Struggles on the Waterfront


There are major struggles heating up around US ports – on the West Coast, the Gulf Coast and the East Coast.  Here we will summarize and analyze the key struggles.  Then we will summarize some of the current debates among radicals and Occupy activists about these struggles. We hope this post can serve as an intro to folks who haven’t been following all of this closely, and we welcome readers to use the comments section a place to debate and discuss the issues at stake.

1) East / Gulf Coast strike?

The International Longshore Association (ILA), the East and Gulf coast longshore union,  recently threatened to strike, when  contract negotiations with the U.S Maritime Alliance  broke down.

Since the 60s, the Alliance has been replacing longshore workers with automated machinery and they want to keep doing that.  The number of workers at the port of New York/New Jersey has decreased from 35,000 to 3,500 since the ’60s.  In compensation for displacing workers from their jobs, they have been paying the workers a royalty for increased production; in the current contract negotiations, they wanted to cut this royalty and the union resisted.

Federal mediators intervened, pushing the standoff until after the November elections and after the busy shipping season before the holidays.  But now the possible strike might coincide with the debates over austerity and the fiscal cliff.

The NY times is currently reporting that there is some sort of settlement in the works around the royalty issue and the strike might be averted.  Apparently the union and the companies are back in negotiations which were extended to Jan 28th.

Retail capitalists worrying about their shipments have attempted to put pressure on Obama to use the anti-labor Taft Hartley act to suppress the strike with an injunction. This would involve a court order threatening fines or legal penalties if the workers continue to strike.

2) Northwest Grain Handlers contract negotiations: possible lockout or strike?

Longshore workers who operate the grain export terminals in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver have been working without a contract since their contract expired on Sept 30th.  They are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the West Coast longshore union, which is a separate union from the ILA on the East and Gulf coasts.  Though the unions recently formed an alliance, its unclear whether or not they are coordinating their contract struggles or planning solidarity actions with each other.

Direct solidarity strikes are illegal under US labor law, so strikes linking struggles on both coasts would require workers to break the law.  As usual under American labor law, the most effective forms of workers’ power are illegal.   One of the reasons why US unions have lost so much of their power over the past 40 years is because they have accepted the limitations on struggle posed by these laws.  When workers strike in defiance of the law or the union leaders who enforce it, such a strike is called a “wildcat” strike.

The once militant and powerful ILWU is now facing aggressive attacks by employers who seem to think they can ride the wave of national union busting to break the union without facing effective resistance.  The coalition of companies that own the Northwest grain export terminals are demanding more control over the work process, including the ability to hire workers without going through the union-run hiring hall, which was one of the major demands of the 1930s strikes and battles that gave birth to the ILWU.

Last year, another grain company, EGT, attempted to open a new high-tech grain export facility at Longview, WA without employing ILWU workers.  A series of strikes and militant protests by longshore workers, and the threat of a massive solidarity mobilization by West Coast Occupy forces opposed this.  Eventually, union leaders used this pressure to negotiate a contract with EGT, but this contract increases restrictions on strikes and other actions on the job, making it more favorable to management then the larger grain contract operating in the rest of the Northwest cities.  In the current grain negotiations,  the other companies are trying to impose the sub-standard elements of the EGT contract on all of the Northwest union locals.

The terminal owners might be preparing for a lockout or strike; they are hiring security and putting replacement workers and tugboats on standby.   (A lockout is when the bosses lock union members out of the workplaces and attempt to run them with replacement workers.)  The Coast Guard is also preparing to try to control and regulate possible protests on the Columbia river.  Last year during the Longview struggle, the Coast Guard threatened to mobilize to repress workers and Occupy activists.

Over one  quarter of the U.S.’s grain exports are handled through ports on the Columbia River and in Puget Sound, and the grain is shipped mostly to Asia.  In that sense, these grain export terminals are not only sites of labor struggle but are also possible sites of struggle over the global food crisis.  Food prices are rising due to Wall St. speculation in commodities and this year’s drought in the US.  Some economists are even predicting food riots as millions more people begin to starve around the world.  The same grain cartels that are profiting while billions go hungry, are now trying to limit the ability of longshore workers to organize themselves and take action on the job.

Since Black Orchid Collective was involved in last year’s Dec. 12th Port Shutdown and the solidarity mobilizations preparing to caravan to Longview, some people have asked us whether we are currently involved in supporting these ILWU contract struggles.

We could see two possible reasons why working class folks who don’t work at the port, including us, might take action at the ports: 1) in solidarity with rank and file workers who are struggling there and 2) because the ports are public property and what happens there affects the entire working class; the goods we produce and consume ship through there.  We got involved in the Longview solidarity actions last year for the first reason and we got invovled in the Dec. 12th port shutdown for the second reason (as outlined here and here).   At this point,  people in Seattle who don’t work at the port are not invovled in struggles there because 1) rank and file port workers have not asked for solidarity from us and 2) the organizing work that other folks and us are doing against deportations and  state repression is not currently focused on the ports the way that Decolonize/ Occupy was last year.

However, we recognize that all of this could change if 1) port workers take action and  ask  the rest of the working class to join them or 2) a social movement emerges in the rest of the class which once again orients toward the ports.  These possibilities are  related to each other; as the articles at the end of this piece argue, actions by port workers can inspire broader struggles, and broader struggles can also inspire actions by port workers.

It is worth noting that post-Occupy networks of activists still exist in Seattle, Portland, the Bay,  and Bellingham, and  folks in Portland and the Bay have already been building support for port labor struggles (see below).  Activists in all four places are collaborating together around various working class struggles.  So in general, although Occupy may have largely died out, the  West Coast networks that were built around the Port Shutdown have not disappeared.  If longshore workers wanted to reach out to these networks with the aim of collaborating to build a working-class wide struggle,  they might be able to galvanize a movement across the West Coast or beyond.

2) Charleston Port Shutdown

We get a glimpse of the possibilities of that kind of larger working class struggle when we look at how community activists and Longshore workers have recently interacted in Charleston, S.C., combining solidarity with Bangladeshi textile workers with a local show of workers’ power.

Bangladeshi textile workers, mostly women, are some of the most exploited workers in the world.  They are also some of the most militant, with a vibrant movement of strikes, blockades, riots, and sabotage that we discussed here.

Recently, 112 Bangladeshi workers were burned alive in a factory fire at a facility that produces goods for Wal Mart.

On Dec 18th, Occupy Wall St. and other activists, explicitly inspired by the Seattle Dec. 12th port shutdown barricade ,  attempted to blockade a ship full of goods produced for Wal Mart by these factory workers.  The blockade failed because they only organized 100 people and the Department of Homeland Security was able to keep them away from the port entrance.   However, this action  inspired people in South Carolina who were planning on picketing the same ship.  They set up an informational picket when the ship docked and  the Charleston longshore workers decided not to cross the picket line, and some of them decided to join it.

There are few inspiring things about this action: 1) it is an example of practical, concrete global international working class solidarity across borders 2)  Bangladesh is a former British colony that is still dominated by European and American capitalists, who use this domination to enforce the low-wage regime that lead to the factory fire and many other atrocities.  It is good to see workers in the US challenging that.  3) The community activists and workers who set up the picket expressed solidarity with the ILA in their upcoming contract fight but did not limit their actions to supporting the union contract fight; they also came with their own working-class-wide demands against Wal Mart and in solidarity with the Bangladeshi workers, which the long-shore workers honored.  They showed that solidarity is a two way street.  This is similar to what we were trying to achieve with the West Coast Port Shutdown last December.

The actions of the Bangladeshi workers go far beyond anything done by US unions in the past half century.   The Bangladeshi workers have not contained their struggles within the limits of contract negotiations and labor law, and instead use whatever weapons they can in order to build their power.  Their struggles also tend to spill out of the factories and into working class slums, becoming mass uprisings, not just narrow labor struggles.  What would it look like if US workers interacted more directly with Bangladeshi workers and learned from them, adopting some of those strategies here?  For example, what if they tried to link their struggles to struggles going on in ghettoes and neighborhoods accross the US?  How would this affect the current workers’ struggles at the ports?  How would it affect the organizing and strikes going on at Wal Marts across the US?

Moving from informational pickets at the port to direct links with Bangladeshi workers would require serious working class organization at an international level, something that goes beyond the legalistic and largely American nationalist perspectives of current US unions.

3) LA clerk strike

Port clerks, part of the ILWU, recently ended an 8 day strike that shut down 10 of the 14 LA/ Long Beach port terminals.  LA/ Long Beach is the West Coast’s largest port complex.  400 members of the union’s clerical unit walked off the job, and 10,000 dockworkers refused to cross the picket lines.   This blocked billions of dollars worth of shipments, disrupting supply chains across the country.

The clerks were striking against the bosses’ attempts to outsource their work to non-union workplaces in other locations.

4) Oakland port strike

SEIU Local 1021 port workers went on strike on Nov. 20th at the port of Oakland, shutting down the port when the ILWU and other port unions refused to cross their picket lines.  Activists from the community, including folks who had been involved in the West Coast Port Shutdown and Occupy Oakland, joined in the picket lines.

Some of them sent this letter to the port workers in solidarity.

Port workers and community activists, including activists from the Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity Committee and the group Advance the Struggle also produced the Turning the Tide  newsletter, attempting to bring together various labor struggles in the port of Oakland.  This newsletter is notable because it is a collaboration of activists from various political tendencies, showing that it is still possible to build post-Occupy networks that can sustain ongoing struggle.

5) Seattle Port Truckers

Truckers in the port of Seattle, mostly East African workers, went on strike in the spring of 2012. Now, they are still struggling against a racist port administration that pays them less than a living wage and denies them access to port bathrooms. They face repression and retaliation in the aftermath of the strike.

6) Issues in the Port of Portland

There have been several labor issues in the port of Portland in addition to the overarching Northwest grain conflict.   First, there was almost a strike by ILWU security guards over local contract issues.  Secondly, one of the port terminals has attempted to hire non-ILWU labor to plug and unplug the refrigerated containers (called reefers in the industry).  The mainstream media portays this as a jurisdictional battle between the ILWU and the electricians union that has gotten the work.  However, the ILWU contends that it is really about the port terminal’s new owner refusing to honor the existing contract with the ILWU.  The bosses allege that the ILWU did a work slowdown this summer over this issue which backed up shipping and threatened to reroute some traffic into other ports.

The terminal’s new owner is Phillippine-based International Container Terminal Service (ICTSI), a company that has been buying up ports across the Third World.  Longshore Shipping News reported the following concerning the ILWU’s response:

Leal Sundet, a coast committeeman for the ILWU, said in the emailed statement that longshore workers are invested in the region’s well being and have toiled for decades to make the Port productive.

“By contrast,” Sundet wrote, “ICTSI’s sole interest in Portland is squeezing profits from our local economy and shipping dollars overseas to its Philippine owners.”

Such comments could be read as falsely equating the profits of ICTSI with the interests of the Philippines as a whole, in contrast to Oregon or American interests.  In reality, Philippines workers are mostly living in poverty and will not see any of the profits that ICTSI makes from the labor of port workers in  Portland and around the world.   The company is headed up by Enrique Razon, part of the global 1%, and the grandson of a Spanish colonist who inherited the port of Manila through his family.   He is building a casino complex which will displace millions of impoverished fishing families from the metro Manila waterfront.  He also owns Monte Oro, a gold mining company that is kicking indigenous people in the Philippines off of their lands.   There are active struggles against the casino and Monte Oro; what if US longshore workers were to team up with the folks involved in these struggles, to wage a joint campaign against ICTSI and Razon?

7) Anti-Coal export struggles

There are growing struggles in the Northwest against plans to build new coal export terminals near Bellingham and along the Columbia River to export coal mined in the Powder River Basin.  Most of the coal would be shipped to China, where residents have been waging militant demonstrations against the pollution caused by burning coal, which may be successful in reducing investment in new coal plants.   The northwest coal would be carried on open coal trains through cities like Portland and Seattle, causing air pollution in working class communities along the tracks.  The Cherry Point coal terminal near Bellingham would be build on indigenous Lummi land. The Lummi nation recently did a protest burning a check on the beach indicating that no matter how much money they are given they will not give up their land.  During the Dec. 12th Port Shutdown last year, a group of activists called the Bellingham 12 blockaded a coal train by locking themsleves to the tracks.  They will soon go on trial for this.  Ongoing mobilizations against coal exports have invovled thousands of people protesting at public hearings regarding the terminal construction.

Some unions are supporting these coal terminals because they claim they will create new union jobs.  However, the number of jobs is relatively low due to automation, and the terminals will could destroy fishing jobs by polluting the water.

8) Struggles vs. the Trans-Pacific Partnership

If unions and environmental groups are at odds about the coal terminals, they seem to be united about opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new free trade deal that would expand NAFTA-like provisions to include trade between the US, Canada, and various Asian and Pacific nations.  The TPP is facing feirce resistance accross the Pacific, including from indigenous Maori groups in New Zealand.   Opponents describe it as a corporate coup that would obliterate local labor and enviornmntal regulations, giving coporations unlimited power.

The wave of automation in ports since the 60s has made global trade deals like this possible by reducing the cost and increasing the speed of trade.  The shipping companies are attempting to limit or dissolve the power of the ILWU and ILA unions in order to further increase this speed and control.  Automated shipping allows the corporations to centralize  their power globally so that they can amass strength to crush local labor and ecological struggles.  Given all of this, resistance to corporate global power logically could focus on the ports as a major site of struggle, something we did last year with the Dec. 12th call to shut down “Wall St. on the Waterfront”.   One of the key questions that remain, however, is how should these broader working class and environmental struggles relate to the specific labor struggles of workers in the ports?

That question has prompted fierce debate among radicals over the past year, debates which are resurfacing because the possible longshore strikes mentioned above are coinciding with the broader mobilizations around coal and international solidarity mentioned above.

Which way forward? 

There are two phases of this debate.  The first round was the debate between Black Orchid Collective and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) (here and here) .  Basically, the ISO argued that the rest of the working class, and specifically the Occupy movement should simply support the ILWU’s struggles and should not try to raise our own demands and struggles around the port.  We responded by saying that solidarity is a two way street, and the Decolonize/ Occupy movement on the West Coast was correct in attempting to build our own struggles against Wall St. on the Waterfront, linking these with rank and file longshore workers’ struggles in Longview.

However, recently this debate has entered a second round, this time among those of us who agree that supporting the union alone is not enough to build a class wide movement against the corporations who run the ports.   Even among folks who do not believe in limiting these sturggles within a trade union framework, questions remain about how much workers and commuity activists should fight around specific contract demands, and how working class community activsits should relate to waterfront workers.

Two key perspectives in this debate are linked here and we hope folks will discuss them in the comments section.

The first article is by Advance the Struggle (AS), a revolutionary Marxist group in the Bay Area.  They argue that the attacks on the waterfront unions are a crucial offensive by the ruling class against the working class, linked to their attempts to automate the ports.  To stop this offensive, all workers should rally to support the waterfront workers.   However, AS argues that the unions alone cannot win these fights because of the way they have adapted themselves to the anti-labor laws passed since the mid 20th century.  So they encourage rank and file port workers to form “class-wide committees” modeled after the strike committees that gave birth to the ILWU in the 30s.  These committees could break from a trade union framework and from labor law, uniting the currently divided waterfront workers, such as longshoremen and port truckers into one unit, and uniting this unit with the rest of the working class:

The U.S. Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, Taft-Hartely in 2002, Wisconsin defeat of 2011, 2009-2011 construction of Longview terminal, put capital into motion to destroy the ILWU. ILWU gives political leverage to the working class by engaging in political shutdowns for the state murder of Oscar Grant, against the war in Iraq including several other examples. The elimination of the union to be able to do this, will no doubt demoralize the working class, making future struggles more difficult. Yet the capacity to fight capital will not rest on the structure of union.  The political organization of port workers, coupled with activists with such a perspective, are possible to form within this historical moment. Revolutionaries aspiring to form such committees cannot do so by protest chasing, or naturalizing leftist gossip. Its only through a serious longterm perspective, sensitive to incorporating immediate ruptures within struggle, that the short and longterm dynamic of struggle can unify within the workers movement. The ports, as a fix workplace, cannot be transfered elsewhere. A spatial analysis of its division of labor is needed to form such committees, to know where and how ports shutdown succesfully. The elimination of the hiring hall will put the labor movement in a position before 1934, losing one of its most notable gains for the working class. The next two years, 2012-2014 will be a key turning point of struggle. A new working class revolutionary offensive can ascend reproducing the spirit of 1934 within today’s conditions, or capital will continue to destroy the union, the hiring hall and walmartize the ports. Port workers and activists, armed with a political perspective for struggle, and be willing to carry out the necessary work, will be a decisive factor in what the outcome is of such struggles.

The second article is by Peter Little from Occupy Portland (Pete can be reached at 2012plittle@gmail.com).  While Advance the Struggle criticized Occupy Oakland for failing to effectively connect with daily working class struggles on the job,  Pete argues that the Dec. 12th port shutdown  “demonstrated how a movement in the streets can be transformed in encounters with the daily struggles of working class life”.  He says that port workers in Longview, WA had called for Occupy to join in their struggle, even if they could not state this publicly because of a gag order by the ILWU leadership:

By the end of the Longview struggle as we sat in secret meetings with workers in Longview, we asked Local 21 members what would happen when the scab ship arrived and thousands of Occupiers stormed in to stop the ship-how would they lead? They answered,”we don’t know, but don’t worry. Just know that we’ll be at the front going through those gates and through that fence. Maybe we’ll just occupy EGT.”

While highlighting such potentials, Pete acknowledges the difficulties in linking ongoing port workers’ struggles with broader working class struggles.  He highlights the destruciveness of coal exports, the need for international solidarity, and concerns about rising food prices, and acknowledges these are reasons why working class activists are interested in intervening in what goes on in the port.  However, he cautions against those who would try to “educate” workers on these issues or present them with platforms of demands to adopt.  He argues that workers’ own experiences in struggle on the job could point the way forward, creating new ways to confront these issues.  He argues this is more likely to happen if workers are confident in their ability to break from labor law and from the limits set by the trade union structure, and that this is more likely to happen if activists outside the workplace intervene confidently with our own self-organization that doesn’t trail behind what the union is doing.  Instead of telling workers how to better wage their contract fights, Pete argues we should figure out how to better wage our own fights agianst corporate control of the waterfront:

There is now the possibility of workers taking action in their daily lives to present an alternative to austerity-and the best of what emerges will not prefigured or formulated ahead of time-but will be created from the struggle itself . If a decent contract happens as a result of our collective struggles, so be it. Our vision cannot be limited to better demands, or to tell the workers at the port how to deal with the bosses or their contract, but instead to bring the perspective and possibilities inherent on how OUR actions together can sow the seeds of another strength, a counter to the power of the multinationals, to Wall Street in New York City or on the waterfront, or even more so to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as an alternative to a global economy unable to pull out of a tailspin.

Both the Advance the Struggle peice and Pete Little’s peice highlight some of the difficulties in building this working class unity.  AS’s peice includes an extended interview with rank and file Seattle longshore workers,  which reaveals the failure of ILWU local 19 to effectively build solidarity with the struggles of port truckers, as well as their failure to overcome racism against Black workers in the hiring process:

According to one source, “Since I’ve been in the industry, the day to day attitudes of longshore workers toward the drivers range from indifference to blatant chauvinism.  Anyone who looks at the demographic composition of these two groups can observe this chauvinism is taking place across racial lines.”  The port truckers are majority East African, and the vast majority of Local 19 is white.

This anonymous source goes on to say that since 2003,

“the percentage of nonwhite [longshore] workers has declined dramatically, as anyone who is not colorblind can notice with a quick visual observation.” In fact, this biased form of hiring has resulted in a public campaign in Seattle.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byv2uhOdHh8

In response to this trend and complaints that grievances filed by Black longshore workers were allegedly not being pursued by the union with the seriousness of similar grievances filed by white longshore workers, a new chapter of the African American Longshore Coalition (which has existed since the early 90s) was organized in Seattle in 2005.  The  AALC delivered a report about some of these issues to the Black-majority Bay Area Longshore local 10,  after which Local 10 made a decision to temporarily withhold some of its pro rata dues money from the International on the eve of the 2006 ILWU convention, in hopes that at least some of these issues would be resolved as a result.  However, as one longshore worker put it, “This action by Local 10 was short lived whereas retaliation against  the Seattle AALC and those who supported its’ report is still ongoing.”

Despite these allegations of racist practices in the Seattle union hiring hall, AS argues that the hiring hall should still be defended against the bosses’ current attempts to attack it:

 If the bosses regain control of hiring/firing , this would probably worsen the racist practices within the industry and create more racial divide and conquer like what existed under the old shape up system before 1934 strike. For these reasons, we should oppose the bosses’ attacks.  However, our unity must be premised on the condition that the hiring hall become an anti-racist institution and that longshore workers challenge their own chauvinistic attitudes toward the immigrant port truckers.

Pete also writes about the role Occupy activists could play in addressing this issue.  He also addresses tensions between union workers and working class community members over whether or not to support the coal terminals:

Most importantly, as outsiders to the ports we have a particular opportunity to raise the question of obstacles to unity within the working class as a whole. Whether around the demands of Port truckers, the demands of working class communities around coal, or any other myriad questions which pose a challenge to the notion of the exclusivity of struggles in the ports to port workers themselves, our actions must still be oriented to an alliance with the struggles of those within the working class which pose the possibilities for an equality within the class.

This question is not just for Longshore workers to determine-and if left to determine it themselves, will inevitably find distorted answers. The question is whether victories can be won for Port workers-whether within or outside of a contract or union-which do not undermine unity or further divide the working class as a whole. From strikes to ban black labor to attacks on immigrants, labor history has no shortage of short term victories for one segment of workers which amount, in the end, to,”scabbing on the rest of the class.” Facilitating coal extraction and export, turning a blind eye to racism in ceratin locales-either in the Ports themselves or in the broader community, are two clear points where these questions, amongst others, loom now.

More specifically, Pete writes:

For all too many members of Occupy, the confusion of ‘the workers’ with ‘the union’ is widespread. When we see the language of “stand with the ILWU in building mass picket lines,” and “Defend the ILWU and its historic gains,” it’s worth asking which ILWU are we standing with? The question is more than semantics. The contracts and the protections it codifies are markers of high points in struggle. Yet we also saw clearly in Longview how the same institution which is a reflection of the high points in working class power and struggle can become the primary obstacle to that power.

The hiring hall, the shorter work day, control over the rate of work are all significant victories and will be devastating losses if the bosses succeed in their goals in these contract negotiations. But we also need to be honest in our assessment of the contradictory role of the institution of the ILWU itself. If we hope to see the involvement of broader sectors of workers-from Occupy, Port Truckers, or elsewhere- we must start with an honest assessment of the complex nature of the trade union. Furthermore we need to be clear in letting workers know that we intend to defend ALL workers–not just Longshore–in this struggle.

Pete concludes by saying that it is precisely our independence from the unions that could most effectively support rank and file workers at the ports:

In the current struggle, the ILWU has NOT taken a stand as to whether or not it is ready to fight. Its message internally has been,”wait.” There has been neither strike mobilization nor organizing in the grain elevators. Maybe the ILWU will shift gears to defend these workers. Maybe it will try to sell a shit contract. This remains to be seen. Let’s not forget that the Longview struggle, less than a year ago, resulted in the latter.

There are workers in the ILWU right now who are well aware of this and likely weighing whether or not they are willing to face off against the leadership of the ILWU should the leadership try to sell them out, and a part of their evaluation will be based on whether or not the ILWU has managed to bring Occupy under the ILWU leadership’s discipline. If we posture as simply being in solidarity with the ILWU, we risk pulling the sense of independence and initiative from workers who right now are being told by the ILWU to “wait it out.” We must be clear and unequivocal to the workers in the ports: if you act in the interests of the working class as a whole, with or without the ILWU, we stand with you.

As Black Orchid Collective, we have not developed a collective group stance on these issues, but we do hope to engage in further discussion and debate with AS, with Pete, and with others who are following these developments, especially friends and neighbors who work at the port or who are affected by what goes on there.  Again, we welcome you all to use the comments section here as a forum to debate these crucial issues.

( As these issues can get heated, please remember to respect our House Rules which aim to facilitate thoughtful engagement. )

About mamos206

Mamos is the pen name I use to write. Some of my thoughts can be found at these sites, along with the thoughts of friends and comrades I collaborate with: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com http://creativitynotcontrol.wordpress.com http://overthrowingilluminati.wordpress.com http://spiritualdesert.blogspot.com
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19 Responses to Struggles on the Waterfront

  1. latayad says:

    How can the hiring process be bias? You submit a post card with your basic info, name and contact info, and that post card is entered into a drawing. The cards are drawn and your name is added to a list in the order drawn. You are contacted to preform a physical which if you pass are given casual status. NONE of that is determined on race or sex. If you become a union member it is because you show up and work. They take in union members based on the casuals with the most hours worked. Tell me how you can be turned away based on race or sex with that process of hiring?
    The ILWU is not all white, neither is Seattle’s local. The hiring process is not racist or sexist, period. In the past nepotism was the process of hiring so the jobs stayed in families which cut down on the diversity of the workplace. That was recognized as unfair and was changed a while back. Anyone with the work ethic and ability to preform the job can become an ILWU union member. I am a woman in line for that opportunity which is something I deeply appreciate about the union. NO other workplace allows me to have the opportunity to work solely based on my ability to preform the job. There is no interviewer to win over, no overpriced schooling to complete just my determination to do the work.
    It would be nice to see more balance in the discussion on Port Truck Drivers and the ILWU’s relationship. Yes there is tension, but that tension is a result of actions from workers on BOTH sides and is not as deep or widespread as this article implies.
    Other then those inaccurate implications I think this is a good article, thanks for compiling it.

    • mamos206 says:

      Can you please elaborate on this a bit more: “It would be nice to see more balance in the discussion on Port Truck Drivers and the ILWU’s relationship. Yes there is tension, but that tension is a result of actions from workers on BOTH sides and is not as deep or widespread as this article implies.” What actions by the truckers do you think have contributed to these tensions? What specific aspects of the articles I quoted do you think are exaggerated?

      Just to be clear, the claims both articles make about racism in the hiring process and tensions with the port truckers are primarily about ILWU local 19 in Seattle. If you are in a different city, the situation might be different. We certainly understand that the ILWU is not all white, nor is Seattle’s local, but Local 19 Seattle is certainly majority white and the claims about racism in the hiring process come from Advance the Struggle’s piece, which is based on interviews with longshore workers. How else would you account for their claims about the decreasing number of Black longshore workers in Seattle since 2003? Or for the report about Local 19 not fully support the legislative demands put forward by the Port Truckers Association during their strike last year?

    • latayad says:

      I did not say exaggerated. There is no mention at all of actions the truck drivers have taken that help build tension between the two groups of workers. To be more specific the truck drivers have been known to dump over weight loads at the Port creating more work for the longshoremen and there is typical petty back and forth harassment between the truckers and longshoremen. I have a family member that was almost ran over after a truck driver charged him with his truck. Still I know many longshoremen who do not hold any hard feelings at all towards port truck drivers. It is not a one sided issue like this article makes it sound. It is an unfortunate situation that there is any tension between the truck drivers and longshoremen where it exists but both sides have to take some credit.

      The claim that the number of black longshore workers has decreased is based on what? Is there an actual number based report for that or is the only source for that claim the anonymous source mentioned above? I explained the hiring process so if someone could tell me how that process can be used to discriminate based on race then this statement might make sense.
      ” as well as their failure to overcome racism against Black workers in the hiring process:”
      How is the hiring process racist? I don’t doubt that there is racism on the part of individuals in Local 19, which sadly is still found in workplaces in general but the hiring process for the ILWU is not designed to accommodate racism or sexism.

    • mamos206 says:

      Regarding the conflicts you mention between truckers and longshore workers – which local are you referring to?

      I’m sorry to hear about your family member almost getting run over, that’s messed up.

      In terms of the overweight loads on the trucks, my understanding is the truckers do not have control of the weight of the containers they haul. At least in Seattle, they don’t have any means of weighing the containers to make sure they are not overweight. It’s bad this is causing problems for longshore workers, but it sounds like it might be the bosses/ owners’ fault not the truckers’. It’s certainly not something that benefits the truckers. In Seattle, they are getting ticketed and harassed by police for having overloaded containers, but again they don’t have any way of stopping this from happening. It seems like this would be a good point for truckers and longshore workers to unite and organize around if it is harming both groups.

      In terms of your point about the hiring process : This video is of Black protestors outside the Local 19 union hall in Seattle. They picketed the union, challenging the hiring process in Feb 2011, arguing that the call for entering the January hiring lottery was not publicized widely in Black communities. The lottery process itself might be random as you argue, but protestors argued that the lottery was only announced 4 days before it closed so primarily industry insiders were able to circulate information about how to apply to their networks, and the Black community at large was not informed through community newspapers : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byv2uhOdHh8

  2. Mazin says:

    I won’t post all his articles, but David Roberts over at Grist has written a series of articles on the declining profitability of coal (only) in the US due to smaller and thinner coal seams, and the cheapening cost of natural gas (because of fracking).

    http://grist.org/climate-energy/big-coal-in-big-trouble-as-coal-production-costs-rise/

    Of course, his analysis is only a starting point, and needs to be supplemented with Marx’s concept of value at the least, but I encourage folks to check out his other articles as well.

  3. Mazin says:

    Woops. Here is the article I meant to post.

    http://grist.org/coal/fighting-coal-export-terminals-it-matters/

    In this article he talks about the relationship between this declining profitability of coal, and the strategy by coal comanies to offset this by exporting coal to China.

    • mamos206 says:

      Interesting, thanks. I wonder how this corporate strategy would be effected if the anti-coal protests in China keep heating up. The New York Times was claiming that investments in coal power plants and other heavy polluting industries is actually slowing down because of the protests. I wonder if protestors here can delay the construction of the coal export terminals long enough, would the companies eventually give up if it becomes no longer profitable to build them?

  4. Non Marxist Anarchist says:

    There are three things the authors fail to understand about themselves. One is that aligning with “Longshore workers” through a cafeteria method of picking and choosing individual workers based on adherence to a party line to form an informal cadre, who then “represents” the rank and file in your (and ostensibly their) own justification is just thinly disguised Leninist vanguardism, and also divisive and ineffective.

    Two; you purport that outsiders are the only ones capable of creating or encouraging struggle within the ranks of longshore workers, which is elitist, and again, just Leninism in disguise. This inside/outside issuewas a huge debate, as you may all know, earlier in the 20th century in Marxist circles, and Stalinism settled this debate in your favor. Good for you.

    Three; yours’ and Little’s simplistic and monolithic idea that you can take a recycled Leninist view of Trade Union Consciousness and create a cookie cutter analysis of what is going on internally really shows that you have no connection with the rank and file whatsoever. Also; what kind of idiot posts a summary of “secret meetings” on the goddamned internet? Someone who views their own role in the struggle as paramount to the safety and well being of other workers and their families.

    What the BOC and others need to do is apologize for their past misdeeds and take personal responsibility for driving a wedge between the ILWU and Occupy. The BAC and your counterparts in Portland and the Bay Area are fully responsible for this rift; not the ILWU leadership, and certainly not the majority of the rank and file of the union who ELECT their leaders directly.

    The failure of the BAC and your allies to admit to ANY mistakes, and take ANY responsibility shows very clearly what kind of leaders we would have if you were allowed to advance to the front of any kind of struggle. This polemic clearly shows you have learned nothing.

    And since working class vernacular is not allowed in your comments, you will understand how the author would sign off on this post, without the risk of having these remarks censored under the pretext of civility.

    • mamos206 says:

      1) We never claimed that our friends who work at the port “represent” the entire workforce. I agree that would be ineffective. It would not be Leninist vanguardism, whatever that means in 2013, it would simply be a stupid strategy. You assert we are doing this but provide no evidence. The burden is on you to prove it. Where exactly do you see this happening?

      2) We never argued that “outsiders” are the only ones capable of creating or encouraging struggle within the ranks of longshore workers. If anything, I remember speaking at Occupy Seattle during the early days at West-lake, trying to encourage people not to fear the cops, and I repeatedly referred to the longshore workers’ courageous actions in Longview in September as an example we should learn from.

      AS’s piece, and Pete Little’s piece posted here both emphasize the possible leadership that longshore workers could take up in larger working class struggles.

      BOC also clearly stated that we are not getting invovled in the NW ILWU grain contract struggle because longshore workers have not asked us to. We’re not trying to tell anyone what to do.

      Fuck Stalin and the Communist Party’s disastrous strategies. When we talk about people outside the port having a say in what happens there, we’re not talking about some party leadership intervening from the outside. We’re talking about the people who produce and ship the goods that longshore workers handle, and the people who serve them coffee and take care of their elderly parents having a say in what happens at the port, and having the power to take collective action there, in their own name, with their own demands. It’s not about them telling longshore workers what to do, it’s about them having equal power to conduct their own struggles, with mutual respect and solidarity.

      If you are really an anarchist I don’t see why this offends you so much. I’m pretty sure Stalin would disagree with us on this and most anarchists would agree.

      3) We completely disagree with Lenin’s 1903 idea that workers can only develop trade union consciousness outside of the party. Pete’s whole point is that workers grow their own consciousness through struggle, not through someone condescendingly “teaching” them the right party line. I agree. This is true at the port, this is true in our own workplaces, and this is true in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle. Hell, it is true in my own life – my own consciousness has grown through these struggles and I’m sure I still have a long way to go.

      We have repeatedly pointed out that these struggles on the job have the potential to go beyond trade union consciousness and to open up radical possibilities for the entire working class. That’s the opposite of the Leninist line you are criticizing.

      4) What secret meetings did we disclose on the internet? Are you talking about the anonymous report from rank and file members about the Local 19 meeting where it was decided not to fully support the truckers demands? If that’s what you’re referring to, why was it secret in the first place, and how could sharing this information put people at risk, especially almost a year after the fact? This seems paranoid to me. If you’re referring to something else, again the burden is on you to prove it. If you don’t want to post it, feel free to email us privately.

      5) Unlike the Local 19 leadership, we have admitted several mistakes in that whole conflict. In particular, I personally think it was a mistake to try to appeal to union leaders in Local 19 to ask for their support for the Dec. 12 port shutdown. It was also a mistake to invoke the health and safety code of the ILWU contract on Dec. 12th. We should have simply shut down the port, for our own clearly stated reasons (as a demonstration vs. Wall St. on the Waterfront, in solidarity with the truckers, and as a response to police violence). We should have left it up to longshore workers to decide how they want to relate to that action and to decide that amongst themselves. Appealing to the contract pulled us into a whole bunch of inner-union debates that we shouldn’t have been caught up in. I think we made this mistake because we underestimated our own power, misunderstood the union, and got drowned out by louder voices in Oakland who made it sound like there was more ILWU support for the action than there really was. I’ve definitely learned that lesson.

      Now, if you are saying we don’t have a right to be at the port at all, including for our own reasons, then you are basically arguing the port should be the private property of those who work there, instead of a public place where the entire working class should have a say. If that is your “non-Marxist” anarchism, then at worst it is a thinly disguised right wing libertarian defense of private property. At best, it is a call for “socialism in one workplace”, isolated from the rest of the global class struggle. In either case, I think it’s a failed strategy.

      6) Working class vernacular is always welcome on this site. Subtle threats are not, and if you are the person I think you are then I know you are a master of those.

    • latayad says:

      “We’re not trying to tell anyone what to do.”
      Are you sure? It does come off like there is a lot of telling rank and file how their union is, how their leadership is and what they need to do about it. I think people need to understand that their union is what they will fight for, it is their union and it’s structure that has allowed the ILWU to remain the most democratic and militant union left in the USA. The union members are not the ones expressing a need to battle their union leadership, that is coming for groups like this. If they don’t like their leadership they don’t vote for them, since EGT more then a few union officials from that time are no longer in office because of how they handled it.

      “It’s not about them telling longshore workers what to do, it’s about them having equal power to conduct their own struggles, with mutual respect and solidarity.”
      Is it looked at that the ILWU has not honored other workers or community struggles? Many times before Occupy the Ports have been shut down by actions not lead by the ILWU due to the ILWU’s respect for picket lines.

      “I personally think it was a mistake to try to appeal to union leaders in Local 19 to ask for their support for the Dec. 12 port shutdown. It was also a mistake to invoke the health and safety code of the ILWU contract on Dec. 12th. We should have simply shut down the port, for our own clearly stated reasons..I think we made this mistake because we underestimated our own power, ”

      My question is how was Local 19 approached? Was it with the approach that their leadership is bad, that they are victimizing the Port Truck drivers and that their union needs to be dissolved to make way for a different type of worker’s collective which seems to be the stance of this group from what I can see? If so how did you expect the rank and file to respond?
      Who’s power did you underestimate? The group of protesters on D12 as a whole? You do realize that a lot of those protesters where there to support the ILWU and there was ILWU family and friends on those picket lines and this group was not the only one involved. It was the solidarity shown by the ILWU which helped shut down the Ports. If those workers wanted to work that day and were determined to things would have looked differently. I think the power of the protesters alone is overestimated, and there is yet to be any credit given from this group to the ILWU for their solidarity in D12 and other actions and instead is it this group which from sentences above is given credit. I have been apart of Occupy in the Portland area since day one and even I am losing patience with this type of criticism. It comes off as very one sided and prejudice. There seems to be a few individuals that are continuing to repeat the same points over and over even though there has been discussion that shows those points (Port truck drivers vs ILWU, Union rank and file vs leadership, egt) to be inaccurate on some levels. Painting the ILWU as a racist union that does not show solidarity or respect for other work’s struggle is not based in reality. That’s how it comes off, not sure if that’s how you are meaning it to.
      Critic is healthy and good but having a true understanding of the ILWU, how it works and not having an ulterior motive is something articles like this lack. The perspective from this group comes off as seeing unions as apart of the problem more then apart of the solution and it does not sit well with the union members who solidarity you have utilized.
      The ILWU is not perfect, nothing is, but the rank and file have to be the ones to make changes as they see fit. Since they vote on everything that is something that can be done but it’s the EMPLOYERS who are trying to impose negative changes to the workers not the union. The source of the struggle is the companies at the Ports and how they treat their workers but somehow the focus is on the union leadership as the source which it is not. Union leaders make mistakes, rank and file make mistakes and we need to learn from them but the fight is not between the community and the ILWU nor the rank and file and their leadership. To make that seem like the struggle, which is the impression I get from people in this group, is unfortunate and will only benefit the bosses.

    • mamos206 says:

      you wrote: My question is how was Local 19 approached? Was it with the approach that their leadership is bad, that they are victimizing the Port Truck drivers and that their union needs to be dissolved to make way for a different type of worker’s collective which seems to be the stance of this group from what I can see? If so how did you expect the rank and file to respond?

      No, I think we initially approached the leadership with the naive idea that they would support the struggle because the union has supported past community picket lines. That was an incorrect assumption. We should have simply approached the rank and file as a whole and communicated with them, not with the leadership. There were attempts to reach out directly to the rank and file, but not enough.

      You wrote: Whose power did you underestimate? The group of protesters on D12 as a whole?

      When I say “we” underestimated ourselves, that “we” means the Occupy movement (including BOC), and layers of the working class that mobilized around Dec 12th. BOC is a tiny collective that was part of this much larger movement, so when I wrote “we” in those paragraphs I meant that movement, not BOC. There is no way BOC could have or should have done ANY of this on our own.

      Yes, you are right, there were ILWU family members, and friends in that crowd on Dec. 12th. In Seattle, they were a minority but they were there. They were central in Longview on D12. Yes, you are right, in all the west coast cities a lot of people came out to fight against the employers who were attacking the union in Longview – that was one of the many reasons why we did this too. Yes, there was solidarity from rank and file workers who refused to cross the picket lines up and down the coast. I’m not arguing with any of that. I’m saying that we should have relied on all of that strength MORE and on the contract and the leadership LESS.

      Instead of saying “we know your contract and we know you can refuse to cross the line if it seems unsafe” we should have just said “we’re doing this for our own reasons, and also in solidarity with Longview, and it’s up to you to make your choice how to respond”. I imagine many workers would still have refused to cross the line because it was a good cause that had support. But by appealing to the contract it A) confined the struggle within legalistic bounds which put a limit on how far it could go and B) was seen as meddling in inner union business or telling people what to do. That’s what I”m questioning. I’m not questioning the fact that we tried to support the struggle of Longview workers vs. the bosses. I’m not questioning the need to reach out to rank and file workers to support community blockades. I’m saying that if the workers inside the port and the working class folks outside both knew our strength and came together directly, we could have gone further.

      In terms of our critiques of the ILWU leadership and structure. A lot of this is coming from us taking seriously the criticisms that Black folks have raised in Seattle. You never responded to the points that the Feb 2011 picketers raised, which I cited in my previous response to you. Instead you are saying that we are making this stuff up. That comes very close to suggesting that the Black workers who raised this are lying. And I think that’s insulting. There is a long history of Black workers being thrown under the bus by union activists because their criticisms were not yet popular with rank and file white workers. There is a long history of white people in general suggesting that Black people are lying when they raise criticisms of racism in unions.

      We’re trying not to continue that legacy. Are you?

  5. mamos206 says:

    I don’t want to make it sound like there was NO outreach to rank and file workers or NO solidarity with Longview before Dec. 12th. There was an action on Nov. 30th where Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle marched to the Local 19 union hall to talk with workers during the shift change, and to present a statement of solidarity with union members around the Longview struggle. This was planned before Dec. 12th was announced from California. Dec. 12th simply added our own set of demands as a movement – anti-budget cuts, anti-police violence, shutdown wall St. on the Waterfront. Over the course of organizing around those demands, we met the Seattle port truckers and took up solidarity with their demands as well.

    Also, I don’t want to make it sound like everything was legalistic and wrapped up in the health and safety clause of the contract. In the end, a barricade went up at Terminal 18 blocking roads – not a circular picket line at the workers’ entrances. This signified a shift of tactics in the movement, beyond the bounds of labor law. I’m trying to learn from that.

  6. Non Marxist Anarchist says:

    @mamos206, 11:50am:

    You remark about being a right wing libertarian really shows you are grasping, aside from knowing nothing about alternatives to Marxism and Marxist inspired anarchism (hint: not Ayn Rand).

    #1: Numerous accounts in articles on the web, from you folks, and your allies in Oakland, speaking through Occupy, make numerous claims that “the rank and file support us”. So which is it? Either you were lying then, or you are lying now. Or, you can simply discard the worn out shell of Occupy and claim you never said anything. That would be politically astute, even if dishonest.

    #2: The article posted here is from the collective, and you use your personal anecdotal story to back peddle on the implicit messages on the BAC’s blog that longshore workers need the radicalism of the BAC and their radical allies. Are you speaking for the collective now? Oh, and maybe longshore workers can do it themselves, according to someone in Portland. How thoughtful. But always an afterthought.

    #3 If you disagree with “Lenin’s 1903 line” than why does anyone need you at all to intervene in their workplace through their organization, rather than you promoting radicalism in your own workplace or neighborhood or community? If you want to lay claim on the port as some kind of public entity that you are entitled to mess with, say if they were polluting your town or messing with you as an employee, or wasting public money, you need to go after the employers or the public entity of the Port, not workers organizations and their so called, in the BAC’s words, “bureaucratic leaders” who are not party to your beef with a public government entity, or a private corporate one. But in action you are not organizing your own sphere, but infringing on the autonomy of others and intervening in their worker organizations as an outsider. In effect, if not by word, you are following Lenin’s 1903 line, but you deny it. That means you haven’t thought about the real impact of your actions on other people. It certainly shows here.

    #4 Your Portland friend whom you quote refers to secret meetings with ILWU 21 members. Did he get from each participant their permission to summarize it on the internet? I doubt it. Did you get permission from all the participants to summarize a local meeting it appears you have knowledge of? I doubt it. There is no doubt, however, that you and others cannot be trusted to keep movement information within the movement, and not on the internet where the FBI, employers, HLS, etc. can see it.

    #5 The BAC or any of its constituent members–whomever they are, or you are, nor through Occupy, which the BAC played a leading role in, have made no apologies for anything to anyone who was impacted. Writing in a comments thread that the aggrieved will likely never read is not an apology; certainly not a retroactive one.

    #6 That was just a dumb thing to say.

    Done wasting time here.

    • mamos206 says:

      #1: It’s only a lie if you assume the rank and file speak with one unified voice, which we do not. Some rank and file longshore workers did ask for Occupy’s support. Especially in Longview. Others did not. In Seattle, some rank and file longshore workers were supportive but the majority of the rank and file were apparently either a) not invovled at all or b) sided with the leadership of the union against Occupy. Also, sometimes people had contradictory positions, supporting Occupy at some points and then denouncing us later, or vice versa. BOC was pretty clear about this. If you go back and read what we actually said, instead of what was said about us, I think this is clear. I do think at times some of the loudest voices from Oakland Oakland overestimated how much rank and file support there was up and down the coast, but there was some support, that went beyond simply a few voices who you claim Occupy hand picked.

      #2: where in any collectively written BOC post have we ever said that workers need us to raise their consciousness or make them radical? Those are not BOC’s politics. In fact, we got attacked by damn near every socialist group in the country for not being Leninist ENOUGH, for OVERESTIMATING the potential of workers’ self-radicalization. My comments are mine alone, I speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m contradicting BOC’s politics at all. You are simply being dogmatic and reading what you want to hear into our writings.

      We have made specific critiques of specific actions by specific workers or specific union leaders. That is very different from saying that they need us to solve these problems for them. There are thousands of longshore workers and only a few of us. It would be delusional for us to think that our words or actions will be the sole catalyst that transforms their consciousness. Obviously we have faith that they can overcome the problems of white supremacy, divisions with the truckers, the stranglehold of US labor law, etc. through their own activity. If we didn’t have faith in that, what would be the point of even paying attention to the waterfront at all?

      #3: We do promote radicalism in our own workplaces which is why our own communities and our coworkers and neighbors were out there shutting down the port on Dec. 12th. A number of us have been struggling for YEARS as nursing assistants, custodians, teachers, baristas, mothers, retail workers, unemployed folks, etc. We have been fighting against austerity budget cuts, police brutality, short staffing/ speedup, etc. Take austerity cuts as an example. We’ve tried everything from marches in Olympia to walkouts, occupations, and blockades and nothing has stopped the cuts. So this time around we thought, why not go after the actual capital owned by these companies that are pushing austerity cuts? If they cut our lives, we’ll cut their profits. All of the sudden, hundreds of people in Occupy up and down the coast started to realize this… the logic of shutting down Wall St. became a logic of shutting down and occupying the shit wall st. owns, from foreclosed homes and buildings to the port. Terminal 18 is owned by SSA which is partially owned by Goldman Sachs. The logic is pretty clear. None of this had anything to do with attempts to raise the consciousness of longshore workers, though it was in solidarity with Longview because their militancy inspired us. But the mobilization on Dec. 12 was a natural outgrowth of the organizing work in our own workplaces and neighborhoods that you are saying we should be doing.

      The same logic applies in reverse. I’m a teacher in a working class school and I organize on the job. Longshore workers are part of the working class. So what happens in my workplace affects their kids. They would have every right to struggle at the schools and they don’t need my permission. I would be pissed if they claimed I needed them to raise my consciousness.. but if they pointed out that certain things need to be done and that the teachers’ union is not doing them, and then did them themselves with their allies and friends, and invited me to join, I’d probably join. At the very least, I wouldn’t blame them for doing it or try to stop them.

      #4: I’ll let Pete respond to that one, but I do want to point out he didn’t mention names and you are assuming he didn’t get permission when he might have.

      All in all, it sounds like you’ve had some shitty experiences with Leninist cults trying to interfere in your workplace and you are projecting that onto us. If you actually knew us, I doubt you’d be reading all of this negative shit into what we’re writing. A lot is changing right now, and though we are far from perfect, we are not the old left that you are railing against.

  7. a_indabronx says:

    The Trotskyist point of view: http://www.internationalist.org/whywedefendilwu1301.html

    There Are No Neutrals In the Class War on the Docks
    Why We Defend the ILWU and All Workers …Including Against the Sellout Labor Bureaucracy

    In recent weeks, a showdown has loomed on U.S. docks between the shipping bosses and port workers that has rattled the capitalist ruling class. On the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, the International Longshoreman’s Association prepared to strike container shipping while the employers threatened to lock out 14,500 ILA members. On the West Coast, the grain shippers been demanding a giveback contract from the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU), which would effectively bypass the union hiring hall, slash workers’ vital safety protections and gut union power. Yet in the midst of the Northwest grain battle, an Occupy activist Peter Little publishes an article vociferously arguing against the call to defend the ILWU. While posing as ultra-left, this policy if actually carried out would aid the employers who are hell-bent on destroying ILWU union power on the waterfront. Blaming sellouts on the nature of unions lets the bureaucrats off the hook. We in the Internationalist Group say: All those who stand with the exploited and oppressed must come to the defense of the ILWU in this fight. And that defense includes forthrightly opposing the capitulations and betrayals by the labor bureaucracy which sells out vital union gains in the vain hope of an impossible “cooperation” with capital, endangering the workers organizations they preside over….

  8. latayad says:

    My point is that the union’s process of hiring is not racist, not that racism is not found in the ILWU on the behalf of individuals. Sadly racism is found throughout the workplaces in this country still. Your evidence that the union’s hiring process is racist, is a quote by an anonymous worker and that the union didn’t put their hiring advertisement in the proper community papers. Which community papers are you taking about? The union puts their hiring ad in the main newspaper for the city in which they are located. Are you saying that the Black community does not have access or does not read those papers? Any concerns raised by workers in the union should and does receive the attention it needs to be resolved. Is their a clam of racism on behalf of the union that has not be resolved? I like how you turn it around and try to suggest that I am racist or against the advancement of the Black communities rights. In actuality the label of racist is very serious to me and I am against people labeling an entire union or group of people as so without facts or actions to back it up.
    I agree that reaching out the the union officials for some kind of official support is and was a mistake because it is up to the rank and file if they want to support an action by not crossing a picket line. It has always been that way. The Port shut downs in the past before Occupy never received an official statement of support by the union officials prior to the shutdown it has always been up to the rank and file as to how they will respond. That is this groups mistake in thinking that the power of the ILWU is it’s officials when it is the rank and file and always has been.
    Can you tell me specifically which of the points the Port Truckers raised that the ILWU didn’t support.
    If the truck drivers want to organize isn’t that their responsibility not the ILWU’s? So why are you blaming the ILWU because the Truck Drivers are not organized? Above it is said that Local 19 has failed to build solidarity with the Port Truck Drivers struggle. How are the Port Truck Drivers building solidarity with the ILWU or reaching out to them?
    It is the Labor Laws which say most of the truck drivers are not covered by the right to unionize not the ILWU.
    Having the ILWU involved in the Port Truck Driver’s struggle could help them but by blaming the ILWU for the Truck Drivers current situation you are helping to drive a wedge between the two working groups and are taking attention away from the companies and labor laws which are the real source of the problem.
    In this letter by the truck drivers they clearly see the source of the problem which is not the ILWU and explain their fight to join a trade union.

    http://cleanandsafeports.org/blog/2011/12/12/an-open-letter-from-america%E2%80%99s-port-truck-drivers-on-occupy-the-ports/

    Also in this talk about union leadership not officially supporting the Shut Down, don’t forget the Teamsters also issued no statement of support not just the ILWU. Still both groups of workers honored picket lines for the most part. The reality is that the courts belong to the corporations so if the union officials give them any way to legally take action they will. That is why we have the labor laws we do which we have to fight against but do so without handing the corporations legal grounds to weaken the resources of the workers. Having officials statements are nice for the ego but they are just statements. Having the actions of support from the workers is what counts so if people are taking action to get gold stars and statements of recognition maybe they should think more about getting results for the workers and less about the limelight.

    http://oaklandnorth.net/2011/12/09/oakland-port-blockade-set-for-monday-despite-union-objections-occupy-leaders-say/

    This group talks about a workers collective or such which should be formed to surpass the trade unions. Yet the huge gains for the working class came through those unions so if you want to form something better how does it benefit our communities by trying to dismantle the organizations already in place that are securing rights, political action and benefits on a level which groups like this are yet to do?
    It is a very discouraging feeling to be honest for me to have worked along side people like Mr. Little in the fight against the corporations and media to now see their voices added to the argument against organized labor which is unions. The ILWU has fought and succeeded since 1934 against corporate greed at the waterfronts, that is almost 80 years of fighting for the working class. It is still fighting today and that is the legacy I am trying to continue, the one that is working.

    • mamos206 says:

      I’m saying that the jobs were mentioned in the mainstream Seattle papers for only a few days. This is long enough for white folks who already work in the industry to let their friends and family know to apply for the lottery. It is not long enough for the word to get out in the Black community. Yes, Black folks probably do read the mainstream Seattle papers. But the point is, there is a major racial imbalance in the composition of local 19 vs. the racial composition of the Seattle working class as a whole, due to historical racism that has not yet been overcome. Targeted, specific outreach to the Black community is necessary to overcome this.

      Yes, there are several claims of racism in Local 19 by Black workers that have not yet been addressed – that’s why Local 10 withheld dues money, to put pressure to back up these grievances. This was in the Advance the Struggle article. If you think the anonymous sources for this are lying, go check with Local 10. I don’t see why the burden has to be on me to prove they are not.

      I am not labeling all longshore workers as personally racist. That would be ridiculous. I know longshoremen of multiple backgrounds, including folks who would be considered white by this society, who take very principled positions against racism. And yet institutionalized racism continues to exist on the Seattle waterfront. I am holding firm on this point because I believe that longshore workers are capable of a lot more than the current situation.

      I am not calling you personally a racist – I don’t even know you. I’m simply critiquing the argument you made and you are getting defensive about it. White people get so self righteous about this stuff sometimes! I’m sure the charge of racism is very serious to you, but this is not about YOUR honor, it’s about Black liberation and equality. It’s also about overcoming white supremacy that divides and weakens the working class, including waterfront workers.

      Of course the power of the union lies in the rank and file, not the leadership. Of course the rank and file decide whether or not to cross community picket lines. I never said otherwise. Like I said, we did appeal to the rank and file, just not enough. And we never appealed to the union leadership for official support. I want to be clear about this, because in this current context, that could be used by the state to justify repression against Local 19. I did not say we negotiated with the leadership. I’m saying we appealed to both the rank and file AND leadership by publicly citing the health and safety code of the contract, attempting to facilitate a situation like past community pickets, where the union does not officially endorse the picket, but workers refuse to cross citing the health and safety code to give them cover for this. I’m saying that was a mistake because it got us too involved in inner union business, and limited the struggle within the terms set by the contract.

      Luckily, we broke out of that at the last minute, and picketed the roads going into Terminal 18 (which the truckers didn’t cross) instead of trying to picket the ILWU workers’ entrances. We should have just done this from the beginning, and left it up to longshore workers to decide on their own how to respond without suggesting to them how they could. If some of them wanted to cite the health and safety code, that’s their choice. If others wanted to simply refuse to cross, or to wildcat strike, that’s also their choice. If others wanted to simply stay home and not take jobs that day, that’s also their choice. Again, the power lies with the workers, not the contract.

      All your questions about the truck drivers’ struggle are answered in the Advance the Struggle article, so I won’t repeat them. If anything is unclear, feel free to respond. If you disagree, let’s debate it.

      I know the Teamsters issued no statement of support for the port shutdown, and also that some Teamster workers refused to cross the picket lines. This is not about comparing or contrasting the ILWU and the Teamsters. We are in solidarity with all workers at the port, including members of both unions and folks who are not in unions.

      I don’t know why you think we care about getting official statements of support from the union leadership. That is is practically the opposite of our politics, as I’ve said repeatedly. We don’t care about that sort of thing, we care about taking action, hopefully shoulder to shoulder with port workers. Your attempt to psychoanalyze us is just petty and is not serious debate.

      Unions have made material gains for some workers, but this has come at the expense of channeling workers’ struggles into official channels of negotiation, which are controlled by the state and the courts. This limits the working class struggle, as you acknowledged. Unions might gain higher wages or benefits for some, but in return they push those workers to give up their struggles to actually control the work process. This lack of control makes it easier for the bosses to move production elsewhere to break workers’ self-organization, or to replace workers with machinery in ways that bring unemployment for many, and more profit for the bosses – instead of access to the means of life and more free time for everyone. I am in a unionized industry myself and I see this happening every day. I don’t see any realistic plan from the unions for how to address this. At this point it seems utopian to hope that the ILWU or any other union will simply recover its history of militancy and use it to solve all the problems faced by today’s working class.

      I’m not claiming that Black Orchid Collective is the alternative to the unions. That would be foolish -we’re tiny and brand new. I’m saying that if workers want to rise up and organize ourselves into mass struggle, and if we choose to do this in ways that bypass the unions and build new committees and networks, then so be it. I’m trying to lay the groundwork for that in my own industry, but it is more likely to come from moments of crisis and mass mobilization than it is from long term, small-scale organizing. In the meantime, if folks choose to tactically rely on the unions for certain things like grievances then I don’t blame them – if there is no alternative yet, this is all they got. I’m not denouncing people for being in unions or for loving their unions. I’m saying that we will need something more if we want to win in the struggles that could come, and that we can create it together.

  9. mike says:

    Look forward to reading this, along with comments.

  10. Pingback: Kshama Sawant and Capitalism’s Shock Absorbers | Black Orchid Collective

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