From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 37 (Whole No. 96), 26 December 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
For some weeks now negotiations between the Railroad Executives and the “labor leaders” of the railroad workers have been under way for the specific purpose of instituting wage reductions for the industry as a whole. The committee of nine railroad presidents representing the leading roads in the country, adamant in the beginning against any kind of joint discussions with the leaders of the railroad unions over the question of wage-cuts, have finally agreed to such negotiations. It is quite understandable that, the Railroad Executives saw that it would be to their best interests to participate in such negotiations as a pretence, in which the labor officials take part as the “workers’ front” protesting such reductions or effecting concessions from the “captains” of the industry.
The committee of nine presidents, on December 21, served formal notice of their intentions to reduce wages 15 per cent. The announcement is considered as official and to the labor leaders marks a basis for discussion revolving around “securities for the workers” in exchange for their acceptance of wage-cuts. The raising of the proposed reduction to 15 per cent from the original proposal of 10 per cent, was instigated by the union leaders themselves, the object being to arrange a basis for “bargaining”. What this actually means is that the officialdom of the railroad unions are prepared to accept the wage reductions of 10 per cent. Their proposal that the Railroad Executives add 5 per cent to the original plan is done with the aim of presenting the 10 per cent wage-cut as a victory of labor over capital and the triumph of worker-management cooperation. These fakers will then turn to the railroad workers and say: Witness the struggle we have put up for you. The Railroad Executives wished to reduce your wages 15 per cent. We would never stand for this; we could not betray you workers and so we finally convinced them to introduce only a 10 per cent wage-cut. In return the Railroad Executives promise not to continue lay-offs and keep those at work now on the job. That is how the situation stands today. The employers are pushing rapidly for wage reductions. The labor officials are agreeing but requesting in return the “distribution of employment on the widest scale possible.”
The railroad industry which is suffering from the effects of the crisis, only exhibits the decay of the capitalist system and the impossibility of “rejuvenation”. Their solution is the capitalist solution – further repressions against the workers. It is sought in increased unemployment, part-time work and vicious wage-cuts which spell further impoverishment of the workers in the industry. These efforts of the capitalists would be much more difficult were it not for the “splendid” support that it receives from the officialdom of the railway labor unions whose role is that of a check upon any signs of workers’ militancy and rebellion. Receiving now the endorsement of the government (an endorsement which was actually not needed – and the failure of which would not have prevented wage-cuts), the railroad industry proceeds with confidence and ruthlessness.
The railroad workers, who have in the past fought some of the most militant struggles in the history of the American labor movement, find themselves at the present time in a weakened condition. In 1919 the labor unions went on record for “government ownership and democratic management of the roads”. They even favored independent political action of the workers, and showed an interest in a Labor party. Succumbing largely to the ideology of union-management cooperation, the B.&O. plan of company unionism, the railroad workers are today dispersed. Their forces are weakened, their leaders have betrayed them. They saw their unions smashed, experienced a loss of rights, and found their wages cut constantly.
This drive against the railroad workers while resulting in sporadic strike efforts from time to time, has been carried through in general without resistance on the part of the rank and file. But this situation cannot be expected to last. The offensive against the workers is finding a reaction in their ranks.
The railroad workers must cast aside their officialdom. If they are to effectively resist the present offensive which threatens their very existence they must begin now to organize a nation-wide strike movement against the wage-cut. With the central slogan of the six hour day and five day week without a reduction in pay, linked with the struggle for unemployment insurance, against the speed-up system, etc., the railroad workers have the possibilities to carry out an effective struggle. The needs of the situation demand this from the railroad workers. In this and developing struggles against the railroad barons is involved the very existence and development of militant unions in the railroad industry.
Last updated: 23.3.2013