Power of Labor
International Labor Action
OAKLAND, October 4–As the threat of federal intervention looms, West Coast longshore workers are hanging tough against the lockout imposed last weekend by the employers’ Pacific Maritime Association. The urgent need of the hour is solidarity action by the rest of labor in the U.S. and internationally.
The longshore workers have called a labor solidarity rally on Saturday (October 5) in the Port of Oakland. Teamster truckers say they will bring their big rigs in a show of support to their brothers and sisters in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, 10,500 of whose members are locked out in 29 ports from Seattle to San Diego. But far more is needed.
Longshoremen from Liverpool to Australia to Charleston, South Carolina have also faced vicious government/employer union-busting. Where they have stood alone, the price has been bitter defeat. Brazilian dockers in the port of Santos in April 2001 fought bloody battles with the military police in defense of the union hiring hall, a key issue in the present West Coast lock-out. But standing together as a class, the workers have the power to defeat the bosses’ drive. Labor action by other transport workers is crucial, particularly the International Longshoreman’s Association on the East Coast. The Internationalist Group has also urged maritime and waterfront unions internationally to carry out walkouts in solidarity with their U.S. fellow workers.
The ILWU is facing not only the union-bashing PMA bosses but a regime in Washington that is hell-bent on bombing the world into submission: yesterday Kabul, tomorrow Baghdad. The fact is, the new terror war on Iraq is also a capitalist war on working people and minorities in the U.S. And the attack on the ILWU is part and parcel of that war. What’s needed above all is powerful internationalist working-class action to defeat the bosses’ war, “at home” and abroad!
The importers are screaming for blood. By Thursday night, more than 150 ships were sitting at docks or anchored at sea up and down the West Coast. Fruit and vegetables are rotting; the New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI) plant in Fremont has shut down production; and numerous companies and trade associations are calling for President Bush to use the Taft-Hartley slave labor law to force longshore workers back to work under the government’s iron heel.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that employers are undertaking a “frantic” search for alternative routes – from Mexico and Panama to the Suez Canal – for their imports and exports. Transport workers everywhere must “hot cargo” (refuse to touch) diverted shipments. Let them rot and rust in the harbors and on the high seas!
Yesterday close to a hundred ILWU members, joined by a hefty contingent from the Marine Engineers, massed at the APL (American President Lines) terminal here, determined to stop shameful scabbing by Machinists union members who have violated longshore picket lines. A union picket boat patrolled the waters near the terminal. Mass pickets are key to drive home the lesson that picket lines mean don’t cross!
Union bashers pushing to “Taft-Hartley” the ILWU say it would give Bush a “PATCO spike” in the opinion polls. They’re referring to Reagan’s crushing of the air controllers in 1981, who were left dangling by the AFL-CIO officialdom. We say, labor must act as one solid fist to make sure there will be no more PATCOs!
Everyone had better understand that this is a knock-down, drag-out fight. Labor-hating bigmouth Joseph Miniace, chief of the PMA, was brought in a few years back to spearhead a “severe and strategic” plan for what the Chronicle (3 October) describes as attacking “the cost of longshore labor…and what [the employers] see as the union’s unreasonable control over the flow of work on the docks.” Management’s contempt for safety has led to the death of five workers in the last seven months alone.
Some of the loudest voices calling on Bush to carry out union-busting action come from Democratic Party politicians, headed up by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. “I believe the president should invoke Taft-Hartley to require an 80-day cooling-off period and a return to work” if the situation is not resolved by the end of this week, said Feinstein, adding that “our nation” cannot afford this dispute when it is “at the brink of war.”
Oakland Democratic “dove” Congresswoman Barbara Lee, far from opposing government intervention outright, said only that “talk of Taft-Hartley is premature” (Oakland Tribune, October 3). Lee was officially congratulated last fall by ILWU Local 10, and hailed by virtually the entire American left, for dissenting from the vote of war powers for Bush. However, Lee then turned around and voted tens of billions for the U.S. terrorist “war on terrorism.”
The Wall Street Journal today reported on its front page that “Use of Taft-Hartley Often Gives Poor Result.” They’re worried that out of the 35 times that the “emergency” provisions of this union-busting law have been invoked since it was enacted in 1947, in the ten cases where Taft-Hartley led to a bitter strike, “most involved longshore workers.” The voice of the stock market cautioned that the ILWU “is no pushover.”
Labor has the power to bust the union-busters and their anti-labor laws. Faced with repeated government strike-breaking during World War II, the coal miners said, “You can’t mine coal with bayonets.” The last time Taft-Hartley was invoked – when Democratic president Jimmy Carter tried to break the 110-day coal strike of 1977-78 – the miners burned the injunctions. Well, you can’t load ships and operate those giant cranes with bayonets either.
Some of Bush’s advisors fear that if he imposes Taft-Hartley it could backfire and “energize” the labor movement. This fear could be turned into reality – if labor mobilizes now and meets government intervention with strike action by strategic sectors of organized labor.
This perspective is counterposed to the absurd call for a consumer boycott being put forward by groups like the Workers World Party who are part of a Bay Area Port Solidarity Committee. Instead of a fight to mobilize workers power, these reformists have called for atomized consumers to stop buying Payless shoes and other products – goods which were already unloaded by the longshore workers!
Consumer boycotts are at best an impotent measure, often called by bureaucrats to cover up their sellout of a strike, and can even hurt the very workers they are supposed to be supporting. What’s necessary is to mobilize working-class power, especially when employer associations willing to spend billions of dollars on union-busting are geared up for war on labor with the backing of the government.
If “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” as the old saying goes, it is a favorite weapon of labor-hating scoundrels. Up until now there have been strikingly few patriotic slogans on the picket lines in the Bay Area. However, official signs designed to chime in with the bosses’ war fever and jingoism are now making their appearance, signs like “America Held Hostage by Corporate Greed,” and “Fight Terrorists Not American Workers.” This comes on the heels of union president Jim Spinosa’s acceptance of federal “mediation,” and is accompanied by attempts by a number of union leaders to redbait anyone who brings “outside causes, campaigns, or issues” to the picket lines (ILWU Local 10 Longshore Bulletin, 3 October).
An older ILWU member who spoke on the picket lines with a reporter for The Internationalist recalled how Tom Ridge used “national security” in an attempt to intimidate the union, calling Bush’s “homeland security” czar “the head of our American Ge-stapo.” For decades, the ILWU was accused of “anti-Americanism.” Recall when the House Un-American Activities Committee came to SF in 1959-60, and longshoremen joined with students in driving the HUAC witchhunters out of town.
The fact is that a raft of “anti-terrorist” measures are aimed straight at destroying hard-won union gains, part of an assault on the most fundamental democratic rights and civil liberties. Particularly targeted are immigrant workers like the largely Latino independent port truckers, who have been the object of chauvinist attacks by the ILWU tops. The “Maritime Security Act” provides for a broad witchhunt against labor, blacks and immigrants.
As Bush prepares to rain death on the Iraqi people, the ILWU bureaucracy has agreed to load military cargo. Spinosa declared that the union has “told the military that our obligation to this country and to our military effort is one that we will not move away from.” Incredibly, after quoting this, the response of the International Socialist Organization’s Socialist Worker (October 4) is to claim, “In fact, the military isn’t part of the PMA and is unaffected by the lockout.” Oh really? In fact, the Oakland Tribune (3 October) reports, the PMA and the ILWU leaders “reached an agreement over allowing longshoremen into a terminal at the Port of Oakland to unload military cargo.”
The Internationalist Group has called for international working-class action against the war on Iraq and in defense of the countries targeted by U.S. rulers’ aggression, including strikes, labor boycotts and protests. Those who glory in being allowed to help the bosses’ government prepare an imperialist war will never stand up to that same government when it uses the military or National Guard to enforce union-busting.
There is widespread opposition among working people to a war on Iraq. In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Labor Council passed a motion on August 26 accusing the Bush government of trying to use its “endless war” as a weapon against the ILWU and “as an opening wedge against the entire labor movement by threatening government intervention on the West Coast docks under the guise of ‘Homeland Security’.” The resolution ended: “No New War Against Iraq – Keep the Government Off the Docks!” But in complaining that the U.S. was “wasting billions of dollars on the Iraq war build-up” instead of social programs, the motion is at bottom social-chauvinist in character, reducing imperialist mass murder to a matter of budget priorities.
It is necessary to mobilize working-class opposition to the imperialist war on an internationalist basis of class struggle, rather than bourgeois liberal/reformist pressure politics. To fight against the war and keep the government off the docks, shut the ports down tight – no exceptions – and no military cargo moves.
That means fighting for a nationwide dock strike, for a political break with the capitalist parties, and for a class-struggle leadership of the workers movement. Bush and Ridge want workers to bow down to their “fatherland” of profits, racism and war. But Karl Marx had it right when he said “The workers have no fatherland… Workers of all countries, unite!” This is the program of international socialist revolution continued by Lenin and Trotsky.
Today genuine working-class internationalism is more crucial than ever in the defense of all the working people against the capitalist labor-haters who seek to bust unions and militarize the docks. This means breaking from the Democrats (and their shills like the Green Party), and forging a workers party to lead the working class in establishing a workers government that will take the docks, ships, factories and all the wealth created by labor away from the exploiters, and put them in the service of the workers and oppressed. Then we can lock out the bosses once and for all.
OAKLAND, October 1–Longshore workers are voicing determination to defend hard-won union gains in the face of the indefinite lockout declared last weekend by the bosses’ Pacific Maritime Association. With ports from Seattle to San Diego at a virtual standstill, huge container ships lie idle in Oakland’s harbor, the area’s largest. The port’s enormous cranes are silent and cargo trains are backed up all the way to the Nevada border.
As a black woman worker with 13 years in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) told reporters for The Internationalist, “We’re ready to do whatever is necessary to hold on to what we have through our union. These are the things our brothers died for in 1934,” in the historic strike in San Francisco that established the union hiring hall and laid the basis for crucial union gains.
One of the workers’ key concerns is that the PMA wants to impose port-by-port bargaining in order to cripple the union, eliminating the coastwise bargaining won after the ’34 strike.
ILWU members, who have thrown up picket lines at the cargo terminals and docks, express a keen awareness that the PMA’s lockout is a union-busting assault. “The PMA is playing hardball,” one picketer told us. Today the head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS) showed up for a meeting with representatives of the employers and the union. When ILWU leaders arrived at the FMCS office in Oakland, they were met by gun-toting “security” guards hired by the PMA. The union representatives walked out, denouncing the employers’ new attempt at intimidation.
In fact, federal “mediation” is just the softer face of government intervention. Earlier, Bush’s homeland “security” czar Tom Ridge attempted to cow the union into submission.
Workers’ determination was clear this morning at 7 a.m. in front of the Matson Lines terminal, where a solid group of longshoremen linked arms to defend the principle that picket lines mean don’t cross.
Scandalously, International Association of Machinists (IAM) union officials have been trying to herd their members across ILWU lines. Some machinists are reportedly taking water taxis in order to slip into terminals from the back!
ILWU picketers voiced their resolve to make sure this kind of back-stabbing stops and that their lines – in a fight that affects all of labor in the clearest way – will be respected.
Shipping worth as much as $1 billion a day is being held up as the maritime bosses seek to provoke direct intervention from the federal government. “Export Industry Fears Disaster,” headlined today’s San Francisco Chronicle. It reports that companies from J.C. Penney to the New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI) plant in Fremont are crying bloody murder “as their precious cargo remained logjammed along 29 West Coast ports.”
If U.S. seamen’s unions walked off ships in response to the lockout, this would be the first time since the ’34 strike that this kind of joint struggle with the longshore workers took place.
Longshore workers face the danger that Bush will use the slave-labor Taft-Hartley law against the union. Veteran unionists remember Reagan’s busting of the PATCO air-traffic controllers’ union, which could have been defeated if machinists, Teamsters and other key unionists had shut down the airports. There must be no new PATCOs!
The PMA’s lockout is an attack on all labor, and the entire workers movement must mobilize in militant action against any government strike-breaking. In particular, the employers’ attack is a gun held to the head of all transport workers, including the East Coast International Longshoremen’s Association. The ILA should take action now in defense of the ILWU. The Internationalist Group has also urged maritime and waterfront unions internationally to take solidarity action in support of the West Coast U.S. longshore workers.
“Bush Hands Off” reads a large sign at one of the picket sites. Facing a government of arrogant plutocrats who are pumped up to unleash a new “Desert Slaughter” against Iraq, unionists face powerful enemies. Union bureaucrats seek to keep a lid on militancy while pushing illusions in the capitalist Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the Democrats are demanding that Congress push through even more draconian “security” measures on the docks. This is aimed straight at the labor movement. Waving the flag, the bureaucrats chain workers to the bosses’ parties when what is urgently needed is a genuinely internationalist workers party.
The fight won’t be won by playing by the bosses’ rules, or letting the employers keep the initiative in this high-stakes face-off. It is only by mobilizing the class power of all labor, fighting for a class-struggle program and leadership at the head of all the oppressed, that the capitalists’ onslaught can be defeated. Longshore workers are standing today on the front lines of the defense of the entire working class.
Go to Strike Now to Defend ILWU Union Gains! (7 July 2002)
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