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Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
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Solidarity with Longview Longshore Workers
Protesters in New York Slam Military Union-Busting
Seventy-five demonstrators came out in drenching rain to show solidarity with dock workers in
Longview, Washington on January 23. (Internationalist photos)
JANUARY 23 – Chanting “What’s disgusting? Coast Guard union-busting,” some 75 protesters demonstrated for an hour and a half in soaking rain in front of the Federal Building in downtown New York City today. They were denouncing the government’s announced plan to use the U.S. Coast Guard against the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Longview, Washington. For the last year, the ILWU ranks have militantly fought against an attempt to break their union by a giant consortium, EGT, which has opened a new $200 million grain export terminal in the West Coast port which it is operating with scab labor. This government/employer attack on the strongest and most combative union in the U.S. is a threat to all labor.
Workers have responded to the threat. The armed Coast Guard cutters and helicopters are to be deployed along with a massive police presence to suppress protests when a ship arrives to load grain from the scab terminal, which could occur at any time in the next few weeks. ILWU longshore workers, Longview area unions and Occupy groups have announced plans, including caravans from as far away as the San Francisco Bay Area, to mobilize when the ship arrives. There was talk in the Portland, Oregon region of organizing a flotilla of small boats on the Lower Columbia River – a floating picket line – in support of the struggle of ILWU Local 21.
Today’s NYC protest brought together supporters of a number of area unions, student and left groups. The Professional Staff Congress (union of faculty and staff at City University of New York) endorsed the demo and was represented by at least a dozen members. A PSC resolution “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms” this “use of the military as part of a union-busting campaign to lower the cost of labor on the waterfront and destroy the union.” Other endorsers included the Labor Outreach Committee of Occupy Wall Street, as well as Occupy Dallas, and a number of Occupy activists joined in the demo. Also present were City University students and representatives of Transport Workers Union Local 100, which struck NYC subways and buses in 2005 in defiance of the state Taylor Law banning strikes by public sector workers.
Speaking to the protesters outside the Federal Building, Sándor John, a PSC union delegate and member of Class Struggle Education Workers, noted that the maritime bosses seek “to break union control of hiring and union power on the West Coast and throughout the ports.” John noted: “That power was born out of the San Francisco general strike of 1934, when cops shot longshore workers dead for fighting for rights for all working people. The longshore workers have repeatedly shut down the coast against union-busting, against the vicious imprisonment of our brother Mumia Abu-Jamal and for his freedom, and against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is because of this power that the bosses and their government want to break the union.”
Jackie DiSalvo, also of the PSC and active in Occupy Wall Street, said that we are living in a “plutocracy, ruled by money”: “Workers do not have rights in this country, property has rights. The ‘right’ to exploit labor is the first and unchallengeable right.” She pointed to the Taft-Hartley Act, “which makes it illegal to show solidarity with your fellow workers and hold sympathy strikes,” as well as New York’s Taylor Law. But while labor leaders are “terrified” of these laws, in Madison, Wisconsin last year she felt “something really new was happening in this country, as workers across the board went and occupied the capital.”
Christine Williams, an executive board member of Transport Workers Local 100, stressed that “the Democrats, the so-called friends of labor, are doing this” to the ILWU. The TWU is going through a contract fight, the government is interfering with the longshore union, “Who’s next? We have to be ready to mobilize to block that ship. Power to the workers!”
Marjorie Stamberg, a United Federation of Teachers delegate and CSEW member, said that in New York, where teachers are being scapegoated daily in the press, “we’re under attack not only from Bloomberg but also from the Democrat Cuomo, and centrally from President Obama.” The focus of this drive to break union power on the West Coast is the ILWU. Still, “I’m in the biggest union in New York, but the biggest obstacle to us fighting is our union bureaucracy, which is tied in a thousand ways to the Democrats, which always tries to conciliate and not fight. That’s why Daniel DeLeon called them the ‘labor lieutenants of capital.’ We need a workers party, to break all ties to Democrats and Republicans. In the unions we have to oust the labor bureaucracy and build a class-struggle leadership so that we can fight for workers power.”
Roberto Meneses from Jornaleros Unidos (United Day Laborers) said that day laborers “know how difficult it is to confront the capitalist system.… Now the bosses have to use the police and the military to try to destroy the unions. In Mexico, the illegitimate president issued a decree and used the army to destroy the union of the electrical workers. We can’t allow this to continue, because if this goes on they are going to get rid of all the unions, here, in Mexico and everywhere.”
Jan Norden of the Internationalist Group, which initiated the united-front demonstration, reported: “I was just out in Longview, in Seattle and Portland for a week with the workers there. The support that they have gotten around the world has enabled them to hold out,” despite 220 arrests and $300,000 in fines. Moreover, they are undercut by “union leaders who are more afraid of violating the bosses’ laws than they are interested in winning the struggles of the working class. Right now the ILWU, which is arguably the most powerful union in the country, is fighting for its life. The Democratic government of Barack Obama is threatening to do the same thing that the Republican Ronald Reagan did with PATCO [air traffic controllers’ union] in 1981.”
The defeat of the PATCO strike led to decades of union-busting, he noted. “It was defeated centrally because other unions did not support them. The AFL-CIO called an impotent consumer boycott while waltzing through their picket lines.” The 2005 NYC transit strike went down to defeat after three days, although it was solid and enjoyed public support. Why? “The union leadership was not prepared to stand up to the [Taylor] law, they were still tied to the Democratic Party. This underscores that we need a class-struggle leadership of the workers movement, and a workers party to fight for socialist revolution.” “The major unions that led strikes in the 1930s,” he noted, “were all led by reds”: the Communist-led ILWU in San Francisco and the Trotskyist-led Teamsters in Minneapolis.
In addition, there were speakers from the League for the Revolutionary Party, Students United for a Free CUNY and an immigration attorney active in Occupy who noted that the Federal Building is where the ICE immigration police are headquartered and undocumented immigrants are hauled before administrative judges with no rights at all. Signs at the demo noted that in the struggle to unionize the largely immigrant port truckers, a key demand is for “full citizenship for all immigrants.”
A mention was made of breaking news of a “preliminary settlement” between the union and EGT, brokered by the governor of Washington state. Without knowing the content of that reported deal, speakers cautioned that the struggle is not over and urged those present to sign up to be notified in case of repression of protests when the grain ship comes.Endorsers of the January 23 NYC demonstration include: Class Struggle Education Workers; CUNY Internationalist Clubs; Rust Gilbert; Kevin Harrington (vice-president, Transport Workers Union Local 100*); Independent Workers Movement; International Action Center; Internationalist Group; Mark Johnson (Fellowship of Reconciliation USA); Jornaleros Unidos; Labor for Palestine; Labor Outreach Committee of Occupy Wall Street; Laundry Workers Center; League for the Revolutionary Party; New York City Labor Against the War; Occupy Dallas; Ralph Poynter; Professional Staff Congress-CUNY; Socialist Action; Marjorie Stamberg (UFT delegate*, CSEW); Students United for a Free CUNY; Veterans for Peace NYC Chapter 34; Mark Torres (UFT chapter chairman*; People Power Movement); Daniel Vila (Sisa Pakari); Christine Williams (executive board, TWU Local 100*).
(*Affiliation for identification purposes only)
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