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Joe Biden’s threats and bribes get union leaders to call off national US rail strike

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A national rail strike could have been an inspiration for others fighting over the cost of living
Issue 2823
A train on the US rail system

Strikes could have disrupted the whole of the US rail system

Leading Democrat party figures have used political threats against the leaders of US rail unions to stop a planned strike over pay and conditions last week.

The rail strike would have severely disrupted supply chains across the whole country, and could have been an inspiration for others fighting over the cost of living. Some 30 percent of goods in the US are transported by rail.

President Biden sent his henchmen to offer the unions both carrot and stick. The carrot is a five-year pay deal with a headline figure of a 24 percent rise. That includes an immediate 14.1 percent and five annual £1,000 lump sum payments.

The rail firms have also agreed to back down on some of their most dictatorial practices, such as docking the pay of workers attending hospital appointments. But with inflation currently hovering between 8 and 9 percent, the deal will likely become poorer as the years pass. Many workers were unhappy with the deal.

The stick was two-fold. First, Biden’s enforcers told union leaders that the rail strike would help the Republicans to make a political breakthrough, which in turn would lead to attacks on workers.

The unions would then be held responsible for the possible return of Donald Trump, or even someone worse. Second, they threatened to use the Railway Labor Act to get Congress to outlaw the rail strike.

Resorting to such dangerous tactics could have triggered a massive unofficial strike—and the unions should have called the administration’s bluff. Biden greeted the news of settlement with a sigh of relief.

His main aim was to avoid a rail strike in the run up to November’s mid‑term elections. “I thank the unions and rail companies for negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy,” he said last Thursday.

Whether rank and file rail union members will be as enthusiastic about the settlement as Biden and their leaders remains to be seen.

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