Mobilize Labor/Black/Immigrant Power Against Cop Terror!
ILWU Shutdown of West Coast Ports Points the Way Forward
In ILWU shutdown of all 29 West Coast ports against police brutality and systemic racism, thousands marched through the Port of Oakland as the giant cranes in the distance stood idle with their booms up, June 19.
On June 19, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union
(ILWU) shut down all 29 ports on the West Coast against police
brutality and systemic racism. The ILWU’s action on
Juneteenth, the day that is commemorated as the official end
of slavery in the U.S., was widely applauded as another
example of solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests that
have swept the country in the last few weeks. But it was much
more than that. Shutting down international commerce across
the Pacific, even briefly, was a dramatic demonstration of
workers’ power in defense of the oppressed. The police murder
machine can only be checked by mobilizing a greater power,
that of the multiracial, multiethnic working class.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the port shutdown was accompanied by a mass rally and march of thousands through the port and on to Oscar Grant Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall, named after the 22-year-old black man murdered by a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop on New Year’s Day 2009. At the port, the rally was addressed by leaders of ILWU Locals 10 and 34, and by veteran black leftist activists Angela Davis and Danny Glover. Also speaking was Boots Riley, filmmaker and leader of Occupy Oakland, which sparked a port shutdown in 2011. At City Hall, speakers included the father of Mike Brown, killed by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. There was also a march in Seattle of 1,000 or more union members, family and community supporters led by ILWU Local 19.
Today, when the Democratic Party is desperately trying to
divert protests into the safe channels of bourgeois politics,
demagogically using vague demands to “defund” or even
“abolish” the police, there is an urgent need for revolutionary leadership. At the port, Davis (who recently came out for voting for Democrat Joe Biden in November) called for “abolishing the police as we know them” and “re-imagining the meaning of public safety and security.” Instead, the key task is to break from the Democrats and fight for a socialist revolution, the only way to put an end the endemic racism of U.S. capitalism. At the rally in Oscar Grant Plaza by Jack Heyman, a retired Local 10 member, class-struggle longshore activist and one of the organizers of the June 19 shutdown. Heyman told the crowd:
“We are here today to stop police terror and systemic racism. The name of that system is capitalism, racist capitalism. This country was founded on the genocide of the Native Americans. It was built on the blood and sweat of black slaves from Africa…. The workers of the world have power to change the capitalist system. What we did here today is an example, it’s a step forward. We are going beyond protest to resistance to the capitalists.”
He noted that American capitalism has an Achilles heel: “In the cities of this country, all of the transit is run by black and brown majority workers. They have a stake in this fight. We can shut the whole damn country down.” He added, as the crowd cheered, “We need a revolution.” Referring to Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders’ call for a “political revolution,” Heyman said this amounted to “changing one capitalist party for the other. Now if you think that Biden is going to end police killings, you’re fooling yourself. Joe Biden wrote the 1994 Clinton crime bill that reinforced mass incarceration and militarization of the police. That’s what we’re facing today.” He ended, saying: “There is no justice under capitalism. We don’t need a ‘political revolution,’ we need a social revolution to replace the capitalist class with the working class.”
The Internationalist Group sent a team from Los Angeles and Portland to the Bay Area port action, and also to Seattle to join the protests there. (See the report, “ILWU Port Shutdown: Bay Area March/Rally Against Racist Police Brutality” on our blog “Revolutionaries in the Class Struggle.”) In New York City on Juneteenth, the IG organized a revolutionary contingent of dozens marching under a banner declaring: “Democrats Are the Bosses of the Racist Killer Cops/The Police Can’t Be ‘Reformed’/For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution.” From the outset of protests over the murder of George Floyd, as in the past, the IG has sought to bring about workers strikes against racist repression, including the ILWU coast-wide shutdown, calling to mobilize labor/black/immigrant power against racist cop terror.
At demonstrations in New York, Los Angeles, Portland and
Seattle the IG and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth
distributed hundreds of copies of the leaflet printed below:
ILWU Local 10 leads march of thousands from Port of Oakland, California, to City Hall denouncing police murder, May Day 2015, following death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore, MD cops.
JUNE 16 – The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has announced that it will shut down all 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast on June 19, in honor of George Floyd and to protest “police brutality and systematic racism.” This is a big step forward, as daily and nightly mass protests of thousands continue in city after city as well as small towns across the United States three weeks after Floyd was brutally murdered by a Minneapolis cop. Earlier, on June 9, ILWU members stopped work and laid down their tools at the time of Floyd’s funeral for a symbolic 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that killer cop Derek Chauvin dug his knee into his victim’s neck, as George Floyd gasped “I can’t breathe.”
From the outset of the protests, and for many years leading up to the current crisis, the Internationalist Group has called to mobilize labor/black/immigrant action against racist police terror. The present protests, bringing out hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of demonstrators, are larger and more integrated than the Black Lives Matter marches that arose in 2014-15 after the police murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many others. But the largely spontaneous upheaval has generally put forward vague demands, such as “defund the police.” Now the Democratic Party, whose mayors and governors ordered the brutal repression of protests by police and the National Guard, is attempting to coopt those demands, seeking to channel and contain the mass outrage.
While the outcome of the earlier BLM protests dissipated amid toothless reforms and more cop terror, the ILWU’s action points to the need for class struggle against racist repression. The latest police murders have come at the start of what looks to be a long hot summer: cops have already killed another 150 people in the three weeks since George Floyd was murdered. To put a stop to this killing spree, we need to bring out the tremendous power of the multiracial and multiethnic working class. While police terror cuts short the lives of an unending list of black and brown people, these doubly-oppressed sectors are a key part of the workforce in strategic sectors like manufacturing, communications and transport. The next time police carry out a racist murder – and you know there will be a next time, and then another – we need a mobilization of working people, young people, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, immigrants and all the oppressed, to shut the cities down.
The West Coast dock workers union has a long history of action against police attacks. The ILWU was born out of the 1934 San Francisco general strike, launched in response to the “Bloody Thursday” massacre in which cops shot two strikers in the back. That’s a reason why the constitution and bylaws of ILWU Local 10 in the SF Bay Area, which spearheaded the push to shut down the Coast on June 19, ban police from membership. In October 2010, Local 10 shut down the Port of Oakland and led a rally at City Hall to protest the slap-on-the-wrist “involuntary manslaughter” verdict against the cop who murdered Oscar Grant. And on May Day 2015, after the murder of Freddie Gray by police in Baltimore, Local 10 shut the port and led a march of thousands to City Hall behind an ILWU banner saying, “Stop Police Terror!” And in August 2017, the fascist “Patriot Prayer” scurried out of SF, cancelling its planned rally after Local 10 passing a motion to shut down the port and march to stop their dangerous provocation.
Press conference announcing ILWU shutdown of all West Coast ports on Juneteenth against police terror and systemic racism, Oakland, June 16.
At a press conference today announcing an ILWU-sponsored demonstration in conjunction with the port shutdown on June 19, Local 34 president Keith Shanklin emphasized that the struggle against racist police brutality is not just political but also personal: his nephew was shot in the back twice by Oakland police. Local 10 president Trent Willis noted that his brother was killed by MPs at a base in Colorado. At the press briefing, Jack Heyman, who was introduced by Willis as a retired Local 10 member and “freedom fighter,” noted that in 1984, longshore workers took action “against a ship from apartheid South Africa, to protest racist repression there, with people being shot down like dogs. The same thing is happening today in this country, which is why we’re shutting down every port on the West Coast to protest these murders by the police.”
In addition to the outrage over the police murder of Floyd, the initiators of the ILWU port shutdown were impelled to take action by President Donald Trump’s threats of gunfire against protesters, and Democratic and Republican governors calling in the National Guard to suppress demonstrations. This posed the urgent need for action by both the West Coast union and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), representing East and Gulf Coast ports. Heyman reports that efforts to bring out the ILA on June 19 have not borne fruit, but the pandemic of police killings will surely continue. A shutdown of all U.S. ports would be history-making, and could serve as a clarion call to all of labor that the time to act is now.
Many in the left, and many in the labor movement, will no doubt see the ILWU’s port shutdown as just one more sector joining the struggle, simply a welcome addition to the “chorus of voices speaking out” against police brutality. They fail to see the strategic importance of what is probably the most powerful union in the United States demonstrating its ability to shut down international commerce. They are willfully blind to the fact that the fight over racist police murder is a fight for power – class power. The rulers, however, understand this well, which is why Democrats and Republicans alike called in military forces – whether the Guard or the 82nd Airborne – to brutally clamp down on demonstrations.
Donald Trump understands, the police understand, racist reactionaries understand and even some liberal Democrats understand that no amount of “reforms” can alter the fact that the police inevitably carry out racist repression, because American capitalism cannot exist without it. From the slave patrols to the mass incarceration and wanton slaughter by kill-crazy cops on the streets of the U.S. today, the enforcers of “law and order” are the armed fist of capital. Their job is to “serve and protect” the bourgeoisie by keeping the exploited and oppressed down, in order to keep the profits flowing. The capitalists are acutely aware that amid the mass unemployment occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, their rule rests on shaky foundations.
The ILWU action has been called for Juneteenth, which celebrates the day – 19 June 1865 – that slavery was formally abolished in Texas, the last of the Confederate slave states to be occupied by the Union Army, bringing the Civil War to a close. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued two years earlier, it was only enforced by the army that for the first time included African American soldiers – some 180,000 – and carried out the Second American Revolution. Unlike the first, this was a (partial) social revolution, putting an end to the chattel slavery on which the U.S. economy was built. Yet the slave masters kept the plantations, and slavery outside the secessionist states was not abolished until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865.
But the legacy of slavery lives on, and not only in the statues of leaders of the Confederate slavocracy that litter the South (and the U.S. Congress), some of which are now finally coming down amid the upheaval over the murder of George Floyd. That bloody heritage continued with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the institution of Jim Crow segregation, the thousands of lynchings, the denial of voting rights to African Americans, the racist death penalty and the mass incarceration and militarized police occupation of black neighborhoods today. This systemic racism is built into the structure and fabric of U.S. society. It is, as we have written, part of the DNA of American capitalism and cannot be extirpated short of a socialist revolution.
Today around the country there have been a number of important cases in which workers have refused to go along with the police repression – like bus drivers in Minneapolis and New York who refused to transport arrested demonstrators. In NYC, the Transport Workers Union declared: “TWU Local 100 Bus Operators do not work for the NYPD. We transport the working families of NYC, all TWU Operators should refuse to transport arrested protestors.” So far, these are still isolated instances. What is needed is far more, workers action to bring the cities to a screeching halt against racist repression. And above all, this class battle must be waged politically against all capitalist parties and politicians, to build a revolutionary workers party.
Class Struggle Workers – Portland and Internationalist Group in May 31 march denouncing murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, MN cop.
While the labor tops and reformist left fall into line behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who helped write the 1994 Clinton crime bill that escalated racist mass incarceration, working-class political independence is crucial for unchaining workers power. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, comrades of the Internationalist Group and Class Struggle Workers – Portland (Oregon) initiated a resolution passed by the local painters union (IUPAT Local 10) to “call on the labor movement to break from the Democratic Party, and build a class-struggle workers party.” Later that year, the CSWP won the painters, stage hands (IATSE Local 28) and a total of seven area unions to call for labor and its allies to mobilize against racist/fascist threats. The IG and the League for the Fourth International have also fought for over two decades to oust cops from the unions – a demand now becoming increasingly popular – which our Brazilian comrades uniquely carried out, and for which they faced heavy repression.
Labor/black/immigrant mobilization against racist police terror, the struggle for cops out of the unions, workers defense against racist attacks – these are key immediate tasks today. To be successful, they must open the way to ending systemic racism by overthrowing the capitalist system that breeds and enforces it. The only way to break the death grip of the killer cops is to smash the whole racist police/prison/judicial apparatus of the capitalist state through socialist revolution. On June 19, the IG and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth will be marching in New York, together with Class Struggle Education Workers, Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas and the CUNY Internationalist Clubs in a revolutionary contingent behind the banner:
Democrats Are Bosses of Racist Killer Cops
THE POLICE CAN’T BE “REFORMED”
BLACK LIBERATION THROUGH SOCIALIST REVOLUTION
Capitalism is killing us. This decrepit system spreads death and destruction everywhere as it sinks further into terminal decay. We urge you to join us in the liberating struggle for the future of all. ■