By Paul Parisi 12-5-2022
As railroad workers threaten to strike for better wages and working conditions, Congress took action to settle the dispute through an act of Congress. This doesn’t look like the collective bargaining system that has settled other labor negotiations.
There is a slang meaning to the term railroaded: “To coerce, trick or seduce others into a course of action that they would not otherwise choose”. Looks to me, many parties are being railroaded when the Federal Government steps into any dispute. Here’s some history how we got here.
Early on, railroad companies received unprecedented right of way permission from the Federal Government to seize control of land. Local governments were coerced into granting right of ways where many people in power got rich. Average landowners were “railroaded” into submission. We see the wrath of these acquisitions today with railroad tracks running right through the middle of towns and cities with no regard for commerce or safety. The Arizona Corporation Commission was founded to put controls on railroads.
We know that the railroads were built by entrepreneurs who took great risk. Many made enormous profits, some by unscrupulous labor practices and monopolistic anti-competition schemes. These same railroad titans battled with other titans of industry, earning them the name “Robber Barons”.
Railroad labor disputes are not new. Let’s look at the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.” This strike was brought about when John D. Rockefeller, who owned Standard Oil, took control of over half the oil pipelines. Even with oil pipelines, 2/3 of oil was still shipped to oil refineries by train and Pennsylvania Railroad’s Tom Scott tried to take advantage by raising shipping rates. Rockefeller retaliated by idling refineries supplied by Scott. To stay in business, Scott cut railroad workers wages by 20% and doubled the length of trains.
This caused a railroad strike that left over 2,000 railroad cars burned and much property damage by riotous railway workers. To stop the unrest, President Rutherford B. Hayes sent in federal troops to quell the violence.
Even though railroads brought great prosperity to our country, their monopolistic and antitrust practices caused the US Government to use the sword to introduce the first ever legislation to regulate industry in our nation. In 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed into law the Interstate Commerce Act, placing strict regulations on railways.
Since 1887, countless laws have been passed by Congress regarding labor agreements and regulation with the railroads. The latest Congressional action to end this strike will not be the last. Is this the anyway to run a railroad?