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CHARLES H. KERR & COMPANY, (Co-operative) Chicago, U. S. A.
International Socialist Review
A Monthly Journal Of International Socialist Thought
Edited by Charles U. Kerr. Associate Editors: Ernest l'intermann,
John Spargo, Jax S. llaves, Robert Rives La
lopte, llillian E. Bulan.
Railroad Employes and Socialism
Eugene V. Debs
Tom Selby Robert Hunter Mary E. Marcy
John Martin H. Scott Bennet I. M. Robbins
Editor's Chair-The Economic Interpretation of Politics; The Backwardness of America; The Small Producer and the Socialist
Party; Wages, Prices and Profits. International Notes. Literature and Art. World of Labor. News and Views.
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Railroad Employes and Socialism.
By EUGENE V. DEBS.
AILROAD employes in train service are perhaps more thoroughly organized than are the workers in any other department of industry. According to the report of the Interstate Conmerce Commission, in 1906, there were in round numbers 285,000 train service employes on the railroads of the United States, the classification
including engineers, firemen, conductors, trainmen, and switchmen. In the same year the organizations of these respective classes of employes reported a combined membership of 279,000. A small percentage of this membership is no longer employed in railroad service, and another small percentage is employed in Canada and Mexico. Deducting 25,000 from the total membership to cover these items (and this may be taken as a liberal allowance) it will be seen that but 31,000 of the total number of train service employes in the United States are unorganized. It is perfectly safe to say that at least 95 per cent of this unorganized body is composed of young and inexperienced men who have not been long enough in the service to become eligible for membership in the organizations of their respective classes. Probably not more than one per cent of the train service employes on the railroads of the United States, who are eligible to membership in the various organizations, remains unorganized.
Notwithstanding this very complete organization it is somewhat paradoxical that railroad employes as a rule are densely ignorant of the real spirit and purpose of the trade union movement. They know very little concerning the traditions and principles of unionism and absolutely nothing of its history. Of economics they are as guiltless of knowledge as babes. It is true they have been taught that the man who takes the job of another who is on strike is a scab, but this teaching has its limitations and qualifications, as it is not considered disgraceful for the members of one organization to take the places of striking members of another organization when they have agreements with their employers establishing rates of wages and conditions of labor for a stated period of time. In other words, it is considered of more importance to maintain the so-called sacredness of contract than to lend assistance and support to fellow wageworkers in time of strike.
In line with this policy we find the engineers taking the places of striking firemen on the Southern Pacific, and assuring the managers of the Norfolk & Western during the recent threatened strike of the firemen that if the firemen went out they (the engineers) would guarantee that the trains would be kept moving. We also find the trainmen taking the places of switchmen whenever the latter strike for better wages or more bearable conditions of employment, always pleading the necessity of keeping their agreements with the railroad companies to relieve themselves of the odium of scabbing. The Switchmen's Union, by the way, is the only one of the railroad brotherhoods that is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. A proposition to affiliate with the Federation was put to a vote of the members of the Firemen's Brotherhood a few years ago, and was defeated by a large majority.
With the possible exception of the Switchmen's Union each of the railroad organizations is run on the theory that the interests of labor and capital are identical. P. M. Arthur, who was for many years before his death chief of the Engineers' Brotherhood, always sought to keep his organization free from what he denominated "entangling alliances" with othe organizations. Mr. Arthur's teaching, which was accepted as the inspired utterance of superhuman intelligence by the members of his organization generally, was that a four dollar a day man has no interest in common with a two dollar a day man. Mr. Stone, the present chief of the Engineers, is a worthy pupil of his predecessor in office, and in general it may with truth be said that the spirit of clannishness and isolation which finds expression in Mr. Arthur's teaching is to all intents and purposes the ruling principle of the railroad organiza.ions today.
How little they are in touch with the spirit and purpose of the general labor movement may be inferred from the fact that, in response to public demand for protection against railroad accidents, our capitalist congress recently found it necessary to pass a law establishing a maximum working day of sixteen hours for railroad employes in train service. This law has been commended and hailed as a boon both by the leaders and rank and file of the railroad organizations, notwithstanding that the eight hour day has been a cardinal principle of the labor movement for a generation past, and some of the greatest battles in labor history have been fought for the recognition of that principle.
It thus becomes apparent that the railroad organizations are not trade unions in any true sense of the term. Their so-called “protective” features are a huge farce, productive of absolutely no benefit to the membees who pay the freight, and useful only to furnish inspiring themes of oratory for the leaders at convention time. Working conditions and wages are in the last analysis always determined by the will of the railroad managers, who are adepts in playing one organization against another, and who "recognize" the right of their employes to organize for their own protection only when it suits them to do so. The organizations have neither connection with nor influence upon the general labor movement, and are in reality merely insurance associations, organized on the assessment plan, whose only useful function is to give protection to their members in the event of total disability or death. In this field they have accomplished much good by providing safe insurance at reasonable rates for a great body of men who are unable to procure regular insurance because of the extra hazardous nature of their employment.
As might naturally be expected of a body of workers so greatly isolated from the general labor movement, filled with a spirit of exclusiveness, and having no proper conception of the common interests of all wage workers, Socialism among railroad employes has been a matter of comparatively slow growth. Here and there in isolated cases the true philosophy of working class economics has taken root in the minds of individuals and given rise to sporadic attempts to bring Socialism to the knowledge of the rank and file, but these attempts have generally been repudiated and condemned by the leaders, and as a result the great mass of railroad labor still continues to parrot the untruth that the interests of labor and capital are identical and seems firm in the belief that what is good for the railroads must be good for their employes.
Notwithstanding this attitude it must not be assumed that