By Susan Stevens
At its biennial national convention in Buffalo on Labor Day weekend, Social Democrats USA affirmed the January 30, 2023 resolution drafted by The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) to make rail companies accountable to the American people, not to shareholders. To quote from UE’s resolution titled ‘Railroads Must Be Brought Under Public Ownership’: ‘Communities near rail yards, which are primarily working-class communities and communities of color, suffer from heightened rates of cancer, asthma and other health problems due to the exhaust pumped into their air by diesel locomotives.‘ Private ownership keeps our rail companies locked in the deadly grip of those intent on maximizing shareholder profits by stinting on needed updates and lobbying against the same degree of safety standards that they’d demand if the trains were running through their neighborhoods. Public ownership gives voice to those intent on leaving a legacy of clean air, water and food for all our children and children’s children.
Also, given that the American people depend on freight transport to provide a large portion of our food and other commodities, it makes sense for rail companies to be directed by fellow-working class Americans who depend on the same system — who, being customers themselves, see providing good customer service as treating others as they themselves want to be treated. Under private ownership, the only “customer” that matters to the rail companies is the wealthy shareholder. To quote again from the UE resolution: ‘Even Martin Oberman, chair of the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that regulates rail, has called the railroads “monopolists” who are cutting services and raising prices because “that’s the easiest way for them to get rich.”‘
Moreover, our escalating climate crisis demands a focused response that will never be forthcoming from those singularly focused on profit. From the UE resolution: “…the greater fuel efficiency of using rail to move both people and freight means that moving more of our transportation onto the railroads will be necessary to address the existential threat of climate change.” Investments in safe, reliable and affordable public transit pay huge dividends in terms of making life more livable for those who can’t economically afford a car — and now we also know that our planet itself won’t be livable if we keep pretending that we can environmentally afford for everyone to drive a car. In summary, public ownership of the railroads will catalyze investments in long life and prosperity for all of Earth’s people. Let’s boldly do this!
Susan Stevens is the Chair of Kansas City, Kansas SDUSA.