The BMWED-IBT Union Supports Black Americans in their Continued Struggle for Justice

Published: Jun 3 2020 11:00AM

The BMWED-IBT union supports Black Americans in their continued struggle for justice and an end to the disgrace of systemic racism that has plagued our country for far too long. 

The backstory of our Union is long. At times, its chronicle is inspirational; at others, shameful. There are parts of our Brotherhood’s history that aren’t mentioned much because they were – quite frankly – racist. 

There were times where our Union officers and members disallowed black railroad employees membership. There were fights with railroads to not hire black men, so that we could avoid the issue altogether. When those were unsuccessful, there were policies that did not afford black members the ability to be foreman or earn higher rates of pay than white counterparts. This hatefulness went on for decades. Several decades. Damn near a century, to be honest.

There were men among our ranks that shouted against this ugliness at the time. But not enough. It takes courage to speak truth within an institution; to stand up and call out wrongfulness when many of your colleagues condone it. So, without honest criticism, the problem festers, and it grows, and it rots from the inside what is otherwise a just organization aiming to improve the lives of everyone.

The officers in Minneapolis were part of that rot. So were the ones in Georgia who refused to arrest the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because one was retired law enforcement himself. Our Teamster brother Philando Castile, who was shot dead in his car in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in front of his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter, the officer later acquitted. These are but three recent examples.

Another part of rail labor history that intertwines here, at least tangentially, are the railroad worker labor strikes of 1877. In response to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad cutting wages to the bone, in fact the third time that year, railroaders in Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and other smaller U.S. cities rioted. They struck the railroad – burning depots, tracks, trains and other buildings to the ground. In some cases, the National Guard troops summoned by President Rutherford B. Hayes turned on him, siding with the striking rail workers and aiding in the destruction.

Those actions – controversial and deadly – paved the way for labor protections that we take for granted today.

Now, labor strife – as well as the fight for civil rights – can be a precarious line to walk, and it remains most people’s desire to avoid mass destruction and rioting. But the events of this weekend are not without provocation. You can only ask people to wait for justice and fairness and equity but for so long.

A cornerstone of the labor movement is to lift-up everyone as equal and to disparage all forms discrimination. Another is to stand up to management and agitate its authority when that authority has been overstepped. The BMWED strives to do both – effectively, peacefully, and with purpose – and will continue to support those who do. 

We stand with those fighting to bring about change. We hope for inclusiveness, kindness and compassionate progress.