Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP
For several months, the American workers of the main freight railway companies have challenged the new ultra-repressive policy of the employers on the absence of work. At the beginning of the year, a new policy was implemented that severely punishes absence: a railway worker can be dismissed for a simple general medical consultation or for a family emergency. They are also demanding large wage increases in the face of high inflation in the United States.
Union leaders representing no fewer than 115,000 rail workers and railroad company bosses have been meeting for months to try to prevent discontent from turning into a strike. The deadline set to find an agreement before going on strike was this Thursday, September 15 at midnight. In the absence of an agreement with two of the largest railway unions, which represent almost 60,000 workers, the possibility of a strike loomed over the heads of employers and the government until the night from Wednesday to Thursday American time.
Early in the morning, the White House issued a press release announcing that a “provisional agreement has been reached.” The agreement must still be subject to a vote in the unions, which have suspended the strike during the voting process, which can last several weeks. A suspension of the strike greatly undermines the balance of power and puts Biden and big business in a better position for minimum bargaining. It breaks the dynamics of a strike in the railroads that would have in fact put into motion an important sector of the American proletariat whose last strike dates back to 1992, now 30 years ago.
Facing a possible historic strike by American railroad workers: the blue fear of employers and Biden
Joe Biden and the government intervened directly in the negotiations to avoid the departure of tens of thousands of freight train workers. This is because the rail transport sector represents an extremely strategic sector for the American economy. In the United States, almost one-third of the transportation of goods is carried out by rail transport. The railway thus ensures the transport of essential products for the functioning of the economy, and in particular the transport of oil, fertilizers and health products. In addition, civilian passenger transport provided by the public railway company Amtrak would also be affected, as a large part of the passenger transport network operates on tracks belonging to freight transport companies.
“National Disaster” for the American Chamber of Commerce; “catastrophic consequences” according to the Association of American Petroleum Producers, these words express the deep fear of American employers regarding a potential massive strike in the railway sector in the United States. According to the American Railroad Association, such a strike could have caused the loss of 2 billion dollars per day, or 3% of the daily American GDP. A figure that expresses the ability of transport workers to be able to create a significant balance of power.
The panic and fear that such an important sector is set in motion is therefore enormous on the part of American employers, but also on the part of Joe Biden. The Democratic president plays big less than two months before the midterm elections in the United States. A massive strike by a central sector of the American proletariat could greatly weaken it.
Especially since Biden, as a good democrat, has sought since the beginning of his mandate to contain and channel any overflow to his left either from the labor movement or the social movements. To do so and consolidate his electoral base, Biden has so hypocritically shown himself in favor of the unionization process to promote a co-management unionism in companies like Amazon or in favor of the right to abortion today threatened by a reactionary sector of the American regime. represented by the Supreme Court, with the aim of better channeling the struggles from above. The mandate given to Biden by a sector of the American establishment is to prevent any social explosion to preserve the interests of American capitalists. And this in a particularly unstable context. Because even in the United States, inflation has reached record levels and the recession is bearing down on American workers.
In reality, Democrats and Republicans were desperate to stop workers from going on strike. Nancy Pelosi, Democratic deputy and president of the House of Representatives (equivalent to the National Assembly) had thus announced that the American parliament was ready to resort to institutional mechanisms to end the strike: “With the hope of an agreement, but concern about the challenges that a strike presented, Congress was ready to act,” he announced before cheering after the announcement of the provisional agreement.
The provisional agreement: a signal for American workers who have to fight
In a statement, theAssociation of American Railroads which brings together the main American railway companies announced that the agreement in principle reached between the unions and the employers provides “a wage increase of 24% during the five-year period from 2020 to 2024, including an immediate payment of 11,000 $ at the moment.” of ratification [de l’accord]”According to the unions, the agreement also provides the possibility for workers to seek medical assistance without being sanctioned for absenteeism, the main demand of the unions.
But, if this increase over several years may seem significant, it can be overcome very quickly by inflation, which today reaches more than 8% in the United States. In fact, this major concession made by the United States transportation employers by the mere threat of a strike shows that American capitalists are afraid of a possible wave of strikes that would affect the core sectors of the American working class. This allows you to imagine what a massive strike could achieve.
Far from the strategy of the union leaders who, rather than fighting for good results such as the indexation of wages to inflation, played the role of curbing anger, even preventing the launch of a strategic sector that could have shaken Biden. . However, it is really through this way of strike and mobilization, away from the negotiation tables, that the American workers, and of the whole world, could face the high cost of living and impose their claims that today take a vital importance. .