West Coast dockworkers will honor an international “day of action” on Thursday, July 7th , by observing an “hour of silence” from 11am to 12 noon, in honor of workers who have died on the docks here and abroad.
The International Day of Action is being organized by the International Dockworkers Council (IDC) and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). The groups represent thousands of dockworkers at ports throughout the world.
The union provided the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) employer group with advanced notice of the observance. The PMA has acknowledged and recognized the union’s request.
“We stand in solidarity with dockworkers in America and around the world who are calling attention to dangerous working conditions and the need to respect the rights of all workers,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.
ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams led an ILWU delegation to Brisbane, Australia in early May that included Local 20 President Rudy Dorame and Local 30 member Darrell Nichols.
The ILWU leaders joined nearly 50 of their counterparts from 11 countries who comprise the Rio Tinto Global Union Network, which represents thousands of workers employed by Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies.
ILWU’s Rio Tinto contracts
The global group heard a report from Darrell Nichols who explained the story behind a renewed 5-year contract that was ratified last December by Local 30 members at Rio Tinto’s mine in Boron, CA. In 2010, workers waged an impressive fight when the company initiated a 15-week lockout.
“It was incredible to see some of the same Australian workers who came over to support our lockout fight back in 2010,” said Nichols. “I’ve worked at Rio Tinto for 40 years, and seen plenty of things in Boron, including their use of outside contractors at our mine, but I was shocked at the way the company has been treating workers in other countries.”
Local 20 President Rudy Dorame explained that his 67 members who load and store Rio Tinto products at a private dock in Los Angeles Harbor are gearing up to win a new contract in June of 2017.
“The comradery and support we felt from all the different unions was awesome,” said Dorame, “We have to be prepared for a big fight back home in Wilmington – if that’s what it takes to win a fair contract.”
Strikes and contingent workers
Union representatives from France and Iceland reported on their recent strikes at Rio and thanked the network for supporting those struggles.
Unions from every country reported that Rio Tinto has been increasing the number of temporary workers at their facilities. Representatives from Canada, Iceland, Madagascar and Namibia discussed their recent campaigns to address this problem. A hard-hitting video was shown that exposed workers being abused at Rio Tinto’s Madagascar operation, where the company has invested billions but failed to address poor living and working conditions there.
Domrame said he was particularly impressed by what workers in Madagascar, South Africa and Indonesia were doing to organize for better pay. Rio Tinto has been paying some workers as low as $167 per month.
The network agreed to tackle an ambitious solidarity agenda that will help union members challenge Rio Tinto on a global scale. A resolution was unanimously passed to support the Maritime Union of Australia which is pressing Rio Tinto to reverse their decision that replaced Australian seafarers with exploited foreign workers who are paid as little as $ 2 an hour.
Following the network meeting, participants went to Rio Tinto’s annual shareholder meeting in Brisbane. Network participants questioned Rio Tinto board members about the company’s global labor problems.
Andrew Vickers, who chairs the Rio Tinto Global Union Network and serves as General Secretary of Australia’s Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), reported that officials from Rio Tinto recently inquired about the possibility of establishing better labor relations around the world. Discussions to explore exactly what that might mean are continuing.
“We’re interested to see if Rio Tinto is just using new rhetoric – or willing to get serious about improving their treatment of workers and unions,” said International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams. He noted that the upcoming contract negotiations with Local 20 members will be one way to evaluate Rio Tinto’s claims.
Like many African-Americans of his generation, Williams’ family was based in the south. His father was a sharecropper and Josh remembered working in the fields with him to pick cotton when he was seven years old.
Williams excelled as an athlete in high school before joining the Army which allowed him to escape from the Jim Crow laws of the South. After basic training in Southern California where he learned to march and drill, Williams applied to be a paratrooper but was barred because he was African- American. After serving in the Korean War, he enrolled at City College in San Francisco where he joined a fraternity and experimented with modifying the drills that he learned in the military. The college Dean told him to stop drilling and study more.
When Williams joined the ILWU in 1959 at the age of 26, union members were in the middle of a difficult struggle – transitioning away from the labor-intensive “break-bulk” loading process involving “gangs” of men who sometimes labored together for weeks on a vessel – and moved towards the new container technology that raised productivity and profits, while cutting turn times and the size of the workforce.
Williams and his co-workers who survived this transition found themselves able to win new contracts with dramatically better pay and benefits, but he and others were also inspired by the Civil Rights Movement that was sweeping the country.
In 1965, Williams invented a new kind of “drill team” that would blend union solidarity themes with military drills and some slick dance moves. The following year they showcased the Local 10 Drill Team’s unique style at a mass march down Market Street to honor Cesar Chavez and his newly organized farmworker campaign. In 1967, they performed when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Local 10, and continued performing at social justice events both large and small – in the Bay Area and across the country – including massive anti-war protests, May Day demonstrations, parades, receptions and ceremonies of all kinds.
A memorial service was held for Williams on June 15th at Duggan’s Serra Mortuary in Daily City. It was attended by approximately 100 family, friends and union brothers and sisters whose lives Josh has touched. The Local 10 Drill Team gave their general a final send off. Former drill team members from as far away as Los Angeles made the trip to say their final good byes to Josh. Following the service, a repast was hosted at the Local 10 Hall.
The ILWU International officers approved a $1,500 donation for the reception. Josh’s internment was held on June 22 at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.
An estimated 100 ILWU volunteers provided most of the labor and resources for a successful community clean-up effort in partnership with Oakland District 5 Councilmembers Noel Gallo on Saturday, May 14. The impressive turnout topped results from the previous clean-up efforts held last October.
“ILWU volunteers are such a welcome and important part of our community,” said City Councilmember Noel Gallo who represents a working-class district in East Oakland where illegal dumping has left residents with more than their share of discarded waste.
In addition to contributing their labor, the ILWU contributed a total of 9 pickup trucks that were used to haul waste to a city collection site. The ILWU also contributed funds to help pay for food, drinks and t-shirts, courtesy of Locals 6, 10, 34, 91 and the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU).
A team 18 volunteers from Local 10 were assigned to clean-up Oakland’s Animal Services facility that had become overgrown with weeds, foliage and refuse.
Another group of volunteers from Local 6 and 10 went to the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park where they painted a small bridge and cleaned-up a creek that was clogged with illegally-dumped waste.
“I came with my family because all of us wanted to contribute,” said Maria Vilma Reyes, a member of Local 6 who works at Recycle America/Waste Management.
Yet another team spread out on city streets to collect piles of old mattresses, abandoned furniture and waste of all kinds from sidewalks, street corners, and vacant lots.
A crew of 36 divided into 12 “pick-up” teams that loaded the refuse into their trucks and hauled to the collection center.
As in previous efforts, recycling workers who belong to Local 6 have been a key part of the effort. A big turnout from members employed by Alameda County Industries joined with other recyclers who work for Waste Management, California Waste Solutions and BLT in Fremont.
The City was able to provide a few staff to help with the effort but far less than the number needed by residents to stay ahead of the illegal dumping. In an ideal world, the City of Oakland would be paying crews of municipal workers to get the job done, but Councilmember Gallo says that the City’s budget hasn’t allowed for enough staffing.
“This is a stop-gap measure until we can find a better solution that provides enough funding for all sorts of urgently-needed city services, including better enforcement and collection of illegal dumping in working-class neighborhoods,” said Gallo, who spends most of his weekends helping with clean-up drives. “Until we win that fight, the ILWU and other community groups are helping residents in a direct way and winning some well-deserved appreciation from all of us.”
Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign shocked the political establishment by morphing into a movement with clear working- class politics that inspired a new generation of young people and working families.
Sanders won 12 million votes and scored victories in 22 states, but his campaign came to a bittersweet conclusion on June 7 when the final major primary in California was lost by 13 points.
Turnout was short
The California primary election involved 3.5 million voters – an impressive number that dwarfed other states – but fell short of the 5 million who voted in the state’s 2008 primary when Clinton faced Obama. Turnout wasn’t helped by an announcement just before election day that Clinton had won enough delegates to secure the nomination.
Young & indies register
Sanders’ powerful appeal to younger and independent voters motivated record numbers to register before the election. But many who took that step checked a “no party preference” box instead of registering as “Democrats” – then found it nearly impossible to actually cast a vote for Sanders due to cumbersome election rules. California’s steady growth of “NPP” voters, now totaling 4 million, amounts to 24% of the electorate and will soon surpass the number of registered Republicans, so winning independent voters is increasingly important to candidates and a source of anxiety for both establishment parties.
Days after the election, California’s Secretary of State reported that 2.6 million ballots had yet to be counted. Roughly 1.8 million of them were “mail-in” ballots with 705,000 classified as “provisional.”
While it’s virtually impossible that the remaining ballots would reverse the outcome, the results could narrow somewhat by the July 15 deadline when the final results must be certified.
The Bernie alternative
“The Bernie Sanders movement presented us with a rare opportunity to support a candidate who was willing to stand with the working class,” said Cathy Familathe, President of the ILWU’s Southern California District Council that helped coordinate member outreach and education efforts. “Bernie showed us that it’s possible to be a viable candidate who can challenge the growing influence of business-as-usual, corporate- backed candidates in both parties,” she said. “ILWU members seemed to respond to what he was saying.”
Sanders in San Pedro
Sanders warmly embraced endorsements from more progressive unions, including the ILWU, Communications Workers, Nurses, Transit and other local unions during his campaign, including Steelworkers Local 675 in Carson, CA. Sanders’ May 27 visit to San Pedro was extra special because of the significant ILWU presence.
Thousands came with only 48-hours’ notice to attend a spirited and photogenic waterfront rally with cranes and container ships in the background.
Longshore leaders who spoke at the rally – as individuals, not union officials – included Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr., ILWU Pacific Coast Pensioners President Greg Mitre and International Vice President Ray Familathe who introduced Sanders by declaring: “Bernie doesn’t worry about stepping on toes or hurting the feelings of one-percenters, Wall Streeters, and puffed-up business tycoons. He’s willing to stand with the working class and stay with the working class. That’s what he’s always done in Congress; that’s what he’s done on the campaign trail, and that’s why we’re supporting him for President of the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Bernie Sanders!”
Sanders arrived at the podium wearing an ILWU jacket that appeared in photos and television appearances for several days. After thanking the many union and community members who attended, Sanders delivered the passionate stump speech that distinguished him as the first Presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt to come down hard on bankers and big business – while advocating for workers and all Americans who have been left behind as the rich have become richer and more powerful.
“We need a political revolution because one-tenth of one-percent in this country now owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans,” Sanders said.
He also struck a positive and hopeful tone, noting that “so many young people have supported our vision of social justice, economic justice, racial justice, and environmental justice.”
Sanders detailed his program for real change that included “breaking up the big banks, providing health care for all, reforming the criminal justice system and ending a corrupt political system that works for billionaires and corporations but excludes most Americans and threatens our democracy.” He concluded by noting that “real change always has come from the bottom-up, not the top-down. That’s the history of the labor movement, and that’s what our movement is about.”
Flurry of final campaigning
Sanders left San Pedro for a meeting with residents concerned about oil companies fracking in their neighborhood and held another rally before appearing as a guest on the “Real Time with Bill Maher” TV show. In the days that followed, Sanders visited California’s Central Valley before arriving at the Bay Area for a final push, including a rally in Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza where actor Danny Glover – introduced by Local 10 member and longtime friend Clarence Thomas – warmed up the large crowd before Sanders took the stage.
San Francisco finale
Sanders final California campaign rally was held on the eve before election day in San Francisco. With the sun setting on the Golden Gate Bridge behind him and a chilly wind buffeting thousands who gathered around him, Sanders urged activists to keep fighting for the issues raised by the campaign.
Election night & beyond
As polls closed the next day and the disappointing results came in, Sanders spoke to supporters in a large airplane hangar in Santa Monica. His address remained focused on the issues, but he also acknowledged speaking earlier that evening with President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He pivoted to focus more fire on Donald Trump, declaring that the “American people will never support a candidate who’s major theme is bigotry,” and added, “our vision is about more than defeating Trump – it’s about transforming the country.”
ILWU members in Philly
The next phase of the Presidential campaign will move to Philadelphia on July 25-28 where Democratic Party convention delegates will debate an issue platform and set rules for future elections – in addition to formally nominating the party’s candidate.
Many of the delegates will be members of labor unions who ran in little-noticed recently in each congressional district. One of those delegates is Local 23 President Dean McGrath. Another is Jeff Engels of Seattle, a member of the ILWU’s Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) who serves as West Coast Coordinator of the International Transport Workers Federation. Joining them is Camron Pate, Local 29 leader and political activist who said she is, “excited and thrilled to be a delegate and looking forward to doing some serious work at the Philadelphia convention.” Another possible delegate is Local 63 member and SCDC President Cathy Familathe, who is a runner-up and at-large candidate for a possible delegate slot. Another alternate delegate is Local 23’s Zach Pattin.
“We’ll be travelling at our expense, but remembering all our brothers and sisters back home who want to see real change in this country, along the lines that Bernie Sanders advocated,” said Engels.
ILWU International President Bob McEllrath says he remains hopeful about the lasting impact of Bernie Sanders’ effort. “Sanders re-shuffled the deck and shook-up the political establishment, which is exactly what America needs now. He got the ball rolling, but the rest of us have to keep pushing for real change, even when it’s unpopular with those in power.”