Rail Workers Deserve more than Sick Days. We all do.
The US’s confusingly and sadly described “most union friendly president” dealt a blow to unions this week, pushing for the enforcement of an agreement on rail workers unions in order to avert a strike. This action and congress’s combined cooperation and sabotage in it are both understandable and angering.
A rail strike would damage the economy, potentially disastrously, because as much as we tend to think of trains as only being used by poor people, people afraid of flying, eco-conscious folks, and wizards and witches going off to school, they are still used for moving tons of goods around this country. As lousy as our roads and highways are with trucks, much of long distance freight transport still relies on trains, so having the rail workers striking and cutting off those lines would be a major problem, comparable to the transport delays caused by stalled ship transport in the first year or so of the Covid pandemic. All kinds of vital supplies and consumer goods would be delayed indefinitely. All the worse in winter and during holiday shopping season. No president wants an economic blow like that on their watch and their record. People would be very upset by the consequences of a strike.
But that’s exactly what strikes are for. Strikes are supposed to upset people, make life difficult, and impact the economy because that is how workers get what they want, need, and deserve. No company or government gives into workers’ demands because they follow polite rules, sign petitions, give speeches, and adopt a pissy passive aggressive attitude when they’re forced to work against their will or better interests. That’s what makes dictatorships and slave economies so efficient. In a free state purporting to function on democratic principles, the necessity of strikes must be allowed. When workers are denied basic rights, they can, should, and must be able to strike. Taking that right away and forcing a deal on them is not “union friendly.”
The government has sided with big business once again. It clearly doesn’t matter how “friendly” the current president is to unions. As long as this is a capitalist country, the will of corporations will always come first. Rather than forcing a deal on workers and giving them a pittance of that to which they’re entitled, the government should be forcing deals on corporations requiring fair and generous compensation and care of their employees.
What makes the denial of the Unions’ right to strike particularly angering is that they were asking for very little. They wanted paid sick leave, safety enforcement, and some basic job protections. Despite grueling work schedules which can require that they “be on call for 14 consecutive days without a break,” rail workers are not allowed to take paid sick days. They can take paid vacation days, but are required to schedule them long in advance.
The deal pushed by Biden and passed by the House but rejected by the Senate would have given rail workers seven days of paid sick leave. Seven days a year. That is not enough time to be sick. You need two or three days at a time to be properly sick. At least. You could need a whole week, and then what happens when you get sick again that year? But no, even seven pitiful days was too much for the scum comprising a majority in the Senate, who enjoy unlimited paid sick leave.
We should be past the point where workers have to fight and strike and bargain for paid sick leave. By this time in history, paid sick leave should be a given, and workers should be given ample “fuck around” days on top of that. You shouldn’t have to be sick to justify spontaneously taking a day off. It’s our capitalist culture’s perverse obsession with work, the power of capital and capitalists prized above all else, including and especially people’s well being and personal fulfillment, that makes such a concept even sound unusual. The rail workers unions should be fighting for unlimited sick days and seven “fuck around” days. We should all have the right to AT LEAST seven “fuck around” days a year.