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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 66/No.32August 26, 2002

Join a weekend of volunteer work at the Pathfinder building, New York City, August 24-25.

lead article

Dockworkers demand:
‘No gov’t union busting’
West Coast rallies oppose
bosses’ and White House threats

Militant/Shirley Peña
Led by the union drill squad, members and supporters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union rally August 12 in Oakland, California.
LONG BEACH, California--Marching through downtown Long Beach August 12, some 2,000 longshore workers chanted, "Contract Yes! Government Intervention No!" Another 1,000 workers in San Francisco and 1,500 in Seattle marched and rallied the same day, along with hundreds of others at ports up and down the West Coast.

The coast-wide day of action was sponsored by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Locals Coast Negotiating Committee and the national AFL-CIO. The union flyer publicizing the August 12 actions highlighted two key demands: "Get the Administration Out of ILWU Negotiations!" and "No Government Union-Busting!"

The members of the ILWU sent a clear message to the bosses’ Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) that they are opposed to the companies’ antiunion drive to impose concessions on the workforce. The PMA represents the West Coast shipping and stevedoring companies.

With the actions the union also sent a message to the Bush administration, which last week publicly said it is considering using strike-breaking Taft-Hartley legislation and other measures against the longshore union.

In addition to the large outpouring of union dockworkers, several small contingents of workers from unions in the Los Angeles area participated in the rally.

With the White House threatening to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, the stakes in the labor dispute have reached new highs.

According to the Los Angeles Times, government officials told the union negotiating committee that the White House has also discussed "moving to break up the union’s coast-wide bargaining unit or backing legislation that would restrict the union’s ability to call a strike."

The Taft-Hartley Act has not been used since the 110-day 1977–1978 national United Mine Workers’ coal strike, when former Democratic president James Carter unsuccessfully tried to break the miners’ walkout. President Richard Nixon invoked the antiunion law in 1971, forcing the West Coat dockworkers back on the job after they walked out as part of a growing nationwide longshore strike. It was the last major strike action on the docks.  
Why should PMA settle?
Of all the issues before the union, workers singled out the threat of government intervention as the most serious. "Why should the PMA even want to settle with us if federal troops are standing behind them?" asked Roxanne Lawrence, an ILWU member. Echoing others, she said, "It’s not fair and it’s not right."

"We demand that Bush and the PMA stop using ‘Homeland Security’ as an excuse to militarize or federalize our ports in order to weaken the American labor movement," states an ILWU flyer.

The 10,500 ILWU members on West Coast ports handle half of ocean-borne containerized cargo in and out of the United States, valued at around $300 billion a year. The bosses estimate that a strike would cost $1 billion a day. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the largest on the West Coast. Over the past two decades, seaborne trade through West Coast ports has quintupled, almost doubling the region’s share of total U.S. trade, in billions of dollars.

The shipping owners and the federal government are nervous that a slowdown or a strike could cause a crisis in the world economy. One "trade expert" said a labor disruption could spark a "crisis in Asian currencies and U.S. financial markets." Another report, filed in the New York Times, said Bush administration officials and "business executives across the nation fear that a job action at the ports...could wreak havoc on the nation’s already wobbly economy."

After the contract expired July 1, the union agreed to a day-to-day contract extension. ILWU members who work at ports on the West Coast have given the negotiating committee a mandate to call a strike should contract talks fail. Talks were suspended three weeks ago and resumed August 14.  
Extent of government intervention
In recent weeks, union members have learned the extent to which the government is backing the PMA. In mid-May the White House established a top-level task force to "aggressively" intervene in the longshore labor dispute. The force included officials from the departments of Labor, Commerce, Transportation, and the newly created Office of Homeland Security.

Washington justifies its intervention under the guise of national security in wartime, reported the Los Angeles Times, in an article titled, "White House Signals It Will Move to Forestall West Coast Port Strike."

"We have been very candid," said a Labor Department official. "We have told them [the ILWU] if they act in a manner that is disruptive, we will use any means necessary to make sure our troops in the field get what they need."

In addition, the union reported that a Labor Department official said the government might seek new legislation modeled after the notorious antiunion Railway Labor Act that would give the White House greater powers to stop a walkout. The law, which has been used to prevent rail workers from striking, has little parallel elsewhere in U.S. industry.

The PMA is backed by the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, an employer group that includes such large retailers as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target.

At the Long Beach rally, the union handed out a flyer to counter some of the lies circulated by "the PMA, the Bush Administration, and a coalition of corporate interests (Wal-Mart, The Gap, Nike, etc.)" The flyer pointed out that the PMA claims it "just wants to introduce technology to make the waterfront more efficient, and the ILWU is just anti-technology."

In July, the union proposed a concession that would eliminate 600 jobs and allow the dock operators to save $100 million a year through a reduction in the workforce and increased efficiencies. The PMA rejected this proposal, saying it didn’t go far enough. One ILWU member who is against giving any ground on the "technology" question said every "efficiency-boosting proposal in the past has only led to loss of jobs and a weakening of the union."

The union points out that the real issue is that the PMA wants to "bypass the hiring hall and outsource jobs. The benefits of new technology should go to workers--not into corporate coffers," says the union flyer. Several dockworkers report that maintaining the hiring hall--called the "dispatch" hall--under union control is a key issue for them. One young dockworker commented, "The dispatch hall isn’t just about learning where we will be working. We find out what is going on, where they [the dock bosses] are messing with us; it’s about solidarity and putting the best work crew together to keep the union strong."  
Dangerous work
Work on the docks is dangerous, the unionists point out. According to the ILWU, during the last three years there have been six fatalities on the job, and more than 7,100 reported job injuries.

The union also took on the PMA charge that the ILWU is "putting the nation’s security at risk." An ILWU flyer states that the "corporations are using the tragedy of September 11 as a pretext to go after the unions. They want to make people afraid of fighting for their rights--Tom Ridge, Homeland Security chief, even threatened the union with government intervention."

The flyer concludes, "The only security the PMA is concerned about is the security of their own profits--and they will do anything to try to make workers pay."

One of the signs distributed by the union that weakened their fight carried the slogan, "Fight Terrorism, Not American Workers." This slogan gives support to the govern–ment’s military assaults on the peoples of Afghanistan, as well as backing to Israel’s war against the Palestinian people, which are both done in the name of fighting "terrorism."

The national AFL-CIO issued a statement in support of the ILWU, in which the labor federation criticized the Bush admin–istration’s threats of intervention as an "unconscionable effort to bolster the PMA’s contract demands and threatens the legitimate collective bargaining rights of longshore workers."

At the rally, a union spokesman announced that the union will be rallying in front of the new Maersk terminal at the port of Los Angeles on August 15. The Maersk terminal is the single largest port facility in the world, equivalent to the size of 366 football fields.


OAKLAND, California--One thousand longshore workers and their supporters held a spirited rally at the Federal Building here August 12, to call on the Bush administration to stay out of negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the port bosses, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents workers on the docks.

Oakland is the fourth busiest seaport in the country.

Workers turned out in support of the ILWU from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters union, Sailors Union of the Pacific, other maritime unions, members of the International Association of Machinists who work at United Airlines, and others.

Dave Connelly, vice president of the Sailors Union of the Pacific, explained that his union was here because "we’ve been with the ILWU for a long time."

"I just want to see the government stay out of our business," said John Kucin, who has 39 qualified years as a clerk and is a member of ILWU Local 34.

"The whole labor movement is looking at us. If Bush gets away with this, what’s next? The auto workers?

"By declaring war, this president is giving himself the power to do what he wants. Just call it national security," explained Kucin.

Richard Mead, president of ILWU Local 10, told the press, "You can’t take what happened on 9/11 and use it as a ruse" against the union.

Many workers at the rally said that they believe September 11 is being used by the government to justify attacks on workers and the labor movement.

Speakers at the event included Richard Mead; Judy Goff, executive secretary-treasurer of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County; Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council; ILWU International president Jim Spinosa; Oakland mayor Jerry Brown; Chuck Mack, Teamsters Local 70; and Steve Bristow, East Bay vice president of SEIU Local 790.


SEATTLE--In a spirited march and rally more than 1,500 members of the ILWU, other dockworkers, and their supporters marched along Seattle’s waterfront demanding a contract with the Pacific Maritime Association.

As the marchers chanted, "No Taft-Hartley!" "Bush, stay out of our union!" and "We want a contract!" the one-mile march was greeted by horns honking in support of the ILWU in its contract fight.

The march led off with ILWU members on motorcycles with signs explaining "1934–2002--Same Struggle, Same Fight!" referring to the decisive 1934 waterfront strike that organized the docks.

The rally featured speakers representing each of the ILWU locals that organize the commercial ports up and down the Washington State coastline. Dominic Morretti, a member of ILWU Local 63, said the "battle is not just for the ILWU but for every working man and woman in the United States." A similar theme was echoed by other ILWU speakers on the platform.

Several speakers pointed to President George Bush as being the "real terrorist" for threatening to militarize commercial ports on the waterfront by sending in federal troops to operate the docks.

A large number of union locals from Seattle and the surrounding area were represented in the march and rally. They included Carpenters, Teamsters, Machinists, farm workers, Ironworkers, and others.

Deborah Liatos is a meat packer and a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 120.
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