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ILWU prepares for strike or lockout on West Coast
Dockworkers ready to fight

June 21, 2002 | Page 11

A SHOWDOWN between the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the employers' Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) could lead to a strike or lockout when the contract expires July 1.

The docks, which handle $300 billion in cargo per year, are critical to the U.S. economy. Now the PMA--urged on by big importers like retailers Wal-Mart and Target--wants to introduce computer technology to bypass the union's hiring hall, which was won in the 1934 San Francisco general strike and remains at the core of the ILWU's power.

JACK HEYMAN, an executive board member of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco, spoke to Socialist Worker about the issues behind this fight.

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DOCKWORKERS' UNIONS have been attacked in recent years, from Liverpool, England, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Australia. Why?

THERE'S BEEN a consolidation of capital internationally, represented by free-trade agreements like NAFTA. And they are trying to privatize the docks and increase their profits by destroying labor's power on the docks.

Last year, dockworkers in Brazil suffered a serious setback when the military attacked workers in the port of Santos who were on strike--trying to strike a blow against privatization and government control of hiring.

The first time ILWU got involved in solidarity in recent years was around the port of Veracruz in Mexico, when the government moved to break up a workers' collective there, privatize the port, and bring in big capital.

THERE WAS also international dockworkers' solidarity with locked-out dockworkers in Liverpool. While their struggle was unsuccessful, it stopped a scab ship loaded there, the Neptune Jade, from being unloaded around the world, and led to the formation of the International Dockworkers Council (IDC). Why?

THE LIVERPOOL struggle was led by class-conscious militants in the dockworkers' union in Liverpool that came out of a national shop stewards movement in the 1960s and 70s. Liverpool was the last of the dockworkers' unions in the British ports with a collective agreement in the wake of the privatization carried out by [former Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher.

Because of their previous struggles, they had linked up with dockers in other European ports and were able to build a network of dockworkers throughout the world.

I was sent to Liverpool on behalf of the ILWU International. Once we got involved, we brought in a lot of Pacific Rim dockworkers' support--from Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It's because of these attacks internationally--there was clearly a need to link up to defend ourselves against these attacks.

THE ILWU was central to an international campaign to free the Charleston Five--dockworkers in South Carolina who endured 18 months of house arrest after police attacked their picket line. What has been the impact of this victory on the dockworkers' unions?

THE CHARLESTON struggle added a whole new component to the effort to coordinate dockworkers' unions. Before this, it was mostly European and caucasian dockworkers who were involved.

With the Charleston dockworkers, who are mainly African American, joining the IDC, it changed the whole complexion of the international dockworkers' struggles. For the first time, the leadership was African American. Before that, there was only one, from South Africa. I think this opens the door to organizing minority workers throughout the world.

WHAT NEEDS to be done to build solidarity with the ILWU?

I THINK we need to emulate--in a much bigger way--what happened in Charleston. Charleston was one port. Liverpool was one port. But each of these struggles showed the direction we need to go in.

We need more coordination internationally, because shipowners are international. We are going to be facing tremendous obstacles. Not just from the shipowners, but from the government, under the guise of the war on terror. We will need support from brothers and sisters in dockworkers' unions everywhere.

And here in the U.S., we will be setting up strike support committees in each port. These will be allied with our union strike committees in order to build broader working-class and community support.

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