Thursday, May 01, 2008
SHUT 'EM DOWN!!!
On May 1, all 29 ports on the U.S. West Coast are to be shut down by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in protest against the U.S. war on Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a historic event of international significance: labor action against imperialist war by a major American union. The strategically placed port workers in the ILWU can bring commerce with Asia to a grinding halt, and they?re about to demonstrate it. The maritime employers are already screaming, and you can bet it's got the attention of the warmongers in Washington. All labor should take up the challenge this poses: For workers strikes against the war! Hit 'em where they feel it.
Meanwhile, immigrants' rights groups are once again mobilizing on May Day. We say: everyone here should have equal rights; otherwise the bosses and reactionaries play one group off against another. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Mobilize labor action to stop the ICE raids! And on April 30 and May 1, the independent truckers who move cargo to and from the docks may play an important role in a shutdown, particularly in Los Angeles (where immigrant truckers closed the port on May Day 2006) and possibly some East Coast ports.
The imperialist war on Afghanistan and Iraq is also a war on immigrants, minorities, working people and democratic rights at home. As a longshore picketer declared in 2002, the War on Terror is a War on Us. We need to defeat this attack here and abroad, in opposition to both the capitalist war parties. The antiwar movement, whose aim has always been to pressure the Democrats, is at a dead end. But a battle is brewing. Workers, immigrants, opponents of imperialist war: All out on May Day!
The Bay Area ILWU local was the first American union to condemn the war. In April 2003, as invading U.S. troops reached Baghdad, six longshoremen were injured and a union official was arrested as police fired on hundreds of antiwar protesters in the port of Oakland. Now, while Democrats in Congress keep voting for the war budget, while all the presidential candidates of the twin parties of American capital vow to keep U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely and to expand NATO occupation forces in Afghanistan, dock workers have decided to shut down the entire Pacific Coast in the most powerful single action in decades aimed at stopping a U.S. war.
When we broke the story last month, many rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Yes, it's for real. In a notice posted on the ILWU website and printed in the union newspaper, The Dispatcher (April 2008), the union announced: Longshore Caucus calls for Iraq war protest at ports on May 1. The resolution by the union's elected delegates called for this unprecedented labor action 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 (see ILWU motion, page 3).
The longshore delegates said they were issuing a clarion call with an urgent appeal for unity of action to all of labor to bring an end to this bloody war once and for all. Now it's up to the rest of us. The workers movement and all opponents of imperialist war should follow the lead of the West Coast waterfront workers.
Industrial action by one of the most powerful and militant American unions against a U.S. imperialist war this is not just a couple of labor bureaucrats mouthing empty phrases at an antiwar rally, dock workers are using their muscle. Although it is a symbolic action stopping work for the day shift, on May Day, the international workers day the symbolism is not lost on the ruling class. It is a warning of big trouble on the home front of their imperialist war, a vivid demonstration that American workers have the power to shut down the war machine and that the most militant sectors are ready to use it.
Around the country, a number of labor bodies have endorsed the ILWU action. As of this writing, this includes the San Francisco, Alameda County (Oakland) and King County (Seattle) Labor Councils, Vermont AFL-CIO, Puerto Rican Teachers Federation (FMPR), U.S. and NYC Labor Against the War, Oakland and California state teachers unions, and others. Postal workers union locals in San Francisco and Greensboro, North Carolina (NALC) and in New York (APWU) are going to stop work briefly on May 1. At the City University of New York, teach-ins and rallies sponsored by chapters of the union of CUNY faculty and staff (PSC) will be held in solidarity with the ILWU port shutdown. Internationally, the ILWU action has been supported by the International Dock Workers Council, the International Transport Workers Federation, UNITE in Britain, and others.
Endorsements are nice, but action is what's needed working-class action more substantial and a lot more of it, and above all independent of the bosses. What that takes is a fundamental break from the Democratic Party and the pro-capitalist politics that infuse the labor bureaucracy.
Maritime Bosses in a Frenzy
The announcement of the ILWU's upcoming action caught the attention of some in the media. The SF Weekly (12 March) headlined, ILWU to Shut Down West Coast Ports on Socialist Holiday. The article reported that after heated discussion, Union rank and file took a vote and made it official: During the eight-hour day shift on May 1, portside traffic in goods between the U.S. and Asia will cease. The San Francisco Chronicle (9 April) published an article by Jack Heyman, the author of the motion that was passed by the union's longshore caucus, who noted:
This decision came after an impassioned debate where the union's Vietnam veterans turned the tide of opinion in favor of the anti-war resolution. The motion called it an imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi civilians were being wasted and declared May Day a no peace, no work holiday. Angered after supporting Democrats who received a mandate to end the war but who now continue to fund it, longshoremen decided to exercise their political power on the docks.
The New York Times also expressed interest in publishing an article, but rejected it when it referred to the 1919 Seattle dock workers' boycott of U.S. arms being shipped to the counterrevolutionary White Armies to fight the Bolsheviks in Russia.
The prospect of a coast-wide work stoppage has certainly shaken up the shipping bosses, particularly coming just as a new contract is being negotiated. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) notified the union on April 3 that it doesn't consent to a stop-work meeting or any other effort to disrupt port operations. Subsequently the PMA threatened the union tops with heavy-duty court action if they don't call it all off. The employers are threatening to bring down an injunction under the slave labor Taft-Hartley Law. The bosses' attempt to stop the port shutdown means that a class struggle is already being waged over this issue.
@ Portland Indy Media
Too bad we cannot get everyone to stay home for a week, don't drive, don't work, stay home and watch TV and eat groceries, most of all don't buy gas.
Ah but alas it will never come to pass.
Whats left of the Union membership (that has not been eliminated by fascists since Ray-gun) is there to do our fighting for us, so keep feeding your gas pig SUV's and pretend nothing is wrong.
It will all be over soon.