Labor's Gotta Play Hardball to Win!

Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
(November 2011). 
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Chicago Plant Occupation Electrifies Labor
(December 2008). 
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May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down
U.S. West Coast Ports

(May 2008)

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The Internationalist
April 2015

ILWU Dock Workers to Shut Port of Oakland & March on City Hall
South Carolina AFL-CIO Calls for Workers Solidarity Across U.S.

ILWU Local 10 dock workers march in San Francisco on May Day 2008 in the first-ever strike action by U.S. workers against U.S. imperialist war. The work stoppage shut down all 29 West Coast ports demanding an end to the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as support for immigrant rights.

Police murders of unarmed black and brown people continue without letup across the United States. Despite the national uproar this fall over the grand jury verdicts letting off the cops who chokeholded Eric Garner to death in Staten Island, New York and shot 17-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the forces of racist “law and order” are still on a deadly rampage. On April 4 in North Charleston, South Carolina, Walter Scott, a black worker, was shot eight times in the back by a police officer in a traffic stop. The cold-blooded murder was caught in a bystander’s cellphone video that has been seen by millions.

Working people across the country are outraged. Now key unions have decided they’ve had enough, the time has come to act. In an April 16 statement, the South Carolina AFL-CIO announced it would “reach out to workers around the country to join with us on May 1st in actions to protest the continuing unjustified killings.” The labor federation added, “We want to commend ILWU Local 10 for your courageous actions of solidarity.” On May 1 the West Coast longshore local will hold a stop-work meeting, shutting down the Port of Oakland and marching on City Hall to demand “Stop Police Killings of Black and Brown People.”

This could be huge, which is why the bosses, bureaucrats and Democrats may try to block it – and why class-conscious workers and all opponents of racism should take it up and spread it. There have been numerous protests against police killings in recent months, but this is the first union appeal specifically for bringing out the power of working-class action. Organized labor together with millions of African American, Latino, poor and working people and all defenders of democratic rights are the social force that can bring the wheels of society to a stop in protest against the police murder machine. But we must use that power.

We urge workers across the country to mobilize on May 1 against racist police terror! With rallies, marches and strike action, unions and labor supporters should bring our collective strength to bear, demanding these killings must stop!

Cold-blooded murder. Above: Cellphone video shows killer cop shooting Walter Scott in back. Below: Photo of Walter Scott with his family.

Police in the U.S. killed 1,100 people last year. So far in 2015, from January 1 to April 19, at least 350 civilians have been killed by cops. And that’s just based on published accounts. Young and not so young black men are particularly at risk: in 2012, once a day a black man was killed by cops or vigilantes. Often under-reported, black women have also been in the crosshairs of police terror. Immigrants, too, are prime targets, including Mexican workers like Antonio Zambrano Montes, killed in February by cops in Pasco, Washington. With or without papers, workers must rely on their own strength and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants!

Union workers and their families have felt the scourge of racist police terror. In New York City, Eric Garner’s sister, mother and aunt were all transit workers, members of Transport Workers (TWU) Local 100. In South Carolina, the brother of Walter Scott, a fork-lift operator, and two other family members belong to International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422. Anti-union terror is rampant in this Lowcountry redoubt of the Old South. Recently the International Association of Machinists (IAM) called off a vote on union representation at the Boeing aircraft plant in North Charleston after organizers were threatened at gunpoint.

And the police kill with impunity: even after massive protests, despite calls for special prosecutors and federal investigations, nothing has stopped – or even slowed – the wanton police violence. When a bystander records the cold-blooded murder on a cellphone, as Ramsey Orta did on Staten Island, it is the witness who is jailed, while the killer cops go free. It’s not a matter of a few “bad cops,” it’s a whole system of racist repression. The system is capitalism, and since the days of chattel slavery it has been based on the brutal exploitation, oppression and repression of black people.

Wanton police murder goes hand in hand with military repression of demonstrators. The U.S.’ endless “war on terror” abroad is directly linked to the unending police killing spree that is terrorizing African American, Latino and immigrant populations “at home.” Taking action on the burning question of state repression can and must also spur labor to use its muscle to unionize low-wage workers. On April 15, over 60,000 marched in union-sponsored protests demanding a $15/hour minimum wage. But even that minimal increase won’t be won by looking to Obama’s Democratic Party of imperialist war, racist repression and poverty pay.

Internationalist contingent calling for workers action at August 23 Staten Island march against police murder of Eric Garner, Michael Brown.  (Internationalist photo)

Last summer following the choke-hold killing of Eric Garner we said that the TWU should strike to shut down the mass transit system which is vital to the world center of finance capital. After the police murder of Michael Brown we wrote, “The fight to put a stop to racist cop terror must mobilize the force that has the power to bring the capitalist system to a grinding halt: the millions-strong multiracial working class.” Calling for “Labor/Black/Immigrant Mobilization Now!” we urged: “Mobilize Across U.S. Against Racist Police Terror in Missouri” (The Internationalist, August 2014).

In the face of mass outrage, some unions did protest then. In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers, 1199 hospital workers and 32BJ janitors of SEIU, nurses, PSC university faculty and staff joined a “March for Justice” on Staten Island. Calling to “Mobilize NYC Unions’ Power Against Racist Police Terror!” and denouncing the Democratic and Republican parties of war and repression, the Internationalist Group, CUNY Internationalist Clubs and Class Struggle Education Workers organized a contingent.

Many unions have issued statements against trigger-happy police, but declarations will not stop this deadly plague. It is high time for labor action. The South Carolina AFL-CIO appeal and ILWU Local 10 action in Oakland, California point towards what needs to be done. In Portland, Oregon, Painters Local 10 and IATSE Local 28 have passed resolutions of solidarity with immigrant workers facing police repression in Pasco, Washington, and have voted to march against police killings on May 1. Class Struggle Workers Portland and the Internationalist Group urge other unions and all workers to take up this struggle.

San Francisco/Oakland dock workers of ILWU Local 10 have shown the world what labor solidarity action means. Time and again they have put into practice the union’s slogan, “An Injury to One Is an Injury to All.” They shut down the port to demand freedom for class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. They boycotted ships to protest South African apartheid and Zionist Israel’s wars. On May Day 2008 they spearheaded the shutdown of all Pacific Coast ports to stop the U.S. war on Iraq and Afghanistan, the first strike by U.S. workers against a U.S. imperialist war. Today they’re targeting racist police terror. Their action speaks for us all!

The May 1 action by ILWU port workers should be taken up by Bay Area labor and unions across the country. The Internationalist Group calls upon workers everywhere to unite with the African American, Latino and immigrant population in a massive show of our strength. We have the power, the working-class power, to send the bosses and their hired guns packing. Now is the time to use it! Turn May Day 2015 into a clarion call for working-class action against racist police terror. Join together to stop the killer cops! Turn the watchword into reality: Asian, Latin, Black and White – Workers of the World, Unite!