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Why we need to build solidarity with the dockworkers
Defending the ILWU

By Sue Sandlin and Lee Sustar | October 25, 2002 | Page 14

SAN FRANCISCO--Shipping bosses are preparing to use an 80-day federal court injunction to attack the West Coast dockworkers' union. And the Bush administration is ready to help.

As Socialist Worker went to press, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) was preparing a report that it claims will prove that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is conducting a slowdown in violation of a federal judge's order .

"Last week, the Bush administration told the management group that if it can demonstrate that its allegations are correct, then the Justice Department will see the union in court," Pacific Business News reported October 20.

Under terms of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act invoked by George W. Bush to end the 10-day PMA lockout this month, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup can levy massive fines against the ILWU for any slowdown--and jail union leaders if they don't comply.

The PMA wants the ILWU to allow employers to use technology to outsource union jobs and wreck the hiring halls won in the 1930s. That's why PMA President Joe Miniace has repeatedly rejected the union's strategy of accepting technology in exchange for continued union jurisdiction.

When the ILWU refused to knuckle under, the PMA locked out the workers--setting the stage for the White House to use Taft-Hartley Act for the first time in a quarter-century. But Bush's intervention actually began before the old union contract expired July 1, when Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge told ILWU leaders that the White House would ban any strike--and use troops as strikebreakers if necessary.

The attack on the ILWU is the biggest assault on a union since Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981. But while ILWU President James Spinosa and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka have condemned Bush's attack on the union, they have not yet mobilized labor to defend the dockworkers--even though union members and officials across the U.S. and around the world have expressed their solidarity.

Instead, the AFL-CIO and ILWU have dispatched union members to campaign in five closely contested Senate races--on the grounds that Democratic control of Congress would prevent Bush and the employers from pushing through legislation that could force a concessionary settlement.

This approach is not only wrong, it undermines the struggle. Most Senate Democrats are solidly pro-business. Like California's own Dianne Feinstein, who stated her opposition to Bush's intervention on August 16--only to call for the use of Taft-Hartley just two months later.

One of labor's targeted races is that of Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), who has voted with Bush 70 percent of the time. There's no reason to believe that such politicians will stop legislation aimed at the ILWU. And by waiting until after the election to mobilize defense efforts, organized labor gives the initiative to the PMA and the White House.

This is the same conservative strategy that the ILWU's Spinosa has followed since negotiations began--refusing to hold a strike vote and seeking to portray the union as a bulwark of "national security" against terrorists. Such flag-waving--a retreat from the ILWU's tradition of internationalism and support for progressive causes--only gave Bush political cover to intervene.

If no agreement is reached after 60 days under the court injunction, the ILWU is required by Taft-Hartley to participate in a government-run vote on management's offer, no matter how bad. The employers will almost certainly stonewall negotiations until that vote is taken--hoping that ILWU members will finally be bullied into accepting their anti-union deal.

The ILWU has pledged to continue to work safely throughout the 80 days "cooling-off" period, and members in different locals are talking about refusing to work double shifts to clean up the mess created by the lockout.

Standing up for union rights on the docks--and building a real fight against Taft-Hartley in the broader labor movement--is the only way that we can defend the ILWU. Small steps in that direction are being taken. ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco last week passed a resolution calling for a conference and a demonstration against Taft-Hartley for early December.

It's urgent that every union member--and everyone committed to workers' rights--build solidarity with the ILWU.

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