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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 76/No. 4      January 30, 2012


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(lead article)
Back ILWU struggle
against union busting!
Port workers prepare visible, disciplined protest
Militant/Mary Martin
Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., longshore workers join Dec. 5 picket in Longview, Wash. Union is organizing to protest EGT’s first scab grain shipment expected in January.

LONGVIEW, Wash.—The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is preparing a large, disciplined and peaceful protest against EGT Development’s union busting when the company brings in its first scab ship to load grain at their terminal here.

The union is getting the call out as widely as possible to unions and other supporters. Officials of ILWU Local 21 in Longview said they anticipate only days, possibly hours, notice of the ship’s arrival, which is expected sometime in late January.

EGT refuses to hire ILWU workers in violation of the union’s agreement with the Port of Longview. Instead, it has hired members of Operating Engineers Union Local 701 through a subcontractor, under inferior working conditions and wages, without a contract. If EGT prevails, it will be the first grain terminal on the West Coast run without ILWU labor in more than eight decades.

Federal and local officials are mobilizing a substantial force of police, Coast Guard ships and helicopters, and other government agencies to accompany the ship’s arrival.

The Coast Guard has warned ILWU members they face revocation of government-issued work authorization credentials known as TWIC cards if it can inculpate the unionists’ action as interfering “with the free flow of commerce.”

The union has faced concerted harassment from cops and other government officials. In a Jan. 3 letter sent to all ILWU locals, union International President Robert McEllrath noted that “officers, rank and file, and union supporters have been aggressively arrested or summoned to court by the hundreds for demonstrating against EGT.”

Over the last few weeks, nine ILWU members have been cleared of frame-up charges against them.

“Federal labor law…criminalizes worker solidarity,” McEllrath wrote, “outlaws labor’s most effective tools, and protects commerce while severely restricting unions.”

In this context, the union also faces the challenge that some groups have been planning to protest at the port with their own political motives that run counter to those of the union struggle, including calls for a “community blockade” to shut down the port. “Bring black flags and storm the gates,” an anonymous post to Anarchistnews.org urged.

The national Investor’s Business Daily seized on this, equating any disruption to shipping with “piracy” that should be treated as such. The paper said it was time government officials and their cops “got tough” with anyone “interfering with the livelihoods of others without consequences to themselves.”

“Please take extreme caution when dealing with supporters of non-ILWU sanctioned calls to action relative to EGT,” McEllrath wrote ILWU members. “Everything is at stake for the community of Longview and our members.”

ILWU builds protest

“Here in Longview we are seeing government involvement in union busting under the guise of keeping the port safe,” ILWU Local 21 president, Dan Coffman, told the Militant. “The ILWU is standing up for every worker in the world. That’s why we keep fighting. We are in this for the long haul.”

“My message to all who want to come stand with the ILWU at our protest is be peaceful like Ghandi, or don’t come,” Coffman added.

Columbia River pilots who guide ocean going vessels upriver to ports including Longview are under government pressure to facilitate the scab ship’s operation.

“I can’t believe they’re making us cross the picket line of the ILWU,’ one river pilot told the Militant, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They say we are independent contractors, which is true, but we are also members of the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union,” an affiliate of the International Longshoremen Association. Pilots risk losing their licenses if they decline to pilot a vessel.

The rules for pilots are clear, Kim Duncan told the press. She is the chairwoman of the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots, a regulating agency. “The pilot must board the ship. It’s unequivocal,” she said. Calls to Duncan from the Militant were not returned.

Area unions that have pledged their support to Local 21’s fight include the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers; United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners; International Chemical Workers Union; Plumbers, Fitters and Welders; and locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers and the International Association of Machinists.

In Longview, worker-correspondents for the Militant found growing community support for the ILWU’s fight.

“Watching a strong union stand up in a civil way puts a spotlight on what a union is and how the union makes peoples’ lives better,” Norma McKittrick, 33, a credit union worker, said. “When you go from being union to nonunion and you lose the protection you had, you really appreciate having a union.” McKittrick said people should join the union protest when the ship comes.

“This is probably one of the most important union fights in U.S. history,” Lawrence Wagle, a retired school teacher, told the Militant. “If they break the Longshore union they can break any union, resulting in lowering the living standards of everyone.”

ILWU Local 21, together with Local 4 in Vancouver, Wash., Local 8 in Portland, Ore., and Local 40, the ILWU clerks’ union for the local region, have maintained picket lines outside EGT’s gates 24 hours a day since June 2011. The union is limited to eight pickets.

As winter weather sets in, Local 21 has further reinforced its picket stations with insulated tents. Funds are needed to maintain these picket lines including expenses for heaters, propane fuel, coffee and portable toilets. Send messages of support and donations to ILWU Local 21, 617 14th Ave. Longview, WA 98632. Make checks out to “EGT Fighting Fund.”
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