The historical class struggle over the length and intensity of the working-day
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 10; Winter-Spring 2014)
The aftermath of the worst rail disaster in Canada for decades leaves at least 47 dead with many of the victims still unaccounted for. On Saturday, July 6 at one o’clock in the morning a train carrying crude oil derailed in the small town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec (6000 inhabitants), the fire and the explosion of several cars destroyed a large section of the downtown.
The train had stopped 11 km outside town at the top of a hill, for a «crew change»; actually the train, consisting of five locomotives and 72 cars each weighing well over one hundred tons, originating in Dakota and which had passed through Toronto and Montreal, was operated and conducted by a «crew» of one engineer! The latter, who had just finished 12 hours of consecutive work, went to rest after setting the brake system according to the usual rules. But shortly after a fire was reported on one of the engines and was extinguished by firefighters from nearby Nantes and the engine shut down. Somehow the train was set in motion and, without a driver, it accelerated downhill toward Lac-Megantic.
The director of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) has laid off the engineer, accusing him of being responsible for the accident, saying said he might have lied about having correctly applied handbrakes on 11 tanker cars (and the company took advantage of the accident to lay off 19 other employees in Quebec on July 16, 19).
But to accuse the driver actually serves to hide the direct responsibility of the pursuit of profit which is the rule in capitalist society and which always leads to the detriment of the workers and security.
MMA (formerly Iron World Railways) was acquired in 2003 by Rail World Inc., a company owned by an American capitalist named Burkhard who built his fortune by buying and selling railway undertakings. In the 90s he participated in the privatization of railways in New Zealand, which earned him a token of appreciation from the bourgeoisie of New Zealand, the title of «honorary consul»! Also in the 90s, he took advantage of the privatization of the railways in Britain to put together its largest rail freight company (now owned by a German firm), eliminating 1,700 jobs in the process. He participated in the profitable privatization of railways in Estonia in 2001 (the local government was then forced a few years later to buy them back), he also served on the board of directors of a private Polish railway company and others in the United States.
For his success in the increase in profits of companies accomplished by reducing costs and increasing the exploitation of workers, in 1999 Burkhard was appointed «Railroader of the Year» by Railway Age magazine and then one of «16 Greatest Railroaders of the Twentieth Century». But according to statistics from the American Federal Railroad Administration, between 2003 and 2011, MMA had a double or triple the accident rate, than the average in the sector: the profit is made on the backs of the workers and the population ...
Shortly after the acquisition of the Canadian company, Burkhard lowered wages by 40%, under the pretext of the bankruptcy of a major customer. In 2010 he announced a plan to save 4.5 million dollars Cdn. by reducing the number of workers on locomotives. In 2012, Transport Canada, the government agency regulating railways authorized MMA trains to operate with a single driver, no other crew. To top this off, this has been accomplished by the indifference or outright collusion of the unions involved.
The bourgeois State, whose role according to democrats and reformers should be to protect and defend «all citizens», is actually in the service of capitalism and the capitalists.
For many years various governments have increasingly made decisions in favor of railway companies: if today on most freight trains in the United States and Canada the norm consist is now two workers, there were five thirty years ago. The productivity race that exists in this sector too, means that increasingly fewer proletarians are obligated to produce increasingly more, and when the various regulations enacted to ensure safety become obstacles to the realization of profits, they are removed.
At the request of the capitalists, in 1999 the Liberal government decided to accelerate deregulation, pursued by every successive government policy. One of the measures obtained by the companies was «self-regulation»: it is the companies themselves who decide what safety measures to take!
The result was predictable: in 2007 the Canadian Safety Council released a report noting the deteriorating security situation on the railways. Since it was established in 1991 in the United States that the existing tank cars were not safe, eventually in 2011 the Canadian government required companies need only buy new more secure cars when renewing their fleet, all the while allowing the use of the existing unsafe ones : but as the life of these cars is from thirty to fifty years, they will still circulate for decades! Investments in rail infrastructure are insufficient, etc.. Meanwhile the boom in transporting crude oil boosts profits for the railways (oil transport by rail is less expensive than pipeline) ...
The Disaster in Lac-Mégantic is absolutely not due to chance, to fate: it is a crime committed by the MMA railway company, by capitalism, by the profit motive that drives all companies in this society with the aid of the State: the Canadian State last year broke the strike by workers of Canadian Pacific Rail, thousands of workers were laid off, working conditions have deteriorated further, «unproductive» expenditures for security and maintenance have been reduced to the greater profits of the company. The blood-soaked capitalist Burkhard is not an exception, he is the product of the capitalist mode of production.
Against such disasters, it is silly to talk about a return to a mythical past of a «regulated» capitalism which would replace the savage «neo-liberal» variety: the capitalism of yesterday was every bit as savage as today’s; it had nothing but contempt for the safety, security and the lives of the workers and the public. Today as yesterday and throughout the last century the motto of the Railway Barons remains the same: «Uphill Slow, Downhill Fast, Tonnage first, Safety Last».
It is capitalism that is criminal; This is what we have to combat and put to death in order to live in safety!
International Communist Party