditions or something. This is ridiculous. It's gotta stop. And again, this is where I think the membership is at, that we were really hoping to see some change on that, and when it didn't get addressed at the PEB, there was a lot of disappointment there.
Also I think we need to look at the one thing that's really gone viral, and that you've probably heard here was something that was contained on page 32 of the Pebs report, and that being a summation of remarks that were made by the carriers representatives saying that. Labor and the workers don't contribute to their profits. Their profits are the result of investment and risk, and since we don't share in the downside risk we shouldn't be expect to be sharing the upside risk either. That was an irresponsible, reckless statement made there, and that's really what's inflamed the membership right now. So at a time when we're already dealing with a personnel shortage and how we [01:00:00] serve that, now you've just alienated your entire workforce, and furthermore, when potential new people hear that that's what these companies think about their workers, are they really gonna be motivated to come in and work for a company they know that that's what they think of them.
That that was really a foolish statement to make, and, as I said, if there's anything really that's driving the membership now a against the carriers, it was that kind of attitude that they displayed there. I was at a convention here a couple weeks ago where the good fortune to talk with a labor attorney from here in Nevada, who's done a lot of work with us in lobbying at the legislature and addressing a lot of things in labor. The firm that he works for now is representing the maintenance away. He spoke to me repeatedly, he was there at these hearings and he just spoke to me repeatedly about how repulsive it was to sit in that room and listen to the disdain these people showed for their employees. When, when you're already, [01:01:00] in a worker shortage and you're trying to recruit people, how does projecting that kind of attitude publicly help out? It doesn't. And again, I think it's just another display of the incompetence of the management of these railroads and what they're doing here that's bringing about all these problems. Your labor problems, your service problems, all of it.
MAXIMILIAN ALVAREZ - HOST, THE REAL NEWS PODCAST: So with the remaining time that I have with you, and I know I gotta we gotta wrap this up, I was wondering if we could talk about how that is all playing out in the conversations that rank and file workers are having this week as we approach the deadline after which strikes and lockouts can begin. Can you just give us a sense of what you're hearing, what you're feeling, and what folks out there should be looking out for?
MATT PARKER: Well, again, overwhelmingly what I am seeing is it's about the working conditions. And I'd like to share with you a little bit of a personal story here. My wife passed away last October as a result of complications from COVID. She was in the hospital [01:02:00] for 25 days, and during that time as a sole provider for our household, I still had to go to work, I still had to get on trains and take them out of town, working under federal regulations where I cannot have my cell phone on. So I'm outta communication and I'm going away, and I'm not knowing if when I get to the other end of the terminal or the other end of the run and I'm gonna turn my phone on and have a message from the hospital that her health has worsened or that she's passed away.
How safe do you feel knowing that engineers and conductors are going to work and bearing that kind of burden? Ultimately when she did pass away, it was by the grace of God, not by the grace of the railroad that I was able to be here holding her hand as she passed away. And these arrogant, out of touch, CEOs have the audacity to tell me that I don't share in a downside risk? We've seen the lives lost of three brothers within the last two weeks in accidents and several more injured, and they say we bear no downside risk? I just attended a fundraising event over the weekend [01:03:00] for a maintenance away brother who lost both of his legs in an accident in July, and they say we bear no downside risk?
This is what people need to understand, people who don't work outside the railroad. The difference in what we do when we're away, when we go away from homes, it's a joke, but there's a lot of truth to it too, the worst stuff in your life is gonna happen while you're at the other end of the run. When your spouse, your family's calling you up and there's some disaster at home, maybe one of your kids got hurt doing something or something that always happens when you're away, that's the reality that we live in. That's what we do every day to move freight in this country. And we deserve a lot more respect and consideration than what we're getting here.
These policies that don't let people take time off to take a break from this to be with their families and anything, it's unreasonable, it's outta control, it's gotta be addressed. And again, this, from my perspective, is what I see is the main sticking point right now, and why the railroad workers are willing to stand their ground here and go out on [01:04:00] strike because they want respect, they want to be treated like human beings, they want to be treated reasonably and have a reasonable quality of life. and the rail carriers, they have had an adversarial relationship with their workers clear back to the beginning of the industry in the 1800s, we're living in a different world now. Anybody who's got half a brain and everything can see just the changes that we've seen in societal attitudes in the last four years. These guys are still stuck in the 1800s, and this is what they're trying to oppose in making us live under, and this is the sticking point. This is why the workers are fed up at standing their ground and demanding a change.
Final comments on the hot mess of the fight for labor rights
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Bad Faith, laying out some railroad history and the plans to fully automate the future. The Brian Lehrer Show discussed an Amazon unionization campaign and the importance of strikes. Citations Needed highlighted the absurdity of putting all the moral responsibility of the impact of strikes on the worker but never the [01:05:00] management. Bad Faith looked deeper at how the Democrats have not been supporting the labor movement as much as their rhetoric would make you think. CounterSpin discussed labor struggles with Amazon and Starbucks, and the defensive strategies the companies have been employing. Richard Wolff on Economic Update looked to labor fights going on in Europe, in the UK and how they compare and contrast with the US. And The Real News made the case for nationalizing our freight rail system.
That's what everybody heard, but members also heard bonus clips from The Real News diving a bit deeper into the history of railroad strikes and the inflammatory anti-labor attitudes of management.
To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show bestforleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And finally, as promised, it was a pure [01:06:00] coincidence that I looked up the origin of the term hot mess recently. Etymology is just a little bit of a hobby of mine, and so pretty frequently I hear a common word or phrase that is common but a little odd, and I wonder how it came to mean what it does. And so just a few days ago I had that thought about the term hot mess, so I looked it up. And the first origin of the phrase in general actually has nothing to do with our common usage today. The word mess referred to food, as in mess hall, and so a hot mess was really just a hot meal. But things get interesting when the phrase turns from a literal description into a metaphor, and apparently the first known written example was describing the confused public who believed the lies of management over the complaint of the workers.
So this is from The History of Hot Mess on Miriam Webster's website, and they [01:07:00] are quoting the Monthly Journal of the International Association of Machinists from January, 1899. So that journal from 1899 says, "I say If the public would only stop to consider this before forming an opinion, perhaps the wage earners might win. But no. They believe everything they see in the newspapers. If the newspapers says the sky is painted with green chalk, that is what goes. Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess."
And then the article on Miriam Webster continues and explains that the machinists were on strike, and the author felt that the public should have understood that the workers were striking for important reasons and at great personal sacrifice. Instead, they believed what the newspapers told them, which was ostensibly that the worker's complaints were [01:08:00] overblown.
Which is of course just a great reminder that it is important to know our history if for no other reason than to prevent ourselves from being collectively fooled time and time again. We all know perfectly well what a horror show the Gilded Age was for labor, and with probably just a few sociopathic exceptions, we are all glad to have the labor reforms that we now enjoy. That said, history also shows that the complaints of the workers are always dismissed by management, doubted by the media, and as a result, scorned by the public. "A hot mess all around" indeed.
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So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC. my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly. Thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.
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