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Ria Stone

Trackmen Strike Pa.R.R.

(August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 33, 17 August 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Fifteen hundred trackmen on the Pennsylvania Railroad struck last week in the New York and New Jersey area.

The trackmen, 99 per cent of them Negroes, struck because they were sick of being freighted to work in cattle cars, 100 of them herded together in a space made to accommodate only forty; transported fifteen to twenty miles in a car with no toilet facilities and with only a small window and door for ventilation.

The trackmen struck because of the system whereby their working hours are computed and paid for only from the time they disembark from the box cars, so that each man is forced to donate about two hours daily to the railroad. They struck for a wage increase from fifty-five to seventy-five cents an hour; and finally they struck because two of their number, Rufus V. Gardner and Alexander Robinson, had been fired for leading a protest.

Shortly after the spontaneous action of the trackmen, the Utility Workers Organization Committee of the CIO stepped in to organize them and to request immediate mediation by the National Mediation Board. The latest report of the time of this writing is that the mediation has been granted and the men have returned to work.

The militancy of the Negro workers, the solidarity of those white workers who walked out with them, and the entrance of union organization into the picture make this case one of the more important recent events in the labor movement.

As J. Robert Smith, labor reporter of the Amsterdam Star-News said:

If the Negro’s economic problem in regard to labor is to be solved, it will be done and done only by the rank and file worker. The $3.00 and $4.00-a-day man whose brow is begrimed by sweat from his toil has the key to our economic rehabilitation and, mere than that, is in a position to dictate the degree of progress the entire race will show ... These are the men the race has to depend upon. Though small in number, these workers with their united effort and purpose will make the great and mighty Pennsylvania Railroad either take cognizance of their demands or suffer the consequence.

The Negro trackmen are not the only Negro workers in New York who have shown that they recognize the need for militant action and organization to defend their rights. Recently the Defense Workers Protective League was formed in Harlem to insist on improved transportation conditions for 1,000 workers, traveling daily on dilapidated buses to the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. These buses often break down en route, costing the workers time and money while they wait long hours on the highway.

The workers pay the enormous sum of $5.00 for six round trips a week. Moreover, proportionate refunds are not made if all trips are not made; no refund at all is given if three trips are used up. Out of his weekly pay, a worker who works only three days pays $5.00 for the transportation alone.

Negro workers, confronted with the harshest and most inhuman working conditions, are finding union organization as the best instrument to better their conditions. The organizational strength and initiative of the labor unions, particularly, must be enlisted to organize these men into bona fide unions on an equal basis with other workers.

The CIO’s organization of the Pennsylvania’s trackmen stands as a symbol of what must be achieved on a far wider scale. For if the improvement of the lot of all the working class, Negro and white, is to be accomplished, there must be no division within the working class.

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