Politics certainly does make strange bedfellows. On Sept. 26 and 27, the two 2024 presidential frontrunners visited locations connected to the United Autoworkers (UAW) strike in Michigan to show support and solidarity in their campaign for a 36 percent pay hike, 40 hours of pay for 32 hours of work and guaranteed pensions, among other demands.
This is a remarkable about face; even pro-union President Jimmy Carter avoided joining a UAW picket line, despite winning the union’s endorsement.
It is the Republicans’ involvement that should raise greater concerns. The strike is part of a broader internecine struggle of the center right between traditional conservative values and populism, and it is not limited solely to automotive manufacturing.
Three hours away, on Ohio’s eastern border, sits East Palestine, site of the widely covered Norfolk Southern train derailment. Following the attention-grabbing event and the controlled burn of several railcars, calls for rail safety reform inevitably followed. Unfortunately, the main vehicle for this effort — the optimistically titled “Railway Safety Act” — has nothing to do with rail safety. Rather, it is a love letter to progressive special interests.
The bill would set minimum crew size for carriers above a certain revenue threshold — notably, a count lower than the East Palestine train actually had. The bill increases the frequency of required inspections, but further limits who may perform such inspections (here, the unionized Qualified Mechanical Inspector), which will likely cause backlogs. Again, the new inspection regime would not have caught the likely cause of the derailment — overheating. And incident rates of nearly all stripes have been improving over the past few decades.
In short, the Railway Safety Act represents an across-the-board increase in the cost to move anything by rail for the benefit of the 12 different railroad unions. Every single consumer in the country would feel the added pinch, with no benefit to rail safety.
The bill isn’t about rail safety at all, but rather about funneling money to and preserving the dwindling relevance of these unions. Yet Republicans, who once boldly promised to do something about dangerous railroad conditions, seem ready to go along with it anyway.
The modern labor movement is not only wholly inextricable from, but a catalytic agent for a left-wing political agenda that lacks even tangential relevance for most workers. Ignore that labor unions contribute to Democrats over Republicans nearly at a ratio of nearly 9:1. As eye-popping as that statistic is, political giving is as often a lagging indicator as a leading one. One need only look at the initiatives labor advertises — AFSCME’s push for abortion and transgender autonomy for all (including children), the UFCW’s luddite campaign against technological improvement, or the SEIU’s advocacy for defunding the police — to see that the unions’ values are not compatible with conservatism.
The Biden administration has already made it clear that it is willing to sacrifice the nation’s economic vibrancy to featherbed a few chosen industries or pet political causes. The avoidable tragedy, however, is that some well-meaning conservatives would align themselves with this cause, to the detriment of most of their constituents.
Fortunately, the Railway Safety Act has yet to move in either chamber, despite its authors claiming to have enough votes. It would be in the conservative members’ best interest to let it die rather than to top off the coffers of the political machinery that will be set against them the next time they appear on a ballot.