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With July 15th Criminalization of Rail Strikes, Biden is the Bosses’ Best Friend

Following a 99.5% vote to authorize strike action by rail workers with the BLET union on July 12th, the president has signed an executive order creating a “Presidential Emergency Board” and making all strikes in rail illegal for the next 60 days (July 15th). Though presented as a step toward a fair resolution for all parties, the executive order is an attempt by the Biden administration to scatter workers’ resolve to fight (lest the railroad companies reap what they’ve so tirelessly sown…), and to impose labor discipline on the working class at a time when capitalists are imperiled of resistance from below. The creation of the board is in line with the wishes of trade union bureaucrats, who are desperate to keep their rank and file under control and to frustrate any attempt to struggle outside government arbitration. Today, they are trying to lock rail workers into the same system of government arbitration which has for forty years been impotent to stop (let alone reverse!) the increasing attacks on working class life and its regular plundering by the rich.

The rail workers’ grievances aren’t confined to just their sector. Miserable pay and hours, layoffs and mass firings, dangerous and unsafe conditions—they’re ones familiar to us all. This is to say nothing of the cause. The late accrual of troubling newspaper headlines isn’t owing to a stroke of bad luck for the market; it’s the register of a crisis capitalism has been mired in for decades, one for which neither the capitalists nor the crusaders for progressive reform have an answer. And as evidenced by the war in Ukraine, its full effects are only beginning to be felt. With states so squeezed of the tendency to profits’ decline, raising the level of workers’ exploitation is no longer cutting it; they’ve no recourse but to begin marauding other states. 

It’s in this, though, that there’s a reason why the bosses and their union enablers fear a rail strike. They’re looking to head off an emergence here of what is now emerging across the world. As inflation rises the fastest in 40 years, so too are workers from Chile to Britain engaging in the biggest rebellions since then, in the most critical sectors and the ones in which began the last actions we could really call general strikes. The conditions are all ripe; the bosses’ orderlies are trying to suffocate an action that could light the fuse for a generalized struggle like hasn’t been seen in a generation, and for which the mass demonstrations against the racist police execution of George Floyd would be but a mere prelude.

This recognition, however, shouldn’t convoke illusions about our own strength. Capitalists’ power and the governments based on it (that is to say, all of them) are still stronger, something our class siblings in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been painfully made to know. What rebellions and strikes have broken out, despite their assuming proportions like haven’t been seen since the 1970s, are still largely confined by the trade unions and official left parties. And as like today, every major struggle in this country since the end of the world wars has arisen at odds with the wishes of union leadership and the institutional left, not in concert with them. These forces have been the death of many previous struggles, a generational emblem for this lying in how trade union leadership conspired to undermine and end the Oakland General Strike of 1946. Though beginning as something else, their purpose now is to mediate the collisions between workers and capitalists, and to do so in a way which will avoid hindrance to the system. Today, success hinges on whether workers can disentangle themselves from such

The bosses will try to pit workers in different sectors against one another, saying that if rail workers stand up for themselves we’ll be worse off. But if they don’t, we’ll be suffering prices and attacks like we would if they did anyway. There will be statements to the effect that striking rail, dock, etc, workers are selfish and are to blame for the effects of the crisis. These libels are intended to dissuade us from organizing ourselves as a class, and to prevent us from identifying what’s really responsible. They will appeal to nationalism, as when striking workers in Russia are called ‘national traitors’ and picketers in Britain are declared by the government to be “Putin’s friends.” We should reply that the working class has no national interests, and that though our individual homes and struggles are on this or that side of a border, they are but individual parts of a growing chorus that resounds across every country. These struggles have arisen in response to a world crisis that can only be met on such a scale; they are inseparable from the whole, and success demands we make common cause with our class siblings in other countries.

Thereafter the bosses will attack and malign the most abused sections of the working class; whether it be inane pronouncements that immigrants are stealing jobs, a reprise of notions about ‘welfare queen’ black single mothers, or guttural tittle-tattle on the lurid nature of trans people. We should reply that attacks on any of them are attacks on the entire working class.

Lastly, there will be attempts by different elements to insert themselves at the head of the struggle, mainly the trade union bureaucrats or the vast array of professedly workers’ parties (often insisting victory lies through joining their organization). There will be attempts to corral us into a ballot box to vote for this or that group of grifters, the Democratic Party and its strike-breaker in chief or the official ‘Socialist’ parties, parties like those that make up the government in Chile and that are currently trying to repress the biggest miners’ strike there in twenty years, arresting picketers while calling for “tranquility” (the largest leftist organization in the US, the Democratic Socialists of America, even boasts of fraternal relations with the Chilean ‘Socialists’). We should say that the election of left-wing governments has done nothing to stop the crisis and cannot reverse it, that the struggle must be taken outside official channels (through the formation of independent strike committees and mass assemblies, following the example British oil workers set in May in a strike involving thousands outside union control), and that power and decision-making must lie in the hands of the broadest layers of the working class itself, not its self-anointed keepers!

US rail workers should steel themselves for a fight, and begin looking to organize themselves in defiance of both the executive order and the unions’ collaboration with it. Wherein rail workers resolve to act in spite of today’s news, we must be ready to line up behind them. In the meantime, we should do some steeling ourselves, in the hope that the national rail strikes occurring in Britain and France this summer are followed by one in the United States, or otherwise in anticipation of something coming off in our own sectors. Until then, we continue with agitation insofar as it’s possible, on the shop floor and anywhere else.

Reject all institutional parties; the future everywhere belongs to proletarian power.

July 15th, 2022,

Northern California Communist Bulletin Group