Railway workers across Canada are closely following the strike of 50,000 railway workers in Britain, which is turning into an open political confrontation with the Conservative government and the entire ruling elite. The strikers, who walked off the job for a day on Tuesday and will do so again on June 23, are being demonized by the Conservative government and opposition Labor Party for demanding decent pay and decent working conditions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the way among European powers by funneling large quantities of weapons to Ukraine to fuel the US-NATO war with Russia, has made clear the determination of his government to cut thousands of jobs, gut terms and conditions, and cut wages. Workers are increasingly recognizing that the ruling elite’s assault on railroad workers is just the beginning of a planned assault on the wages and conditions of all workers to pay the bill for the war in abroad and the enrichment of the financial oligarchy at home. As a striking British railway worker said at the World Socialist Website, “The government wants to step on everyone. I think we need a general strike. It’s been so obvious for a while now because it’s an attack on the working class. The rich are getting richer and there have never been so many millionaires and billionaires. It’s scandalous.”
Canadian railway workers know firsthand the desperate conditions facing their British colleagues. About 750 CN Rail signal and communications workers have been on strike since Saturday demanding wage increases and improved work schedules. They fight a schedule regime that sends them for weeks to different areas far from their families.
A series of determined strikes in Canada for better working conditions, an end to brutal working hours and wage increases have been sold over the past few years through the combined efforts of unions and threats of government intervention. government to criminalize trade union actions.
In 2019, the Teamsters sabotaged a strike at CN Rail by intimidating workers into accepting a contract full of concessions the terms of which they only learned weeks after returning to work. Earlier this year, the Teamsters ignored an overwhelming strike vote at CP Rail, allowing the company to lock out 3,000 conductors and engineers. The Teamsters then agreed to binding arbitration to settle the dispute, an undemocratic process that involves a government-appointed official imposing terms of employment on workers, who are barred from voting or taking collective action. against them.
Repeated betrayals of railroad workers’ struggles by unions and the refusal of successive federal governments to regulate highly profitable railroad companies contributed to dangerous conditions on the railroads. On Monday, a CN train carrying potash derailed near Thunder Bay, Ontario. Derailments, some of which are fatal, have become a common occurrence across the Canadian rail network. In February 2019, three railroad workers lost their lives when a train derailed on a notoriously dangerous stretch of track near Field, British Columbia, in freezing temperatures.
In response to the latest Teamsters betrayal, CP workers created the Union-independent CP Workers’ Committee to unify the struggles of railroad workers across Canada and North America for better conditions. As the Committee’s founding statement stated, “The struggle at CP Rail is a key battleground for workers in Canada, the United States and around the world. As the ruling elites prepare to plunge the world into a potentially catastrophic war waged with nuclear weapons, they cannot tolerate any worker dissent at home. The arbitration agreement that CP, the Teamsters and the Trudeau government are trying to impose on us will deprive us of any right to strike, work-to-rule or negotiate improvements for years to come. If they succeed, similar draconian methods will be employed against workers around the world.
The WSWS has received statements of solidarity for the British Railways strike from members of the CP Workers Rank-and-File Committee.
Paul, an engineer and former union representative, recalled how the railway workers were “appeased, referenced as champions, heroes, etc. during the pandemic. “This struggle, our struggle is ongoing and evident to anyone who cares to watch,” he continued. “Also, the place to look from is the kitchen tables of the workers. To sit elsewhere is not even to be able to see the problems in all their magnitude. This view, this position, the lives of most of us are opaque to those in positions of power who set our tables. Worse, they don’t even want to sit with us…and some think there is no class struggle.
“As a union representative in Canada, it quickly became apparent that my main function was to remind management that my members were real people, not a commodity, a number, not a verb but a noun.
Paul referred to a remark by the great American socialist Eugene Debs who summed up the object of the British railway strike: “I oppose a social order in which it is possible for a man who does absolutely nothing useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work every day of their lives barely earn enough to live a miserable existence.
Paul concluded his message by saying: “From home to home, I stand with working people in Britain and railway workers in particular at this time… in solidarity.
Mark, an engineer from Alberta, sent the following statement in support of the strike:
“I was born in Britain in the mid-1960s, a working-class scion of miners, nurses and railway workers – in other words, at Ground Zero of the workers’ struggle that would continue throughout my life and, no doubt, beyond. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfathers drove trains through war and peace, dug coal, and died young. Our women, for generations, healed the sick. Hailed as heroes when appropriate, cast as villains when all sought just reward and appreciation for their labor, my family bore the brunt of a one-sided war of attrition against the most needed sectors of industrial labor. . I left Britain 30 years ago for Canada and, ironically enough, became a railway worker.
“Even in this vast land of wealth and privilege, workers’ struggles continue unabated. We Canadian railway workers suffer the same ignominy as our brothers and sisters around the world, imposed by the reptilian spirit of capitalism, its main protagonists, a different species of humans than we are for all intents and purposes. We remain in an environment where profits and executive compensation spiral out of control and labor standards and safety fall just as rapidly.
“We Canadian railway workers support our brothers in Britain and beyond, harmed by the cowardly excesses of our employers, but sustained by our solidarity. Your struggle in Britain is identical to ours in Canada, both products of a common source of imperialist thinking, wealth and class disparity. Accordingly, we must stick together, not out of unseemly greed, but out of dignity and pride. Few share our dedication; fewer enjoy the pride we derive from the grave responsibilities we assume with ease and grace. We ask for nothing more than fairness and equanimity; instead, we receive despicable contempt.
“Hit because it’s your last option in a situation without much. Carry the day, be resilient, be respectful, show them the professionalism we are known for. Win for you, win for us, be an example for workers around the world. Show how we deserve a life of reciprocal work by respecting the sanctity of our lives and our role in society. We are worth more; we ask for nothing less.