You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Don't let Ridge bully the ILWU
Feds threaten dockworkers

July 5, 2002 | Page 12

HOMELAND SECURITY chief Tom Ridge is making it clear what he means by "security." Security for the bosses' profits.

With the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's (ILWU) contract at ports on the West Coast due to expire as Socialist Worker went to press, Ridge has been personally pressuring the union not to "disrupt trade."

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has taken a hard line against the ILWU in negotiations, demanding that the new contract eliminate jobs, allow union work to be outsourced, freeze wages, cut benefits and get rid of the union-run hiring hall.

Backed by the West Coast Waterfront Coalition--which represents corporations like Wal-Mart and Toyota that depend on the ports--the PMA is determined to break the back of one of the most militant unions in the country.

The ILWU says there won't be a strike when the contract expires, though members don't rule out on-the-job actions. But employers are still threatening a lockout. And Tom Ridge is backing them up.

Jack Heyman, the business agent for ILWU Local 10 at the Port of Oakland, told a June 27 rally that Ridge has telephoned ILWU International President James Spinosa, demanding that he keep negotiating.

Heyman spoke out against this government intimidation--as did Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Clarence Thomas. "Today, if you're a militant unionist, they want to treat you as if you're a threat to national security," Thomas told the crowd, which was estimated at between 500 and 1,000. "What is national security? National security is when everyone has a job, with a living wage, health care and a pension."

The U.S. government has used the excuse of a "national emergency" before to intervene against unions. During the Korean War in the 1950s, for example, the Feds blacklisted 3,000 waterfront and maritime workers as part of a "port security program" on the West Coast. The government said the program was necessary for protecting security, but its real aim was to bust left-led waterfront unions on the West Coast. Ridge's attack is more of the same.

ILWU officials see the intervention as a massive escalation. Not only did they not consider a walkout when the contract expired, but privately, they say that the union shouldn't organize slowdowns either --because the bosses have said that they would use any action as an excuse for a lockout, which would clear the way for the use of government troops as strikebreakers. But work-to-rule tactics forced the bosses to their knees in short order during the last contract battle in 1999.

The Feds' threats have upped the ante. But the truth is that employers will keep pushing harder--and the balance of forces will remain in their favor--until a group of workers takes a stand and forces them back.

Federal troops have been used against unions before. Yet the labor movement has figured out how to beat them, taking its greatest strides forward during the CIO organizing drives of the 1930s, when federal troops were ordered to break strikes as a matter of course.

There is a sentiment among ILWU rank and filers for a fight. "Our livelihoods are being challenged," said Local 10 member Ed Ferris. "If we don't fight for our rights now, they'll be taken from us. We have a right to make an honest living."

Tractor driver Andrea Smith, another Local 10 member, agreed. "We have people who've worked here 20, 30 years," said Smith. "We have people who died making this port what it is. We're a strong union, and we'll never let them come in and take what is rightfully ours."

The ILWU also has commitments of support from other unions, both in the U.S. and around the world. Hundreds of labor activists turned out for the Oakland rally June 27, flooding the port with a sea of union jackets and picket signs pledging support. Other ports saw rallies as well last week. For example, an ILWU demonstration in Long Beach, near Los Angeles, drew some 2,000 people.

Ken Riley, president of the East Coast International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) Local 1422, came to the Oakland rally to thank Local 10 members for their part in the successful campaign to free the Charleston Five--South Carolina dockworkers put under house arrest for defending their picket line. "We're here to reciprocate," Riley told the crowd. "We're here to let you know that we are standing ready."

Wilson Borja Diaz, the president of Colombia's National Federation of State Service Workers (FENALSTRASE), also promised solidarity. "No matter how many union activists they kill in Colombia," Diaz said through a translator, "we will not give up the fight for union rights."

The ILWU has a proud record of international solidarity. But rally speakers who recalled this militant history stood in sharp contrast to California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who insisted that the crowd perform its "patriotic duty" by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa jumped in, declaring, "We are the most patriotic people in America. God bless America."

In fact, Bustamante's command to say the Pledge "was an insult to the international labor leaders who were invited to participate in our solidarity rally," said Jack Heyman. "It was an insult to people like Borja, who has seen his colleagues murdered--82 Colombian trade unionists killed by right-wing death squads this year and 3,000 in the last 15 years, sponsored by the U.S. government."

Port workers can count on national and international solidarity in their struggle. But they also need to be ready to take action themselves to force the bosses to come up with a fair contract.

Ken Morgan, Elizabeth Terzakis, Brian Belknap and Sue Sandlin contributed to this story.


"We need to join the struggle"

KEN RILEY is the president of International Longshoreman's Association Local 1422 in Charleston, S.C. Over the past few years, Riley toured the country to build support for the successful struggle of the Charleston Five, members of his union who were put under house arrest for 20 months after a police attack on their picket line.

The ILWU led the way in building support for the Charleston Five, and Riley came to San Francisco for a June 27 support rally to return the favor. Riley talked to Socialist Worker about the ILWU's fight.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIS RALLY is going to be the focal point for all the rallies that will be held around the country. This was the most important one because this is where the negotiations are. This is where the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association) and the West Coast Waterfront Coalition can see the kind of solidarity that is built up around the ILWU struggle.

That's why I'm here--to do our part to echo what everyone else is saying, that the ILWU will not be standing by themselves if they're attacked. If the PMA takes them on, they're taking on all of us.

If the ILWU goes out, I can guarantee you that most of my guys will be sickened by that fact--and when you're sick, you can't work. We take this very seriously, and we've told our membership that if the PMA takes these guys on, expect that we will be taken on in another 18 months.

We're sorry that it's the ILWU on the line, but if we want to make sure that we don't have this kind of fight, we need to join this struggle and stop the aggression now--back the government out of negotiations. If we're successful at doing that in these negotiations, we'll have much less to worry about when we go the table.

Home page | Back to the top