At the start of the war in Iraq, hundreds of protesters demonstrated on the Oakland docks, and longshoremen honoured their picket lines. (Above) Blocking shipping traffic on 7 April 2003. Oakland police opened fire on American protestors.
By JACK HEYMAN* San Francisco Chronicle
(9 April 2008) - WHILE millions of people worldwide have marched against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and last week's New York Times/CBS News poll indicated that 81 per cent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction - key concerns being the war and the economy - the war machine inexorably grinds on.
Amid this political atmosphere, dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have decided to stop work for eight hours in all US West Coast ports on May 1, International Workers' Day, to call for an end to the war.
This decision came after an impassioned debate where the union's Vietnam veterans turned the tide of opinion in favor of the anti-war resolution. The motion called it an imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi civilians were being wasted and declared May Day a "no peace, no work" holiday. Angered after supporting Democrats who received a mandate to end the war but who now continue to fund it, longshoremen decided to exercise their political power on the docks.
Last month, in response to the union's declaration, the Pacific Maritime Association, the West Coast employer association of shipowners, stevedore companies and terminal operators, declared its opposition to the union's protest. Thus, the stage is set for a conflict in the run up to the longshore contract negotiations.
The last set of contentious negotiations (in 2002) took place during the period between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the invasion of Iraq. Representatives of the Bush administration threatened that if there were any of the usual job actions during contract bargaining, then troops would occupy the docks because such actions would jeopardize "national security." Yet, when the PMA employers locked out the longshoremen and shut down West Coast ports for 11 days, the "security" issue vanished. President Bush then invoked the Taft-Hartley Act, forcing longshoremen back to work under conditions favorable to the employers.
And finally, last year, two black longshoremen going to work in the port of Sacramento were beaten, maced and arrested by police under the rubric of Homeland Security regulations ordained by the "war on terror."
There's precedent for this action. In the 1950s, French dockworkers refused to load war materiel on ships headed for Indochina, and helped to bring that colonial war to an end. At the ILWU's convention in San Francisco in 2003, A. Q. McElrath, an octogenarian University of Hawaii regent and former ILWU organizer from the pineapple canneries, challenged the delegates to act for social justice, invoking the union's slogan, "An injury to one is an injury to all." She concluded, "The cudgel is on the ground. Will you pick it up?"
It appears that longshore workers may be doing just that on May Day and calling on immigrant workers and others to join them.
May Day protest
WHEN: 10:30 a.m., May 1, followed by a rally at noon.
WHERE: Longshore Union Hall, corner of Mason and Beach (near Fisherman's Wharf).
WHAT: March to a rally at Justin Herman Plaza along the Embarcadero.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
www.maydayilwu.googlepages.com; www.ilwu.org; www.transportworkers.org or call (415) 776-8100.
*Jack Heyman is a longshoreman who works on the Oakland docks.
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