TRNN viewers may remember a recent interview we published at the beginning of February in which Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez spoke with retired railway engineer Jeff Kurtz about a US District Court blocking railroad workers at BNSF Railway from striking over the recent implementation of an oppressive new attendance policy. Even if the story has faded from the headlines, the struggles railroad workers are facing have not gone away in the slightest, and workers and their families have reported that BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” policy has been a disaster for them and for the railroad industry. In this crucial follow-up report, Alvarez speaks with Jeff Kurtz and Ron Kaminkow of Railroad Workers United about what workers have been going through since the implementation of this new attendance policy and what can be done about it.
Jeff Kurtz was a railway engineer and union member for 40 years. He served as a union officer most of his career, including eight years as president of BLET Local 391 and chairman of the BLET Iowa State Legislative Board, where he oversaw safety and legislative matters for the union in the state for four railroads for 10 years. He retired in 2014 and served as state representative for one term in the Iowa House after winning the 2018 election in his House district. He now works in a volunteer capacity with Railroad Workers United and the local labor chapter of the Iowa Federation of Labor. Ron Kaminkow is currently serving as General Secretary of Railroad Workers United. Prior to hiring out as a brakeman with Conrail in 1996, he served as President of AFSCME Local 634 in Madison, WI. In 2005, Kaminkow helped to found Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU), an RWU predecessor. A former brakeman, conductor, and engineer for Conrail and later NS in Chicago, he formerly worked for Amtrak in Milwaukee and Chicago. He currently is working as an Amtrak engineer in Reno, NV, where he is the Vice President of BLET Local 51.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Pittman on Feb. 22 blocked the BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) and the SMART Transportation Division—the two unions opposed to BNSF’s planned Hi-Viz worker availability policy—from striking. Link
If things go as planned, one day soon Chinese trains will pull into Kathmandu, Nepal, on a new railroad built to lessen the landlocked Himalayan country’s dependence on India.
.. It’s time to acknowledge that in raw economic terms China has comprehensively outpaced India. If winning regional influence depends on building ports and railroads abroad, or dazzling visitors with skyscrapers and broad boulevards at home, then India’s prospects look bleak.
Compared with China, however, India remains a bastion of free speech, minority rights and judicial independence. New Delhi ought to play to these traditional strengths by deepening them.
.. On Monday, China blocked HBO.com after comedian John Oliver ran a segment that discussed Mr. Xi’s alleged touchiness about his purported resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.
.. it wasn’t always a certainty that China would pull ahead. According to the World Bank, as recently as 1990 India’s per capita income ($364) was higher than China’s ($318). Paradoxically, China’s communists unleashed market forces more effectively than their democratically elected counterparts in India.
.. Four years ago, Mr. Modi looked set to enact the sweeping reforms India needs to eradicate poverty and catch up with China. But despite a few successes, such as a national goods and services tax and a bankruptcy law that makes it easier to exit a failed business, the Indian prime minister disappointed. He more resembles his lackluster socialist predecessors than a market-friendly East Asian leader.
.. India’s archaic labor laws suppress job growth by making it extremely hard to fire workers during a downturn.
.. With a per capita income of $8,100, the average Chinese is nearly five times as rich as the average Indian. The gap has widened over the past 10 years.
.. 48 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings are in China. None are in India.
.. the ruling Bharatiya has earned a reputation for intimidating reporters with massive lawsuits, pressuring media barons to sack unfriendly editors, and using lap-dog television channels and a vicious troll army to smear political opponents.
They arrived dirt poor and uneducated in the 1840s. After decades of struggle, they achieved prosperity.
The peasants fleeing Ireland had a shorter life expectancy than slaves in the U.S., many of whom enjoyed healthier diets and better living quarters. Most slaves slept on mattresses, while most poor Irish peasants slept on piles of straw. The black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that freed slaves were poor by American standards, “but not as poor as the Irish peasants.”
The Irish who left for America were packed into the unused cargo space of wind-driven ships returning to the U.S., and the voyage could take up to three months, depending on weather. These cargo holds weren’t intended to carry passengers, and the lack of proper ventilation and sanitation meant that outbreaks of typhus, cholera and other fatal diseases were common. Emigrants slept on 3-by-6-foot shelves, which one observer described as “still reeking from the ineradicable stench left by the emigrants of the last voyage.”
In 1847, 19% of the Irish emigrants died on their way to the U.S. or shortly after arriving. By comparison, the average mortality rate on British slave ships of the period was 9%. Slave-owners had an economic incentive to keep slaves alive. No one had such an interest in the Irish.
The 19th-century immigrants from Europe usually started at the bottom, both socially and economically, and the Irish epitomized this trend. Irish men worked as manual laborers, while Irish women were domestic servants. But not all ethnic groups rose to prosperity at the same rate, and the rise of the Irish was especially slow. They had arrived from a country that was mostly rural, yet they settled in cities like Boston and New York, working “wherever brawn and not skill was the chief requirement,” as one historian put it. In the antebellum South, the Irish took jobs—mining coal, building canals and railroads—considered too hazardous even for slaves.
In the 1840s, New York City’s population grew 65%. By midcentury, more than half of the city’s residents were immigrants, and more than a quarter of those newcomers had come from Ireland. At the time, half of New York’s Irish workforce and nearly two-thirds of Boston’s were either unskilled laborers or domestic servants. “No other contemporary immigrant group was so concentrated at the bottom of the economic ladder,” writes Thomas Sowell in his classic work, “Ethnic America.”
It wasn’t just a lack of education and urban job skills that slowed the progress of the Irish in America. So did social pathology and discrimination. The Irish were known for drinking and brawling. Irish gangs were common. When an Irish family moved into a neighborhood, property values fell and other residents fled. Political cartoonists gave Irishmen dark skin and simian features. Anti-Catholic employers requested “Protestant” applicants. Want ads read: “Any color or country except Irish.”