On the picket line
August 9, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11
West Coast longshore workers
By Brian Belknap
WITH NEGOTIATIONS stalled until August 13, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is calling for rallies on August 12 up and down the West Coast to build solidarity. Billed as "stop-work meetings," the rallies are being called to send a message to George W. Bush, who has threatened to intervene.
While these rallies will be a good way to draw union members together and build solidarity with other unions, there is a problem. Despite the name, they aren't designed to use labor's real power to shut down the ports.
Some ILWU members have become disenchanted with the union's public relations strategy--aimed at winning public opinion and support from politicians instead of using labor's traditional strength on the waterfront. This policy is based on a fear of government intervention. The fact is that, so far, the ILWU hasn't given the government a reason to intervene.
The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has been stonewalling in negotiations, rejecting a proposal that even the union admitted "included the most extensive job concession package since the historic 1962 M&M Agreement that saw massive manning cuts due to the introduction of the shipping container." But in public, the ILWU has sought to portray the concessions--that give up close to 1,500 of 2,500 clerks jobs by some estimates--as "a bold stroke."
And while it's good that ILWU President James Spinosa is finally responding to veiled threats by Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, his response up until now has been to tie the union's hands and target members who push for more militant action.
Militants in the union report that during the Longshore Caucus two weeks ago, Local 10 Caucus delegate Jack Heyman was told he would face charges for doing an interview with Socialist Worker before the Caucus convened on July 22.
In the interview, he stated that he would call on the Caucus to: 1) end the gag rule and inform the rank and file about negotiations; 2) free longshore workers to take job action on the docks; and 3) take a strike authorization vote.
A day earlier, union leaders condemned Heyman for an article he wrote that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, blasting the PMA and calling for international labor solidarity to stop government intervention. The article was well received by participants at a July 24 labor rally.
While Heyman beat the charges, the fact that they were brought at all is a ringing condemnation of the direction that Spinosa is taking a union that prides itself on its militant and democratic traditions. Without an open discussion of what's at stake and what tactics can win, the kind of organizing that needs to happen will never take place.
In 1999, the ILWU beat back the PMA in a matter of days using "work-to-rule" tactics. The ILWU has used its power in the ports to fight all sorts of battles--from opposing apartheid to supporting the Liverpool dockers to demanding freedom for death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Now it's time they used it for themselves.
A victory for the ILWU will be a victory for the entire labor movement.
By Justin Akers
CHULA VISTA, Calif.--Workers at a repair facility have entered their fourth week in a strike against the military contractor Raytheon.
When their contract expired July 15, the majority of the 200 Electronic and Space Technicians (EAST) union members at this facility and another plant in El Segundo, Calif., walked off the job. Their demands include a retirement plan for all workers, a company-matched 401(k) plan and the establishment of a wage-progression system.
Raytheon grossed about $16 billion last year by supplying weaponry to the U.S. military. But management has refused to negotiate. Instead, Raytheon resorted to lies, telling workers that no one in the plant, management included, had any benefits--when in reality management all have extensive benefit packages.
Raytheon has also attempted to pit workers against each other by paying Chula Vista workers half of what they pay their Los Angeles workers. Of course, management has used this kind of tactic before, threatening to "relocate" or "bring in cheaper labor." Despite these tactics, the multiracial workforce has largely held together.
On the picket lines, striking workers have been hounded and harassed by on- and off-duty police--who Raytheon hired to ensure that scabs get through. Last week, after being clipped by a company car driving through the picket, two strikers attempted to confront the driver. Within minutes, police charged the picket line. Both workers received injuries, and one was shot with a taser gun--and then hauled off to jail.
Despite this intimidation, workers remain confident and are planning a rally to build solidarity. "This is about the future of these workers, and it is also about the future of this union," union president C. J. Jackson told Socialist Worker. "If Raytheon wins, they will try to decertify the union. We can't let that happen."
By Amanda Maystead
OAKLAND, Calif.--"Who's got the power? We've got the power! What kind of power? Union power!" That chant echoed through the streets of Oakland and Berkeley August 1 as 500 people marched to demand a fair contract for workers at several East Bay hotels. Some 50 demonstrators--both hotel workers and community supporters--blocked the entrance to one of the hotels, Claremont Resort & Spa, in an act of civil disobedience.
The demonstration was organized by Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) union Local 2850, which is in negotiations for a contract covering more than 1,000 workers at the Claremont, Berkeley Radisson, Oakland Hilton, Oakland Marriott and Holiday Inns in Oakland and Emeryville.
Workers say that management's wage and benefit offers are inadequate. Particularly outrageous is a proposal that would force workers to pay an additional $200 a month for health care coverage--not to mention a wage offer that would hike pay by a measly 5 cents to 20 cents an hour.
Workers won a good contract at the Hilton last October, and they say they aren't afraid to fight. In response, management has stepped up harassment of union activists, employing "shoppers" to spy on them and even fabricate complaints against them.
The excellent turnout for the march--including many workers from other unions who came to express their solidarity--shows that workers are ready to fight for a fair deal.
By John Buttell
THE UNIVERSITY of Massachusetts-Amherst has finally agreed to negotiate a contract with United Auto Workers Local 2322 for 360 campus Resident Assistants (RAs).
When they voted for a union in March, the RAs became the first undergraduate student employees in the U.S. to unionize. The work that RAs do is an essential part of the university's residential system--yet they get only $50 a week and must pay for the dorm room they're required to live in.
However, the administration refused to bargain for months. It took a sustained campaign of activism by the RAs and their supporters to force the university to the negotiating table. There were protests at the offices and homes of university administrators and a sit-in at the Whitmore Administration building that led to 35 arrests.
With state budget cuts hitting hard, it's time for other campus unions to follow the RAs' example and fight for their rights.
By Shaun Harkin and Larry Lewis
NEW YORK--Laid-off workers from Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen joined AFL-CIO President John Sweeney for a rally across from the New York Stock Exchange last week. Sweeney criticized the CEO "thieves" for "flouting their ill-gotten gains in our faces."
The AFL-CIO organized the rally to unveil its "action plan" to address corporate abuses. But this is late--and far too little. The corporate crime wave has been capturing headlines all summer long. Why have union leaders waited so long to try to take the initiative? What's more, Sweeney celebrated U.S. capitalism as "the most competitive in the world" in his speech!
The AFL-CIO's moderate approach was also clear from the turnout of just 400 union members for a rally that could have easily drawn thousands given the widespread anger about corporate crime.
In Boston, a crowd of 250 unionists turned out for a rally with AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Rich Trumka. Trumka was especially critical of Fidelity Investments, the giant investment company that has mismanaged workers' retirement savings, while heaping financial rewards on executives. But Trumka canceled a scheduled march on Fidelity headquarters--because the company had "agreed to negotiate."
Organized labor has an opportunity to capitalize on the widespread anger with corporate greed. It's time to turn anger into action.