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Shipping bosses threaten to lock out workers over job actions
ILWU debates action on the docks

By Sue Sandlin | September 27, 2002 | Page 11

SAN FRANCISCO--A series of job actions, an internal battle inside the dockworkers' union and an employer threat to lock out workers highlight the growing tensions on West Coast docks.

Last week, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) staged noontime rallies in Seattle and the California ports of Oakland and Long Beach to protest aggressive management by the stevedoring company SSA.

In Oakland, shipping company Maersk/Sealand tried to prevent workers from attending the lunchtime rally by moving their regular lunch hour from noon to 11 a.m. Workers attended the rally as planned--and since no workers were available to replace them, the ship was idled until the next shift.

The bosses' organization, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), cited the Maersk incident, along with an alleged shortage of workers in Long Beach, as evidence of union-organized slowdowns--and threatened a lockout.

In fact, the dispute in Long Beach wasn't the result of a planned slowdown, but retailers' efforts to rush shipments in case of a stoppage that could interfere with imports for the Christmas season.

In the end, the PMA didn't lock out the union because the ILWU provided enough people to work the shifts the next day. In effect, the PMA is interpreting any noncooperation with its speedup as a slowdown--and have kept up the threat of a lockout.

The old contract expired July 1 and hasn't been renewed since earlier this month. Even after union leaders agreed to sacrifice 1,000 jobs, employers kept pressing demands that would break up the union's hiring hall. Employers are also confident that the Bush administration will make good on its threat to intervene to halt any works stoppage under the guise of "national emergency."

But as the PMA becomes more aggressive, ILWU leaders continue to bend over backward to show that they're not organizing any actions on the docks. Nevertheless, workers' frustration with the aggressive employer attacks continues to erupt in ports up and down the coast.

Workers in Portland, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash., fought back with limited work actions at individual terminals last week. In San Francisco, the debates about the union's strategy came out into the open at a Local 10 membership meeting last week.

Delegates to last July's Coast Caucus meeting gave reports on the debates that took place there--about concessionary bargaining, the need for a strike authorization vote and a gag order that union leaders used to stifle dissent.

Local 10 President Richard Mead, at the behest of the International, responded by attempting to bring charges against Jack Heyman, a business agent and delegate at the Coast Caucus who had pressed for a strike authorization vote. The charges target Heyman for speaking out in the press--including in Socialist Worker--against federal intervention in negotiations.

But the outraged membership of Local 10 forced Mead to drop the charges. Heyman also produced a leaflet for the members that was a powerful indictment of ILWU leaders for having a "spirit of cooperation" with the PMA.

"The ILWU leadership should have a plan for job action to challenge PMA," the leaflet states. "The fact is there is none because the ILWU tops are paralyzed. We've organized rallies at federal buildings, rallies in front of PMA headquarters, rallies near the docks, 'letters of support' from politicians against government intervention, letters of protest to Maersk and SSA. Supporters of ILWU have campaigned for consumer boycotts of companies in the phony West Coast Waterfront Coalition, a PMA ally. Our members are rallied out. It's time for action on the docks. That's were our power is, at the point of production."

The membership of Local 10 also unanimously passed a resolution to enforce the Pacific Coast Marine Safety Code. According to the ILWU's own Web site, five ILWU members have been killed on the job in just the last six months. Two of those deaths--in addition to that of a third worker not in the ILWU--have been killed in just the last month!

Thankfully, workers in ports up and down the coast are beginning to organize that fight for themselves. The new rank-and-file newsletter The Maritime Workers Monitor has been received enthusiastically by workers in different ports.

These initiatives show the potential to halt the ILWU's retreat--and to prepare for the fight that the PMA has made unavoidable.

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