3 DSA Members in Congress Vote to Ban Railroad Strike – They Don’t Speak For Us

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A Statement from Seattle DSA Local Council on the railroad strike ban

December 1, 2022

Please sign onto this statement here.

On Wednesday, November 30th the House of Representatives passed legislation to impose on railroad workers an agreement brokered by the Biden Administration and railroad companies. Unions representing the majority of workers on the nation’s freight railroads had voted to reject this agreement and planned to strike starting December 9th. If the Senate also passes this bill, railroad workers will be legally denied their right to collectively withdraw their labor.

Although a railroad strike would certainly have painful economic repercussions, the solution is clear — make the railroad bosses meet the workers’ modest demands. Yet true to form, Biden and Congress are intervening to “resolve” the conflict on the terms demanded by capital.

We stand in unflinching solidarity with railroad workers and ask every DSA supporter at this critical moment to sign onto the Railroad Workers United’s Open Letter to Congress and the President.

We applaud Rashida Tlaib, the only DSA Congressmember to vote “No” on this anti-worker legislation. However, we condemn the vote in favor by our endorsed DSA members of Congress, AOC and Cori Bush, as well as Jamaal Bowman, who is a member of DSA. We call on these DSA Congressmembers to explain their votes to DSA – the organization they are all members of and from which two of them requested an endorsement. 

When socialists betray the working class, it leads to demobilization and distrust of the socialist movement. If this is allowed to stand, we will turn away rank-and-file workers and hurt our ability to build a mass, independent organization of the working class. 

We call on the DSA National Political Committee (NPC) to organize a town hall to make clear that DSA stands 100% with railroad workers and against the government’s ban of their strike. The town hall should feature railroad worker leaders and activists, and have speakers from the NPC and DSA chapters. The NPC should communicate clearly to DSA Congressmembers that we demand that they be present to hear these voices.

The town hall discussion will also help to determine how to proceed regarding the vote of the three DSA Congressmembers, including potential disciplinary action. It should mark the beginning of a structured discussion within DSA, concluding at our 2023 National Convention, on what we expect from DSA members elected to public office and how to hold them accountable to DSA’s platform. As part of this, DSA nationally should establish a Socialists in Office committee which holds regular meetings with the NPC and is able to make binding decisions on legislative matters

DSA’s statement, published by the NPC before the vote was taken, stated correctly that “any member of Congress who votes yes on the tentative agreement is siding with billionaires and forcing a contract on rail workers that does not address their most pressing demand of paid sick days.”

The disgraceful betrayal shows how far Biden and the Democrats will go in siding with the bosses, even when the workers ask for something as basic as more than 1 day of paid family and sick leave. Only 8 Democrats voted against making the workers’ strike illegal. 

Progressives were also able to pass a separate bill that would raise paid sick time to seven days a year (though rail workers are fighting for 15 days). However, this will almost inevitably face a filibuster in the Senate “where the sick leave bill is certain to fail” according to Politico.

This maneuver allows progressives to claim they support workers’ demands, yet in the end allows the Senate to pass only the first bill imposing an agreement and criminalizing a strike, not the separate bill for seven sick days.

If there ever was a time for democratic socialists in Congress to boldly stand against Biden and the corporate Democrats, this was it. The role of socialists in elected office is to act as a bullhorn for workers in struggle, not to sacrifice our ability to fight back at the altar of political expediency. 

Rather than going along with the pro-capitalist majority in the House, socialist representatives in Congress need to speak out against this bill and champion the calls by Railroad Workers United for public ownership of the railroads and paid family and sick leave for all workers.

We ask DSA members and chapters to sign onto this call demanding the three DSA Congressmembers explain their vote to DSA, and for the NPC to organize a town hall with railroad workers to build support for their struggle and discuss how to hold our elected representatives accountable.

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