Bad strategy in the Boron strike

May 27, 2010

Jack Heyman, a member of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, circulated the following statement about the outcome of the recent Boron miners' strike.

AS YOU may know the Boron miners voted to accept a new contract with Rio Tinto last Saturday.

First, I want to thank the organizations and individuals who participated in setting up of the Bay Area Boron Miners Solidarity Committee. Unfortunately, the committee was not able to organize a solidarity action because International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 30 members never were able to organize picketing before the tentative agreement was voted on. They were stopped by the ILWU International officers, who are calling the six-year pact a "victory."

Seeing no serious way to fight Rio Tinto's lockout after 100 days, the membership voted to accept the concessionary deal at the urging of the ILWU International officers and the Local 30 president by a margin of 75 percent to 25 percent. This was the same percentage by which the historic 1934 maritime strike was ended, with Harry Bridges and the militants in the longshore union voting in the minority against the proposed settlement.

Rio Tinto got what they wanted: gutting union seniority in promotions, hiring and training; the company can now contract out during busy periods; and members can't sue the company over work related issues. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Rio Tinto had illegally locked out the miners. The company was liable for miners' back pay during the three-and-a-half month lockout, but it was given away to achieve a pact.

In a change from the ILWU's militant history of organizing mass pickets on the docks against employer attacks, the present International leadership had opposed picketing by the miners and instead called for carrying American flags, demonstrating at the British consulate (Rio Tinto is British-owned) and lobbying Rio Tinto shareholders.

This "public relations" strategy didn't use the ILWU's power on the docks and made it difficult to organize support actions there when the miners themselves weren't taking such basic protest actions. In any case, the longshoremen should never have handled the thousands (according to locked out Borax miners) of scab containers in the port of Los Angeles.

Thanks again for your participation in the solidarity committee. I only regret that we were not able to organize solidarity actions as we've done in the past to support the Boron miners. It could have prevented what one longshore veteran characterized as "ILWU's PATCO".

In solidarity,
Jack Heyman

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