[Marxism] Re: Anti-imperialism?

rrubinelli rrubinelli at earthlink.net
Mon May 9 21:46:17 MDT 2005

Ah, the return of the old "quit" bugaboo.  Let me explain: somewhere,
somehow, railroads, almost exclusively easter railroads, decided that
having their yard crews work through lunch, without breaks, with the
promise of going home early would boost production.

When Jon talks about a "hump" yard, he is talking about a railroad
production yard where thousands of cars are routed each day from
locations near and far for switching, reclassification according to
interim or final destination by the use of gravity, literally.  Long
strings of cars from arriving trains, having had the air brakes bled
off, are pushed uphill to the hump, to the "top" of the hump, where they
are separated manually, and allowed to roll down ti the other side
through a series of power thrown switches that lead to individual tracks
containing cars for the same destination.  In essence, this is nothing
but sorting, resorting, and finally delivery the mail, except the mail
is a 100 ton hopper, and the mailman/mailwoman, uses a 4200 hp
locomotive or two to deliver the mail to other sorting yards 300 to 3000
miles away.

Production is the key.  Keeping current on the hump is all about
efficiency in switching, making connections between inbound trains and
the outbounds to be built from switching the various inbounds.

Railroads establish many statistical measures of their efficiency in
production like "connection monitoring" -- measuring what percentage of
arriving cars make their scheduled connection to the next mail delivery
so to speak.  And " average elapsed time," how long the average car
spends in the yard from arrival to dispatchment.   When I was a hump
trainmaster, if the elapsed time went above 23 hours, I serious calls of
concern from the superintendent, and nasty, insulting calls from the
general manager and the vice presidents.  Which I returned in spades,
I'm proud to say.

If Selkirk's elapsed time is 63 hours, then they are seriously fucked
because that means cars are taking almost 3 days to clear the yard and
that's almost 2 days too many if inbound traffic is holding steady.

You also get yard cars dispatched per crew hour, and of course, cost per
car dispatched, but elapsed time and connection monitoring are the big
ones for production yards.

And at the production, hump, yards, you, the individual supervisor have
to....produce.  So sometimes you try and make deals, like if the
scheduled inbound from Elkhart is 3 hours late, but has 60 cars that
need to make the connection for the train delivering cars for the
chemical plants in NJ, you tell your best hump crew to forget about
lunch, but get behind that train, shove it to the hump, hump it and go
home early...

After awhile this becomes the norm for doing business.  Yard crews are
going home after 6 hours with 8 hours pay.

And periodically, if your division on the railroad, if your terminal has
gotten into this habit, somebody comes around and says to the hump
trainmaster, or the terminal superintendent, "Hey, this is falsifying
payroll.  Cut it out."   Or maybe nothing is said, just the next day,
the division superintendent has abolished one of the hump jobs, or the
pull out jobs that work the other end of the yard, clearing the tracks
and setting the cars out for departure.  Then goodbye "quits"  hello
shit hitting the fan.

Then the game starts.  Crews slow down.  Management follows them around,
citing them for safety and rule violations.  Formal disciplinary
proceedings are threatened.  It's highly choreographed, like a dance
really.  I've been on both sides of it.  Bit of a drag on both sides,
and not exactly like anyone was hot cargoing military shipments of Class
A explosive destined for Earle, NJ  or those nicely sand colored M1
tanks headed to the military ocean terminal in Bayonne years ago.

It's a big old game of chicken, who blinks first, etc. etc.  And it
generally settles down. It is class struggle, rudimentary to be sure...
and it's not usually precipitated or employed as a tactic over the
really big issues, and big things.

When L. Stanley Crane took over the dying quail of Conrail, itself the
takeover of the dying quail of the PennCentral, the Erie Lackawanna, the
CNJ, The Lehigh Valley, the Reading, he told everyone, management and
labor, alike that was going to reduce Conrail's labor costs by
60percent, and any yard that didn't make that cut would be shutdown.
In the days that followed, there weren't any slowdowns, nobody worried
about their "quits."



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jon Flanders" <jonflanders at jflan.net>
To: "Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition"
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Monday, May 09, 2005 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Re: Anti-imperialism?

> > Recently in the rail yard where I work, management in its infinite
> wisdom decided that a tacit agreement with the yard crews in the
> classification area that they could end their work day when they
> finished their moves, regardless of the clock, could no longer be
> tolerated.

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