Power of Labor
Face Jail After Oakland Cops Fire on Port Protest
On November 7, twenty-four antiwar protesters and Jack Heyman, business agent of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), come up for trial in Oakland, California. The Oakland 25 were arrested during the brutal police riot against an antiwar demonstration at the East Bay docks April 7. On that day, an army of hundreds cops fired directly at a crowd of 800 peaceful demonstrators and dozens of longshoremen using large wooden slugs and exploding “stinger” grenades. Scores were injured and five longshoremen and others went to the hospital (see “Oakland Cops Shoot at Longshore Workers And Antiwar Protesters,” The Internationalist No. 16, May-June 2003). In addition, police deliberately drove motorcycles into the protesters, running over some. Then they arrested dozens of their victims, and two and a half months later charged them with obstruction and failing to disperse! On October 20, a judge “demurred” at a lesser charge of disturbing the peace, but gave prosecutors ten days to re-file those charges and refused to dismiss the more serious ones.
We demand that all charges be dropped against the Oakland 25! A protest rally has been scheduled for Friday, November 7, 1:30 p.m., at Alameda County Superior Court, 661 Washington Street (between 6th and 7th Streets) in Oakland. All opponents of imperialist war, defenders of democratic rights and the Bay Area workers movement should turn out in force to denounce this police frame-up.
Heyman (left) and other unionists at 5 October 2002 protest against lockout
of ILWU. (Photo: Z/Indymedia)
The vicious attack on the antiwar demonstrators and dock workers came at the height of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It was, as we noted, “Imperialist War on the Home Front.” This is what the 2001 Patriot U.S.A. Act, 2002 Homeland Security Act and the “Patriot II” act being pushed by “Justice” Department chief John Ashcroft add up to: naked police-state repression. Shortly afterwards, it was reported that the police colluded with officials of the shipping companies being picketed, American Presidential Lines (APL) and Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), to organize the cop assault. (APL ships munitions to Iraq, while the scabherders at SSA won a Defense Department contract to run Iraq’s port of Umm Qasr.) Since April 7, it has been further revealed that the police onslaught was prepared by a slew of faxes, “alerts” and warnings from a California state anti-terrorism center, the San Francisco police special operations division and the Oakland police intelligence unit, all claiming that the protest would be “violent” and ordering up an arsenal of paramilitary weaponry to be used on demonstrators.
In the aftermath, the Oakland PD chief and liberal Democratic mayor Jerry Brown justified the police attack saying that they were responding to demonstrators throwing rocks and bolts at the cops. This is pure fiction: even police videotapes show no evidence of anything resembling that. The police claim they used “non-lethal” ammunition. After pictures were published showing demonstrators with welts the size of baseballs on faces, chests, backs and legs the authorities changed their euphemism to “less-than-lethal” ammo. But as everyone could see, if a couple of those shots had been an inch or two higher or lower, demonstrators would be dead. Moreover, every one of the “baton shells” fired was clearly labeled, “Do not fire directly at persons as serious injury or death may result.” Video tapes and pictures show clearly that the cops shot directly at the protesters and workers, and their injuries are incontrovertible proof.
Left: Cop fires shotgun at antiwar protesters and longshoremen at port of Oakland, April 7. Right: Demonstrator hit by police "non-lethal" munitions. (Photos: Tim Wimborne/Reuters and Paul Sakuma/AP)
An account of the April 7 attack in the Maritime Worker Monitor (July 2003) detailed the “unprovoked, premeditated police attack.” It noted, “Reportedly, police had targeted longshoremen,” in part because ILWU Local 10 had taken stands against the U.S. war on Iraq. “In all 5 longshoremen were sent to the hospital with shot wounds. Some of the demonstrators had been hit by cops charging them on motorcycles. One of the demonstrators, June Brashares, while sitting in the paddy wagon after being arrested said in her statement: ‘Over the police radio a voice ordered the motorcycle police to go forward and bump them’.”
A San Francisco Bay Guardian (9 July) article on the OPD “Bump Squad” reported that while most police forces have abandoned this practice (sometimes, as in San Francisco after being sued for damages), in Oakland driving cycles into crowds “to physically push people” is official policy, under Special Order No. 7088. Known as “BUMP” (for “Basic Use of Motorcycle Push”) in cop talk, prior to ramming demonstrators at the Oakland port the police had driven their more than 1,000-lb Harley Davidsons into school kids marching against the war on Iraq on March 5. The OPD moto-cops on their Harley hogs resemble nothing so much as the Cossacks mounted on their horses who used to wade into workers demonstrations prior to the 1917 October Revolution that overthrew the tsarist empire.
The arrest of Jack Heyman came when he was driving to an SSA gate to warn longshoremen that union members were being shot by the police. According to the Maritime Worker Monitor: “They [the police] were in attack mode. Three cops dragged him [Heyman] out of his car, threw him face down on the street, beat and handcuffed him. Then they threw him in the paddy wagon without ever telling him why he had been arrested, despite repeated questioning.” The police command center was set up in the intermodal rail yard, and SSA bosses could be seen there. The San Francisco Chronicle (8 April) reported: “Police said they moved in at the request of shipping company officials who wanted the protesters removed from private property.” “Since when is the Port of Oakland private property?” asked the Monitor. Prisoners were not released until 1:30 a.m., 18 hours after being arrested.
West Coast dock workers have long been in the government’s crosshairs. They have been special targets since Washington began escalating its “war on terror,” using the 11 September 2001 indiscriminate attack on the NYC World Trade Center as a pretext for what is really a war for U.S. imperialist domination of the world. In the summer of 2002, “homeland security” czar Tom Ridge and Labor Department officials threatened ILWU officials that a port walkout would be treated as a matter of “national security.” Particularly active in preparing the April 7 attack was the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC), set up by Democratic governor Gray Davis right after 9-11. CATIC issued a bulletin on April 2 claiming that demonstrators might act violently because they vowed to “shut down the war merchants.” The bulletin left out that the protest organizers had stressed they did not intend civil disobedience or getting arrested.
The Oakland Tribune (18 May) reported that CATIC spokesman Mike Van Winkle equated protests with terrorism: “if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that…. You can almost act that a protest against that is a terrorist act.” Van Winkle also said that “terrorism” could include “anything that is violent or has an economic impact, and shutting down a port certainly would have some economic impact. Terrorism isn’t just bombs going off and killing people.” By this definition, a dock strike could be labeled terrorist. And this was not just one official running off at the mouth, as the state attorney general Bill Lockyer tried to imply. According to the order founding CATIC, terrorism could include “any violation of criminal law…retaliating against or influencing the policy of government” (Oakland Tribune, 1 June).
This was a bit too frank for some of northern California’s liberal elected officials, so they lodged paper protests. After Lockyer said he would “investigate,” Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a star speaker at popular-front antiwar rallies, sent a “Dear Bill” letter to “applaud” his efforts to “address this issue,” signed “Barbara.” Another of those applauding Lockyer’s empty words was Democratic senator Diane Feinstein, who was one of the first to demand that the Taft-Hartley “slave labor law” be used to ban a dock strike last year. Various groups, including the ILWU International, called on the Oakland City Council to hold an “independent investigation,” which it voted to do, but then disbanded the committee after meeting twice, because they didn’t want to provide evidence that could be used to sue the city for damages. Meanwhile, a “Port Safety and Security Plan for San Francisco Bay” being drafted by a committee led by the U.S. Coast Guard, now part of the Homeland Security Administration, listed “mass protesting of persons” and “civil disobedience” as tops on its list of security “threats” (Oakland Tribune, 29 June).
On June 26, the American Civil Liberties Union of
Northern California, the National Lawyers Guild and civil rights attorneys
announced a class action lawsuit, Local 10 ILWU v. City of Oakland,
asking for an injunction against future police use of such tactics against
demonstrators and damages for injuries in the April 7 attack. The plaintiffs
are nine longshoremen and 31 antiwar protesters. One longshoreman was hit
six times by police munitions. Many were hit in the back as they tried to
escape the barrage. A demonstrator was run over by a motorcycle and shot repeatedly
all over his body. One woman required surgery for the injury to her leg and
will likely have permanent scarring and disfigurement. It is good that the
police are being sued for their marauding, and the demonstrators and workers
deserve every dime they can wring out of these “state terrorists.” But no
flimsy court order, law or constitution will deter the capitalist authorities
from violence when they think their class interests are at stake.
Several of the lawyers in this case were part of
an earlier suit over the “Oakland Riders,” a gang of supposedly “rogue” cops
who rode roughshod over West Oakland, routinely beating and terrorizing the
black residents and planting drugs. In that case, the cops got off on criminal
charges, but the lawyers settled a civil case with the city saying they thought
Oakland was reforming its police. April 7 proved them wrong. And meanwhile,
Jerry Brown’s cops continue to mete out racist terror against minorities,
particularly black people, the same sort of atrocities that led to the formation
of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Today, motorists are still pistol-whipped,
heads are cracked with nightsticks, ribs broken, jaws dislocated, and many
of the cops named in the Riders lawsuits are still part of the OPD (“Crime
and No Punishment,” San Francisco Bay Guardian (8 October).
Rosenthal was hit on back of leg at April 7 Oakland port protest. Since then
she has had to have two surgeries and two skin grafts. (Photo: Oakland
ACLU spokesman Alan Schlosser compared the April
7 Oakland port attack to the Birmingham, Alabama police attacking civil rights
protesters in the 1960s and the Ohio National Guard firing on Kent State students
protesting the war on Indochina in 1970. Schlosser complains that CATIC “equates
peaceful protest with terrorism,” threatening First Amendment rights to freedom
of speech. But interestingly, the ACLU only complains of insufficient regulation
and vague guidelines, and doesn’t even raise the (utterly inadequate) call
for disbanding this “anti-terror” outfit, even though CATIC has no legislative
mandate whatsoever – it was set up by the Governor’s decree under “emergency
powers” after 9-11. The reason is that liberal civil libertarians share the
basic class interests of the bourgeois state, including the sinister “war
on terror,” just as they went along with the red scare in the 1950s, refusing
to defend the Communists at the height of the anti-Soviet Cold War.
CATIC harks back to the COINTELPRO “counter-intelligence”
operations of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI in the 1960s and ’70s, and to the McCarthyite
witchhunters of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) a decade
earlier. The Homeland Security Administration is an “American Gestapo,”
serving the same function as the German Nazis’ Geheime Staatspolizei (secret
state police). HUAC was eventually abolished, COINTELPRO was formally (though
not really) dissolved, yet “red squads,” police spying and provocation continue.
Revolutionaries warn that political police controls are an inherent part of
capitalist rule, and the way to fight them is not through liberal schemes
to “reform” the police, but by mobilizing the power of the working class in
the streets. HUAC went after the ILWU with a vengeance, and the government
repeatedly tried to deport union leader Harry Bridges as a “communist.” But
what stopped them was when hundreds of longshoremen (along with student demonstrators)
stormed into HUAC hearings. That’s what should happen here.
A longshore demonstrator’s sign prophetically proclaimed:
“War on Terror Is a War on Us.” So true, and the response of a class-conscious
workers movement must be to defeat the bosses terrorist “war on terror,”
defeat the imperialist invasion and colonial occupation of Afghanistan and
Iraq, and defeat the capitalist war on labor, oppressed minorities and immigrants
on the home front. This requires a fight to mobilize the power of the
working class to enforce their rights against the imperialist warmongers and
their bloody Cossacks. It requires a political fight to break workers and
minorities from the capitalist Democrats, including liberals like Oakland
mayor Brown and many local politicos, who pose as great friends of labor,
oppose the war and vote motions against the U.S.A. Patriot Act (as the Oakland
City Council did last December) while their cops use potentially deadly force
against workers and demonstrators. It requires building a revolutionary
workers party with a program of unflinching class struggle.
In justifying the April 7 cop assault, government
authorities claimed demonstrators “were secretly in cahoots with the longshoremen’s
union – and, analysts believed, they were bent on shutting down the nation’s
fourth largest shipping port.” Oakland police claimed “a collection of e-mails
and Web postings by leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union
and acquaintances in the anti-war movement” (how did they get those e-mails?)
“suggest ILWU leaders planned to use the protests to demand arbitration at
the port gates and delay going to work” (Oakland Tribune, 18 May).
The police responded with such extreme brutality not because they
feared the spectre of “terrorism,” but because they feared the very real prospect
that the shipping of military cargo could be blocked. In justifying his
actions, Oakland police chief Richard Wood said his “concern” was that “we
would have been overwhelmed…. They could have taken over the whole port, and
we did not want that to happen” (Oakland Tribune, 8 April). No, they
did not want that to happen at the height of the invasion of Iraq, when it
would have had a dramatic effect internationally and also a material impact
on the war, and they were prepared to go to extreme lengths to stop it.
The Internationalist Group has called for workers
strikes against the war and for transport workers to “hot cargo” (refuse to
handle) war material, as rail and port unions did in Scotland and Italy earlier
this year. But while the ILWU has voted several resolutions against the war
and police-state “security” laws like the Patriot Act, the union tops have
consistently refused to undertake workers action and have gone out of their
way to move war cargo. They may “dissent” but they don’t dare to challenge
the vital interests of U.S. imperialism, which they ultimately uphold. Several
left groups which cover Bay Area longshore, including the Communist Party,
International Socialist Organization, Workers World Party and the Spartacist
League, also do not call for the dock workers to boycott military goods.
(The once-Trotskyist SL used to raise this demand, but then abruptly dropped
it during the West Coast port lockout last fall.) The fake-lefts and the
ILWU tops joined in hailing Democrat Barbara Lee for opposing the war powers
resolution against Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 (while covering up the
fact that she voted for the war budget).
An April 10 protest letter from top officials of
the ILWU noted that, “Our union was founded on the blood of workers shot and
killed by police in 1934. We did not tolerate such actions and we certainly
will not tolerate them now.” In the 1934 strike, in addition to the longshoremen
killed by the San Francisco cops on “Bloody Thursday,” a striker in Seattle
was killed by a “non-lethal” tear gas canister. The response of the docks
union in 1934 was to shut down S.F. with a general strike. And today? On April
7, a Local 10 business agent told the press, “They shot my guys. We’re not
going to work today.” The port of Oakland and every West Coast port should
have been shut down over this police atrocity. But instead the ILWU tops
ordered the longshoremen back to work in the name of the sanctity of the
contract! This betrayal dangerously undercut defense of the union against
this attack by the bosses and their government. Now, on November 7, there
should be a mass outpouring of Bay Area labor at the courthouse and then
march on the docks to picket the gates where the demonstrators and longshoremen
were attacked seven months earlier. If thousands of unionists came out to
shut it down, and not just a few hundred antiwar demonstrators, the outcome
would be very different.
The cop atrocity on the Oakland docks will not be
forgotten. As in 1934, the response must be to intensify the class struggle,
not to rely on the bosses’ courts. A revolutionary workers party must be built
that can lead the struggle against imperialist wars, racist attacks and police-state
terror by sweeping away the capitalist system that breeds these scourges,
through international socialist revolution. n
information, see the web site: http://www.defendilwuba.com.
Donations can be sent by check or money order to: Committee to Defend ILWU
BA Jack Heyman, c/o ILWU Local 10; 400 North Point Street, San Francisco,
Go to Oakland
Cops Shoot at Longshore Workers and Antiwar Protesters (7 April
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