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Vol. 76/No. 1      January 2, 2012

Longshore fight against
union busting intensifies
LONGVIEW, Wash.— International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 in Longview, Wash., is preparing for a large protest to meet the first ship scheduled to load at EGT Development’s grain terminal in January.

EGT has refused to hire ILWU members at its terminal in violation of an agreement between the union and the Port of Longview. Instead, the bosses have hired members of Operating Engineers Union Local 701 through a subcontractor under inferior conditions and without a contract.

If EGT prevails, it would be the first West Coast terminal run without ILWU labor in eight decades.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security will be overseeing the ship operation on the Columbia River. Coast Guard officials previously visited the union hall to “remind” longshore workers that their credentials could be revoked if union protests interfere with EGT operations.

The union faces substantial legal challenges and a concerted effort by government agencies to smear it as “violent” in order to open the door to attacks by cops and courts.

On Dec. 12 Judge Ron Marshall of the Cowlitz County District Court rejected motions from 45 longshore workers and supporters to dismiss trespass charges against them stemming from two September protests of incoming grains trains leading to the terminal.

“I was surprised at the ruling given how weak the prosecution’s case was,” Dan Coffman, ILWU Local 21 president, told the Militant at the union hall. “They presented contradictory statements. They could not pinpoint our location at the port or produce any documents stating where port property begins and public property ends. Those who have received citations will have trials next year.”

Two union members who tried to stop a cop assault on members of the union’s Ladies Auxiliary at a Sept. 21 peaceful protest and who were themselves beaten by cops, face felony charges of assaulting police officers.

During the interview Coffman paused to consult with a longshore worker who brought in a new trespass citation just received in the mail stemming from a union protest held last July.

Early next year the union will also be in court before a National Labor Relations Board arbitrator in Portland, Ore., for a suit brought by EGT charging the union with so-called unfair labor practices.

The union is facing $315,000 in fines stemming from protests at the Port of Longview. In addition, future trespass citations against union members will carry fines of $2,500 per person and $5,000 fines for union officers, under terms of a Sept. 30 ruling by Federal Judge Robert Leighton.

Additionally, the courts are hanging over the union’s head a suspended $25,000 fine for alleged damage to the port stemming from protests on Sept. 7 and 8, which they threaten to impose if a judge deems future protests constitute trespassing.

Dec. 12 port shutdown actions

In the context of the union’s fight against the bosses, backed up by their courts, cops, and government—all looking for a pretext to tighten the screws and deal blows to the union—ILWU international president Robert McEllrath wrote a letter from the union’s Coast Committee dissociating the union from port shutdown actions organized by “Occupy” protest groups.

The call for Dec. 12 port shutdowns was voted on by the Occupy Oakland general assembly on Nov. 18 in response to cop attacks on occupy encampments and in support of the Longview ILWU fight and the right of port truckers to organize.

A New York Times article quotes Boots Riley, rap musician and spokesperson for Occupy Oakland, arrogantly dismissing any value in having official ILWU support. “The organizers of this movement are the working class, and these are issues that belong to the working class. No one has a copyright on working-class struggles.”

The character of the protests along the coast varied.

In Oakland, several thousand, including many young people, participated in pickets that closed the port during two shifts.

A Dec. 15 press release by Occupy Oakland hailed the protest as a success “despite concerted efforts . . . by Mayor Jean Quan, the ILWU International leadership (which mounted an international media campaign) and the Port itself.”

Occupy Longview organized a port picket line of some 125. “If EGT succeeds in busting up the ILWU, who is next and where does it stop?” Occupy Longview press spokesperson Paul Nipper told the Militant. “We absolutely considered and organized our actions so as not to make legal problems for our neighbors.” Although no one was blocked from entering the port, the Port of Longview decided to close for the day and no ILWU members worked.

In Seattle, supporting ILWU workers in Longview was one of six issues raised by some 500 protesters who blocked the port. Among the leading participants were anarchists with explicitly reactionary, anti-working-class views.

“Now the working class exists most predominately as the underbelly of its former self, as the excluded class,” said one such statement handed out at the action. “It no longer holds the same power as it once did to shut down the economy from the workplace. Some of our potential comrades still work in the old world of production: longshoremen, port truck drivers, and others. The rest of us exist outside that world. . . . When we blockade the ports and staunch the flow of capital, we do it from the outside, as displaced people, no longer as workers.”

The Seattle protest was met with a police assault with pepper spray and flash bang grenades.

Meanwhile, the ILWU continues to maintain its picket lines 24 hours a day as it has since June. “We have pledges of support from many unions and organizations to come to Longview for a protest when EGT’s ship arrives,” Coffman told the Militant. “We will continue to fight.”

Local 21 provides propane fuel, heaters and coffee for the 24/7 picket lines. Financial contributions to help pay for ILWU Local 21’s fight can be made out to “EGT Fighting Fund” and mailed to ILWU Local 21, 617 14th Ave. Longview, WA 98632.

Betsey Stone contributed to this article.
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