The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), long a defender of human rights, is in an historic battle with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). The PMA bosses are trying to slash hard won health benefits and break the union.
The PMA accuses the union of being anti-technology. But in reality the PMA is trying to use technological advances to take control of the union hiring hall, eliminate jobs, and outsource work to more exploited, non-union labor. Isn't this what corporate America is doing to the entire labor movement?
Ports along the West Coast account for nearly 0 billion in annual trade, or 7% of the nation's gross domestic product. The 11,000-strong union of dockworkers who move that cargo, the ILWU, is in contract negotiations with PMA that have been in a logjam since May, over what employers claim is the introduction of information technology.
Last July, in an effort to break that impasse, ILWU President Jim Spinosa in an unprecedented offer gave employers the ability to introduce technology that would eliminate many marine clerk positions, but asked that all remaining jobs be ILWU. Despite this concession, which will result in a significant loss of union jobs, PMA dismissed the offer as insufficient. Moreover, employers are demanding givebacks in medical benefits in a 'high hazard' industry. The ILWU is proud of the fact that its longshore contract sets a decent standard in benefits, working conditions and wages for organized labor on the West Coast and beyond.
The PMA's allies are the corporations that make up the 'Waterfront Coalition,' a front group for the bosses. This Coalition includes Nike, Walmart, The Gap, and others who import 0 billion of goods through the West Coast ports each year from their sweatshops in exploited countries. Some groups are targeting the West Coast Waterfront Coalition (WCWC) for protest.
For the past several years PMA President Joseph Miniace has been pushing hard for an increased role of the federal government in the maritime industry. The agenda: restrict trade union power on the docks by banning the right to strike. One option, would be for the president to declare a national emergency and invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, which would force the delay of a strike for 80 days. The act was last used in 1978 during a coal miners' strike.
pResident Bush, corporate stooge that he is, has weighed in on the side of the corporate barons, and against the workers. His mad war is seeing targets everywhere, even U.S. workers! Claiming this is an issue of 'Homeland Security,' Tom Ridge has threatened government intervention if the portworkers decide to strike. Is a labor union that fights for its members a threat to 'national security'?
No! The only threat that the ILWU poses is to the dominating control of everyones lives by the corporate elite. The Bush administration is cynically using Sept. 11 to interfere in the workers' right to collective bargaining and has threatened to use troops to keep the ports moving.
The Portworkers' Legacy: "An Injury to One is an Injury to All!"
The ILWU workers have a long history of struggle and solidarity. The union grew out of the militant maritime and general strikes in San Francisco in 1934 and has supported many struggles since...
In 1939 the ILWU respected a picket line put up by Chinese Americans asking for a boycott of shipments of scrap iron to Japan destined to be used against the Chinese people in the form of war materiel in its then vicious invasion of Manchuria.
In 1974 the ILWU joined an international boycott of Chilean cargo following the overthrow and murder of democratically elected President Salvador Allende by a CIA-backed military junta. And in 1978 Local 10 refused to handle bomb parts bound for Chile.
In 1984 ILWU longshore workers refused to unload ships from the apartheid state of South Africa. This action helped spark a national and international divestment movement that led to the eventual collapse of the apartheid government. When a victorious Nelson Mandela visited the U.S. in 1990, he told a packed audience at the Oakland Coliseum that it was the ILWU's actions that kick-started the movement that ended apartheid.
On April 24, 1999 the ILWU closed all ports on the West Coast in solidarity with the national protests to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, and on Nov. 30, the ILWU again closed West Coast ports and was one of the largest union contingents on the streets of Seattle in protest of the WTO.
They have deep roots in our communities: Now they need our support!
Many people today are not well educated on labor history in this country, and how the struggles of workers have led to many of the rights people today take for granted. Reading the history of the ILWU and other unions, gives an inspiring perspective showing how average, exploited working people can take their destiny into their hands, and take back control over their own lives. If they could do it, in the middle of the Great Depression, we can do it today.
Critical Mass Ride for ILWU rally, Aug 12 11:30 - Meeting under the Burnside Bridge (west)
News Conference & Rally: Aug 12 - Noon - ILWU Local 8 2435 Front Ave.
There will be actions all along the west coast. Friends of Labor and other groups and individuals are organizing actions targeting the WCWC members including Wal-Mart
[ Seattle Feature - Action | SF Feature - Action | Portworker Solidarity 2002 | Few more articles on the issues | White House signals it will move to forestall union strike ]
[ The ILWU Story - Six Decades of Militant Unionism | 1934 SF General Strike | Historic Photos from 1934 SF General Strike | Labor History | Oral History | A Journalist Describes the 1934 San Francisco Strike | Harry Bridges Institute | Old Protest poster ]