Monday, September 01, 2014

Passenger Rail and Labor Day

I have heard and read a number of Labor Day "histories" today.  Some of them inform us that Labor Day grew out of the struggle of workers in the 19th century to get decent working conditions.  Other such histories suggest that Labor Day is to honor "work," but particularly to honor the kind of work that is no longer available to the average person in the 21st century.  Finally, still others think it started as a patriotic day where we remember that hard work built this country and made it great.  I don't know where any of these authors are getting their information.

As a day to honor "labor" and labor struggle, Labor Day has never been that in my lifetime.  (That is: 2nd half of the 20th century until today.)  Labor day has always been a day to sell furniture and school supplies and for those who had a manufacturing-related job to have a good day off before fall and the so-called "holidays" set in.  Too few of us now have those jobs.  It's all service industry, which you can read as retail, wholesale, or transportation.  Most of those jobs don't get a whole day off, or even half.

So, as this is a Passenger Rail blog, I want to start by thanking the thousands of employees of Amtrak and every commuter rail system in the country for working today, getting us where we want to go, without using up space on highways and in one of the most fuel-efficient modes of transportation.  We need more of you and more of what you do.  (Thanks to everyone else who is working today, as well, because I just would not have been happy if I could not have stopped into the Valero station and gotten a lotto ticket.)  

I close with why we don't have more passenger railroad workers and more of what they do.  It's bad management.  Government management.  And bad ideas filtering through a committee process that no self-respecting private corporation could tolerate and still make a buck.  No matter how I figure it, I still can't see why Amtrak can't make a profit, or at least break even, if the managers and Congress will let it.  Stop tinkering with the details and make a decision that America needs Passenger Rail.

One final word.  The success or failure of Passenger Rail has never been about the people.  Railroaders are hard workers who love the job and wouldn't stay with it if they didn't, because it's hard.  It's hard on people and hard on their families.  If you don't like it, you don't just do it badly, you just don't do it.  So in that vein, I guess that the hard work of railroaders is what made Passenger Rail great in its heyday, and can make it great again.  We built this country.  Let the politicians go to blazes.

Thanks again, and Happy Labor Day.
Post a Comment