May 2007  
For Workers Strikes Against the War! 

Longshore Workers Honor Picket Line,
Shut Down War Cargo Shipper in Oakland

Antiwar pickets shut down terminal of war cargo shipper in port of Oakland, California
May 19.
(Photos: Barucha Calamity Peller)

Yesterday, May 19, in Oakland, California dock workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 refused to cross picket lines outside a notorious war cargo shipping firm, Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), leaving three ships idle for consecutive shifts. The picket was also called against American President Lines (APL), which along with SSA handles war materiel from the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

When scores of picketers blocked the gates at the SSA terminal beginning at 7 a.m., the company eventually gave up and called off the shift. In the evening, an arbitrator ruled that this was not a bona fide “health and safety issue” and ordered the workers to go to work.  However, the dock workers collectively refused. A black longshoreman insisted that there was indeed a safety issue because of the heavy police presence, and everyone there remembered how on 7 April 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began, police shot pointblank at protesters and longshoremen at the same docks, injuring six ILWU members.

Yesterday’s picket line was called by a “popular front” coalition of antiwar groups, the Port Action Committee, rather than a labor group. PAC includes the Oakland Green Party and the pro-Democratic Party United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). In addition, Oakland’s Democratic mayor Ron Dellums sent a sympathetic letter to the PAC. But the Oakland Education Association, which is part of the Action Committee, declared it was holding an official union picket (not a bogus “informational picket line”). Union picket signs declared “OEA Says Honor the Picket Lines.” And ILWU longshoremen did.

The ILWU has officially opposed the war and occupation of Iraq from the outset, as have most Bay Area labor bodies. But paper resolutions have not translated into union action. In May 2006, Local 10 passed a resolution, “Strike Against the War, No Peace, No Work,” calling on unions and working people nationally to “mobilize for a strike action” of 24 hours “to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East.” But the resolution was buried in committee at the union’s annual longshore caucus.

The dock workers’ action shows the depth of anger against the war in the U.S. working class and the real possibility of labor action against the war. Longshoremen emphasized the union’s opposition to the war. Local 10 executive board member Jack Heyman was quoted on Oakland’s KTVU (Channel 2) news saying, “I think the message is loud and clear… If longshoremen at the Port of Oakland can honor picket lines against the war in Iraq, then they can do that in other ports. And this will be the beginning of the end of the war.” At the onset of the U.S.-led imperialist invasion of Iraq, British railway engineers refused to move weapons trains, and Italian rail unions joined with antiwar protesters in seeking to stop shipments of military equipment to Iraq. Labor action in the U.S. would send shock waves around the world.

ILWU dock workers respect antiwar picket line, refusing to go to work on May 19.

Since before the war began, the Internationalist Group has uniquely called for workers strikes against the war and for transportation unions to “hot cargo” (refuse to handle) war cargo. A host of opportunist socialist groups dismissed this call as hopelessly utopian “pie in the sky.” The Spartacist League, which regularly called for such workers action during prior wars, suddenly dropped these slogans on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the time of Democrat Clinton’s bombing of Iraq in 1998, the SL dismissed the IG’s call for hot cargoing, claiming the demand had no “resonance” with workers today. Yet on May 19, West Coast union dock workers were respecting antiwar picket lines and shutting down war shippers.

This can be an important first step toward the mobilization of workers power to shut down the war machine, but that requires a sharp struggle against the bourgeois politics of the antiwar groups and union officialdom. The OEA calls for money for schools not for war, as if it were a matter of budget priorities, and the PAC poster made a social-patriotic pitch to “Bring the Troops Home Now, and give them the care they need.” Such “peace is patriotic” rhetoric is a staple of the UPFJ, but all the antiwar coalitions make similar appeals to garner support from Democratic Party liberals. Revolutionaries and class-conscious workers, in contrast, emphasize that this imperialist war must be opposed by class war.

The Internationalist Group, section of the League for the Fourth International, struggles to defeat the imperialist war abroad and the war on working people and minorities “at home.” Strike action by the unions against the war will mean a direct confrontation with the government and its strikebreaking Taft-Hartley Act. This slave labor law was pushed through Congress by the Democrats at the height of the Cold War. In 2002, it was used against the ILWU on the basis that any strike would harm the “war effort.” The ILWU tops buckled before the government’s threats. Yet in the 1978-79 coal strike, militant miners ripped up Taft-Hartley injunctions. Thus the call for workers strikes and labor boycotts must be part of a fight to oust the pro-capitalist union bureaucrats, break with the Democrats and build a revolutionary workers party.   n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com