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Supreme Court Hands Major Victory to Rail Workers—and Labor Lawyer Geoghegan

Lindsay Beyerstein

Tom Geoghegan

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On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that railway workers can challenge rulings by the National Railroad Adjustment Board in court. The court’s ruling is a decisive victory for Tom Geoheghan, a Chicago labor lawyer and author who ran an unsuccessful insurgent campaign for Congress earlier this year.

The Railway Labor Act of 1926 placed unusual restrictions on the organizing rights of railroad workers. The goal was to prevent strikes, officially because railways were so vital to the national economy; realistically, because the people who made them run would otherwise be too powerful. One such restriction is that railroad workers have to take their greivances to a national arbitration board.

The main question before the court was whether the workers had a right to challenge the final ruling of the NRAB if its decision violated their constitutional right to due process. In this case, Union Pacific Railway said no. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, represented Geoghegan, said yes. The Supreme Court sided with the Locomotive Engineers, 9-0.

Earlier this year, Tom Geoghegan (pronounced: gay-gun) ran an unusually progressive congressional campaign in a special election to replace Rahm Emanuel in Illinois’s Fifth District. Geoghegan campaigned on Medicare for all, job creation, banking and mortgage reform, and the revival of the American labor movement.

How many congressional candidates put in a good word for class politics on their campaign websites? Geoghegan did, quoting Which Side are You On, his classic memoir about life as a union lawyer during the twilight of the American labor movement:

Indeed, all sides, even the Bob Dole Right, could stand a little more class-based politics, a little more Dunlop-type rationality. The great thing about class-based politics,’ a professor once told me in college long ago, is that it’s rational.’ 

For that matter, how many congressional candidates put in a good word for rationality?

Geoghegan’s progressive platform captured the imagination of progressive bloggers and activists across the country. Liberal journalist Katha Pollitt called him the next Paul Wellstone.” I took the accompanying photo as a volunteer photographer for Geoghegan campaign event in Washington, D.C. It wasn’t enough. He placed fourth and returned to his law practice.

Geoghegan’s legal victory is a testament to persistence in the face of adversity.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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