War on the Waterfront:
Longshore Workers Under Attack
See any longshore workers in this photo? (There are none.)
Crane loading container onto driverless vehicle at the now
fully automated Long Beach Container Terminal. Maritime
bosses plan to automate thousands of jobs out of existence
under the West Coast longshore contract that they now want
to extend for another three years.
(Photo: Tim Rue/Bloomberg)
By Jack Heyman
Edited versions of this article appeared in the San
Francisco Chronicle (20 July) and Counterpunch (21
July). The figures on job loss over the last 65 years
have been updated.
The ink wasn’t even dry on the West Coast longshore
contract when the head of the employers’ group, the
Pacific Maritime Association, proposed an additional
three-year extension to the president of the International
Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), making it an eight-year
contract. While the total number of longshore workers in
1952 was 16,643, today there are 14,207 or 14% fewer
longshore workers handling revenue tonnage 14 times
greater for a record-breaking 350 million revenue tons.
Under the current contract employers have already
eliminated hundreds of longshore jobs through automation
on marine terminals like the fully-automated Long Beach
Container Terminal and semi-automated TraPac in the port
of Los Angeles. “By the end of an extended contract in
2022, several thousand longshore jobs will be eliminated
on an annual basis due to automation,” warned Ed Ferris,
president of ILWU Local 10 of San Francisco. With
driverless trucks and crane operators in control towers
running three cranes simultaneously, the chances of
serious and deadly accidents are enormous.
Now maritime employers are pulling out all stops to push
through this job-killing contract extension, using both
Democratic and Republican politicians, high-powered PR
firms and even some union officials.
A Chronicle op-ed appeared this week by
Democrat Mickey Kantor, former Secretary of Commerce who
was responsible for creating the World Trade Organization
and the North American Free Trade Association which lost
millions of jobs, and Norman Mineta, another Democrat
former Secretary of Commerce, from the high-powered public
relations firm Hill and Knowlton.
The first public relations firm was hired by Rockefeller
to clean up his public image after nearly 100 people, men,
women and children were killed in a 1914 Colorado miners
strike by company goons and the state militia known as the
Ludlow Massacre. Employers continue to use PR firms today
to push their propaganda.
The authors of this week’s SF Chronicle
pro-company PR piece talk of preserving “labor peace” and
refer to West Coast port shutdowns over the last 15 years.
Yes, there is a class war on the waterfront, but it’s
being waged by the employers. Those port closures were
caused by employer lockouts in 2002, 2013 and 2014 during
longshore contract negotiations. The 2002 lockout was
ended after Democrat Diane Feinstein called on President
Bush to invoke the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act directed
not against the maritime employers’ lockout but the
longshore union. The only time the ILWU shutdown Pacific
Coast ports in that period was May Day 2008 to protest the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first-ever labor
strike in the United States against a war.
The two Democrats cite distorted figures for wages and
pensions that only reflect the highest skill level after a
lifetime of work in one of the most dangerous industries.
And then they threaten that “if the contract proposal is
rejected” it could lead Republicans and Democrats alike to
impose anti-strike legislation on the waterfront. The ILWU
backed Bernie Sanders in the last election and then
Hillary Clinton. Yet no matter who leads it, the
Democratic Party represents the employer class, Wall
Street on the waterfront. Clearly what’s needed now is a
workers party to fight for a workers government that would
expropriate the maritime industry, in ports and at sea,
while establishing workers control.
The so-called “friends of labor” Democrats have been
enlisted by PMA because earlier this year at the Longshore
Caucus, a union meeting representing dockworkers on all
West Coast ports, the San Francisco longshore delegates
voted unanimously to oppose a contract extension. Last
week they held a conference at their union hall on
automation and the proposed contract extension. One
proposal was to make automation benefit dockworkers by
reducing the workweek to 30 hours while maintaining 40
hours pay, creating another work shift.
There are tens of millions of unemployed in this country.
The labor movement should launch a new campaign for a
shorter workweek at no loss in pay as part of a struggle
for full employment to benefit all, not Trump and his Wall
Street bankster cronies. In resisting the push for this
contract extension to automate jobs out of existence, ILWU
waterfront workers can stand up for all workers. ■
Jack Heyman is a retired Oakland longshoreman who
edits the Maritime Worker Monitor and chairs the
Transport Workers Solidarity Committee.https://www.transportworkers.org/