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Belize’s Black Stevedores Protest

Thu, 03/05/2020 - 20:16

Belize’s Black Stevedores Protest

March 5, 2020


We hope that this message finds you well in the struggle for dignity and justice.

We are writing to alert you to breaking news in Belize where stevedores (dock workers) are going into their 72 hours of protest camping out against actions of the privately-run Port of Belize Ltd. with the support of their union, the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU). There are about 150 mostly Black stevedores (dockworkers) who daily risk their lives (some have fallen to their deaths) working to unload shipping containers, at the principal deep-water port in the Central American and Caribbean country of Belize. One community supporter at the port said, “These workers are the salt-of-the-earth. They risk their lives for us.” They cannot call this protest a strike, because of the 2015 law that the Government of Belize pushed deeming stevedores “essential service workers” requiring that they give 21 days notice of an industrial strike. The union's communications regarding a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the PBL have gone unanswered; they have not had a new CBA since 2004.

The workers recently learned- through the grapevine- that two multinational corporations, American Sugar Refineries and Santander, are restructuring sugar exports after months (if not years) of behind closed door meetings. They plan to move shipping of sugar to the Big Creek Port in the southern district of Toledo. Workers there are not yet unionised and the Port will use mechanisation of the process as justification for hiring fewer labourers. They are being pressured to end this action and return to work. The CWU now questions the legality of the Essential Services Act as stevedores are often denied work shifts during bank holidays, presumably so that the PBL can avoid having to pay time and a half or double their regular salaries.

The union president Evan “Mose” Hyde and the union representatives explain that the restructuring of the sugar imports will impact 150 workers, a third of whom are expecting to be fired under grounds of “redundancy” and almost half of whom are expecting to have their hours and income cut, tremendously. This is one of the few jobs in which Black workers are able to make what approximates a living wage, with a union, in the southside of Belize City. Many of them come from generations of dock workers who work expertly under dangerous conditions. Currently while the men are on strike- and always- women in the community are carrying out the labour of taking care of children and the home.

This is racist. This is anti-union. This is anti-labour. It is an assault on Black workers who are part of the heart of the Belize economy, in a country where the majority is living in poverty and is made up of Black (African Kriol, Garinagu and African and African Diasporan immigrants), Indigenous (Maya Mopan, Yucatec, Q’eqchi and Garinagu) and SE Asian Diasporan (East Indians).

CWU leadership:
Evan “Mose” Hyde (501) 672-4770
Marisol Amaya, KREM, (501) 671-6037; or
YaYa Marin Coleman, KREM, (501) 671-8050;

Words from the CWU at the start of the protest:
“In the wake of this neoliberal romance there will be devastating economic losses to one hundred and fifty stevedores, approximately almost a third of which will become unemployed, and those that remain will have their annual earnings reduce by 40%. The writing is clearly on the wall that our members are on a sinking ship with sugar. A huge reason for this devastating blow is the failure of PBL’s receivership either as a result of disinterest or because of conspiratorial design fail to compete, fail to invest and fail to care. While our members financial stability is about to be sacrificed in the name corporate profit margins, PBL has not felt it important to communicate a single word to our members , members who have risked and lost their lives working in unsafe conditions, and unsafe barges while making maximum profits for these companies. We know that ASR has had the decency to engage its members who will be affected by this move in the North, multiple gratuity options are being presented to them but here in Belize City the receivership has completely ignored our members.

Today we are demanding a signed agreement for compensation for our members for the years that they have worked sugar, once they have been made redundant. We will not wait until the last sugar boat is loaded, we do not trust the present management of PBL. We have had to go to the highest offices of the land seeking an intervention with PBL’s failure, but while we have gotten a sympathetic ear, we have been told there is nothing that can be done to force PBL to act in our interest. The staff members at PBL that we represent are also taking the time to protest the blatant disrespect and insolence of the management in completely ignoring their proposals for a new CBA that was sent to them last year. The staff members have every right to be frustrated by the fact that they have not had a new CBA since 2004. This stale agreement has created an environment where our members have seen their rights eroded and a plethora of irregularities and inconsistencies in the workplace. Our members’ backs are against the wall, there is no choice but to stand up and defend and secure our survival and our economic dignity."

We need international news coverage
Contacts with unions and other social movement organisations
The Christian Workers Union needs legal contacts in the Caribbean region (Common Law)

Living wage: This is one of the sectors in which workers are able to make something resembling a living wage.

Solidarity: Staff at the PBL have occasionally stood outside with the stevedores in a show of support. Yesterday truck drivers from northern Belize joined the stevedores. The Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) has joined some meetings.

Workers’ rights: The stevedores are unionised and incredibly skilled workers being denied any participation in the decision making processes that impact their work and livelihood. International laws and conventions protect their right to work. Their wages are critical to Black working class people in try Belize City.

Racial justice: In a country plagued with anti-Black racism, the work of stevedores has been dominated by Black people of African descent. International laws protect Black people from discrimination by private and public institutions and require that the state protect Black people from racial discrimination. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize has acknowledged the UN Decade of People of African Descent.

Gender justice: Women are taking on immense reproductive and feminised labour, now while the stevedores are camping out at the Port, and, always.

Immigrant rights: Neoliberal policies impose the privatisation of public resources, impoverish and militarise this Central American and Caribbean country and provide one of the main reasons why Belizeans, particularly Black Belizeans, migrate.

Environmental rights: These corporations are shifting to rely on trucking to a southern district and will likely increase their use of fossil fuels and potentially create conditions of congestion on road-ways that pass through mountainous zones, creating greater risk for truck drivers.

Krem Livestream and Video Links (YMC)
Krem News’ director Marisol Amaya and Krem Sunday Review host YaYa Marin Coleman have been covering the protest, interviewing stevedores and union leaders.
Christian Workers Union Press Conference March 5, 2020
March 2, 2020 Interview with union leadership
March 2 Text Synopsis & Photos
March 2, Video Video clip from Wednesday March 4, 2020 Stevedore Sharing about the containers coming in to be loaded on the ship.
March 5, 2010 Stevedores Respond about the meeting with CWU. PBL and Labour Minister Pictures and text from stevedores having breakfast after their 2nd morning of waking up outside the Port of Belize Ltd.

Newspaper Articles and Photos (YMC)
Stevedores stood, sat, walked in front of the Belize Port Authority Limited Monday March 3, 2020 at around 8:30 in the morning Stevedores face “dread times”
February 8, 2020 news article about stevedores concerned about job insecurity BSI/ASR threatens stevedores' earnings
February 2020 Santander offers Cayo Farmers sweet deal
As their workers Santander offers Cayo farmers sweet deal
News story from February 2020 about Santander Harvest and their use of machinery to produce more profits, replace workers
October 6, 2018 Amandala story on PBL & CWU about stevedores Stevedores threaten waterfront strike!
Stevedores stories, their work lives, they work in gangs of (how many men), and they work in shifts (different hours of work, staggered throughout the time it takes to load a boat), Black men, generations of families, Faber Family 5 generations of men in the longshore business
News article in December 2015 after 3 days of strike by stevedores around Christmas time GOB passes a law to make stevedores essential services Parties react to law making stevedores an essential service
News article explaining Belize Sugar The Santander Group exports first sugar shipment Industry (BSI/ASR position on why they are considering trucking raw sugar from the North of Belize where the sugar cane is processed to the Port of Big Creek in the Toledo District BSI shipment of sugar from Big Creek Port will hit stevedores hard, if implemented September 25, 2019
Big Creek is a deep water port (,_Belize)
The Port has been in receivership for many years- it is privatised and under “temporary” management
Belize City describe the North and Southside classifications this link gives a description of north and south side geographic location
Santander first export in 2016

Tags: Beliz longshore workersunion bustingracismAmerican Sugar RefineriesSantander
Categories: Labor News

Fatal crash of ILWU longshore worker Rasheeda Marsh near Port of Oakland raises ire about illegally parked trucks

Sat, 02/29/2020 - 09:39

Fatal crash of ILWU longshore worker Rasheeda Marsh near Port of Oakland raises ire about illegally parked trucks
“The companies don’t make changes until someone dies,” he said. “Safety can’t affect profit, that’s the dilemma of capitalism.”

Matthias Gafni Feb. 29, 2020 Updated: Feb. 29, 2020 4 a.m.

An informal memorial was set up at the site where Rasheeda Marsh crashed her car into illegally parked truck trailer at the Oakland port last Saturday.Photo: Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Trucks line up, above, on the side of the road waiting to enter the Port of Oakland’s west gate near where Rasheeda Marsh, left, died in a car crash.Photo: Photos by Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Rasheeda Marsh, a 39-year-old dock worker, crashed her car into the front of this parked trailer at the Port of Oakland on Saturday night. The truck was left in the left hand turning lane.Photo: Courtesy of Mariela Leviege
On break from her job as a dock worker at the Port of Oakland last Saturday night, Rasheeda Marsh crashed her Honda into the front of an unattached truck trailer, illegally parked in a left-hand turn lane on Middle Harbor Road.

Marsh, a 39-year-old Oakland resident, died at the scene, leaving behind a 4-year-old son and grieving mother, brother and boyfriend. Longshoremen and port workers interviewed by The Chronicle said the accident could have been prevented. They say they’ve complained to the port, city and Oakland police for years about illegally parked trucks in the median of the road.

“There’s definitely safety issues down here,” said Craig Lauderdale, a 32-year longshoreman veteran who said he’s complained to the port numerous times. “There have been complaints, and police have come down here a few times, but you rarely see them. If I parked my car in the median of Broadway it’d be towed, so why should it be allowed in the port?”

At issue is a practice in which truckers over the weekend — and to a lesser extent on weeknights — illegally park their trucks, trailers and sometimes just an empty trailer chassis in the median of Middle Harbor to reserve a spot in line when the port’s west gate opens. Those vehicles and equipment can be hard to see on the long straightaway, often a magnet for illegal street racing that has ended in fatal crashes, though not involving parked trucks.

Port spokesman Mike Zampa said it’s a public road, and it’s up to Oakland police to enforce traffic regulations.

“There are occasionally trucks that get into a queue before the gates open, not that frequently,” Zampa said. “It’s not something they’re supposed to do, and when we see it, we report it.”

Oakland city records show only one call for service for an abandoned vehicle on Middle Harbor since 2010. The city’s Public Works Department handles parking enforcement and Oakland police handle traffic enforcement. An Oakland police spokeswoman said the department has received no complaints from the port about the illegal parking issue.

Signs along one shoulder warn truckers of “No Idling,” while others say “No Parking.” There are no signs indicating no parking in the turning lane or median, but that is never legal. A traffic fine for impeding a lane of traffic is $63.

Less than two years ago, an Oakland police officer was critically injured after slamming his patrol SUV into a parked semi-truck while responding to a call on the same stretch of roadway, early on a Monday before the gates opened to let trucks queued up over the weekend into the port.

Officer Jordan Wingate was responding to a report of a suspicious person in August 2018 and traveling eastbound on the 1900 block of Middle Harbor when his vehicle collided with another car and then crashed into a parked semi-truck, officials said at the time. He has not returned to the department and is still recovering from his injuries, police said.

Northern California man freed after 15 years in prison for...
“You would have thought after what happened two years ago the port would’ve cracked down on it,” Lauderdale said.

On Monday, trucks continued to park in the turning lane, which extends into a median outlined by double-yellow lines, Lauderdale said. He snapped a photo of three trucks already parked in the spot around 7 p.m., shortly after the port day shift ended.

On Tuesday, a reporter and photographer saw a line of trucks on the shoulder with a security guard nearby. About 100 feet east of the port entrance, dozens of memorial candles flickered in the still night air along a fence where Marsh’s car came to rest Saturday just before midnight.

“Rest in Love #2482,” someone wrote in black marker on Marsh’s yellow longshoreman safety vest hanging on the cyclone fence. A Tequila bottle, dozens of candles, flower bouquets and stuffed animals marked the spot where she died after ricocheting off the parked truck trailer. Police have not said who parked the container in the turning lane or how Marsh crossed over to hit it as she traveled eastbound.

Police have said alcohol and drugs do not appear to have been a factor in the collision, and the incident is still under investigation. A photo of the truck trailer given by a dockworker to Marsh’s family and shared with The Chronicle shows minor damage to the heavy equipment in the turning lane.

Anthony Leviege, Marsh’s brother who has worked for two decades as a longshoreman at the port, was hanging out with friends in downtown Oakland on Saturday night. A coworker called and said his sister had been in an accident, and Leviege drove to the scene expecting a minor fender bender. When he arrived, he was stopped by crime-scene tape, but could see his sister’s car in the distance crashed into a fence.

“I thought, ‘Oh s—, she had an accident!’” Leviege said, but he still didn’t grasp the severity. He walked up to an officer at the scene and told him that was his sister.

“She didn’t make it,” the officer told him.

Rasheeda Marsh, a 39-year-old dock worker, crashed her car into the front of this parked trailer at the Port of Oakland on Saturday night. She’s pictured in this family photo with her brother and son Lloyd.
Photo: Courtesy of Mariela Leviege
“It’s weird, you see people on TV and those people respond in a certain way, everybody breaks down,” he said. But he and his mother who came to the scene were more stoic and shocked, he said. His mother, he recalled, leaned over to her son and said, “It’s just you and me now.”

Leviege said the truck parking has been an issue for years, and he has contacted an attorney to weigh his options.

“It’s just a dangerous situation. At the end of the day ... at the top of the food chain, it’s the companies. The truckers just feel they got to be at the front of the line so they don’t have to wait four hours for their box, and they get paid by the box,” Leviege said. “If you got to feed your family by the box, you’d break the rules, too.

“The companies don’t make changes until someone dies,” he said. “Safety can’t affect profit, that’s the dilemma of capitalism.”

Tom Villeggiante, a supervisor with International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 91, said the illegally parked trucks have been an issue for years, and the unions have issued complaints.

“My son works down there, and he says he’s almost run into them before,” Villeggiante said. “If you’re not paying attention, you can run into them.”

Villeggiante said he’s heard of desperate truckers pulling out a container, dropping it into the median, immediately returning to the port to pick up a second container and then returning for the parked box later.

For Leviege, he’s now busy preparing his younger sister’s funeral and caring for her toddler son, Lloyd.

“She was just full of energy, always happy. ... She was very excited to become a longshoreman,” Leviege said. “She was a beautiful person, a free spirit.”

It was about a year ago that he helped bring his sister into the port workforce, where she held two jobs to provide for her son.

“For me, being a longshoreman has been a benefit to me, and I was glad I could help my sister,” Leviege said. “Now it feels like a curse.”

Matthias Gafni is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @mgafni

Tags: ILWU Local 10health safetydeath on the job
Categories: Labor News

Italian dock workers refuse to resupply Saudi ‘weapons’ ship

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 08:33

Italian dock workers refuse to resupply Saudi ‘weapons’ ship
February 18, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Published in: Europe & Russia, Italy, Middle East, News, Saudi Arabia
A picture taken on May 9, 2019 from northern port of Le Havre, shows Saudi cargo ship Bahri Yanbu (R) next to British crude oil tanker Nordic Space (L) waiting in the port of Le Havre. - French President defended his country's arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on 9 May 2019 [JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER /AFP/Getty]
February 18, 2020 at 2:23 pm

notorious Saudi cargo ship suspected of carrying arms to be used in the war in Yemen.

This is the latest in a string of protests by anti-war activists against the ship as it has made its way to various European ports.

At the end of last month, the Bahri Yanbu was blocked from docking in Bremerhaven, Germany, after Amnesty International sought legal action through the courts. It was then prevented from docking in Antwerp, Belgium, by “citizen weapons inspectors” before moving onto Britain where it was faced with further protests; it had to dock in Sheerness, instead of the scheduled stop at Tilbury.

Sailing onto the French port of Cherbourg, the Bahri Yanbu was greeted with yet more activists holding signs saying “War crimes in Yemen” and “Made in France”, a reference to French weapons which were suspected of being loaded onto the ship. In the Spanish port of Bilbao, Greenpeacereported that explosive material had been put on board.

After Antwerp, Tilbury, Cherbourg and Bilbao, dockworkers and activists in Genova are protesting against the arrival of the #BahriYanbu today.

Want to know all about the actions against the Bahri Yanbu? Check out this article from @CAATuk

Resisting the Saudi arms ship
Solidarity with allies in Italy today, protesting against the arrival of Saudi Arabian cargo ship the Bahri Yanbu.
Amnesty Italia

Da questa mattina alle sette siamo con i portuali e altre realtà della società civile al porto di Genova per chiedere la chiusura del porto alle armi. La nave saudita Bahri Yanbu deve essere fermata!

06:19 - 17 Feb 2020

See Stefanie De Bock's other Tweets

READ: Anti-war activists force Saudi ‘weapons’ ship to reroute again

The Italian dock workers went on strike last year in a dispute about loading the same Saudi vessel and are planning further action later this year. They were reported to be going on strike and were joined by other organisations yesterday when the Bahri Yanbu docked. The trade unions have repeatedly voiced their opposition to loading “hot cargo” that is destined for use in the war in Yemen.

ANPI Brescia - #BellaCiao
Italy — Picket since 7 am this morning in the Italian port of Genoa against the docking of Saudi ship #BahriYanbu, bound for #Yemen, due in around 10 am.
Harbour dockers on strike were joined by parties and associations incl. @amnestyitalia. #camalli #Genova #En #17febbraio
Nave delle armi, presidio al varco Etiopia. Traffico in tilt

The protesters believe that the weapons shipments violate a UN embargo as they could be used against civilians in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition has intervened militarily in a bid to overthrow the Houthi-led National Salvation Government based in the capital, Sanaa. Riyadh also wants to reinstate exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi who has been living in the Saudi capital since he fled Yemen after the start of the war. More than 100,000 people have been killed since 2015, and Yemen now faces what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

ANPI Brescia - #BellaCiao
Italy — Harbour dockers and campaigners held a day-long demonstration in the Italian port of Genoa on Monday to protest against the docking of Saudi ship #BahriYanbu, bound for #Yemen … #camalli #Genova #En #17febbraio

09:23 - 17 Feb 2020

See ANPI Brescia - #BellaCiao's other Tweets

In the next couple of days, the Bahri Yanbu is expected to cross the Mediterranean Sea to dock at Alexandria in Egypt before it heads for the Saudi port of Jeddah via the Suez Canal next week.

Tags: internationalismsolidaritylongshore boycottanti-imperialism
Categories: Labor News

The Survival of the ILWU at Stake! Interview With Retired ILWU Local 10 Member Jack Heyman

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 21:32

The Survival of the ILWU at Stake! Interview With Retired ILWU Local 10 Member Jack Heyman
WorkWeek interviews retired ILWU Local 10 longshoreman Jack Heyman about the dangers facing the ILWU and the fight for survival. He looks at the US Federal $93 million against the ILWU, the privatization of. the Port of Oakalnd threatening longshore and maritime jobs as well the full automation of the port.
Additional media:
The Survival of the ILWU at Stake!
Automation, Union Busting & The Attacks On MUA Wharfies & Dockers Worldwide
Jack Heyman On The Lessons Of The ILWU Local 21 Longview Fight
The ILWU, Automation, Longshore Workers & The 8 Year Contract
The War At the Port Of Longview, Washington And the ILWU
Lessons From the ILWU Battle Against EGT in Longview And the Struggle Ahead-TWSC Forum
Militant Trade Unionism Or Business Unionism In ILWU?
Production of Labor Video Project

The Survival of the ILWU at Stake!

FEBRUARY 12, 2020
by JACK HEYMANFacebookTwitterRedditEmailatoa-print-icon.png

This is a logo owned by International Longshore and Warehouse Union for International Longshore and Warehouse Union – Fair Source

Coastwide Port Action Can Stop Union Busting! Labor Solidarity Must Prevail

A recent federal court decision in Portland, Oregon poses an immediate existential threat to the strongest union in the U.S. today, the ILWU, and ultimately to the labor movement as a whole. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), arguably one of the most militant unions in the U.S., has been hit with a union-busting $93.6 million dollar court-imposed fine for a secondary boycott deemed illegal under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. The plaintiff, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) is owned by the third richest man in the Philippines, billionaire Enrique Razon Jr. and operates in 27 ports worldwide, mainly in poor, developing countries.

The maritime company claims it was run out of business in Portland because of a secondary boycott by the longshore union during a long-running dispute over two mechanics jobs which are presently done by another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). ICTSI argues the primary employer is the Port of Portland which hires the mechanics, so they claim the longshore union organized an “illegal” secondary boycott. For the ILWU’s part, it was a foolish top down campaign organized by the dubious Leal Sundet, then, an ILWU Coast Committeeman who had previously been an Oregon area executive for the employers group, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

On February 14 in Portland, this capital vs labor battle may be decided by a federal court judge. The response of the ILWU to the union-busting verdict should be to take the struggle out of the courts and onto the docks where our strength lies, as it did so many times in the past. Otherwise the union leadership is agreeing to let this battle between labor and capital be decided by a capitalist judge. Some members don’t want to declare bankruptcy but that would mean an exorbitant assessment of all longshore workers. Others want to re-join the AFL-CIO but that doesn’t necessarily mean real support for the ILWU. The main obstacle is that the leadership is offering no kind of active labor defense, only a deadly silence in the media.

Known as the slave labor act by the organized labor movement, the Taft-Hartley Act bans solidarity actions or secondary boycotts as the government’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) refers to an action not directed against the primary employer. But it was solidarity actions that built the labor movement during the Great Depression and it was solidarity actions that won and sustained ILWU’s victories that are recognized internationally.

*In 1984, during the repressive Reagan years San Francisco longshore workers boycotted a ship from South Africa for 11 days to protest apartheid. After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison he addressed a packed Oakland Coliseum on his 1990 world tour. He praised ILWU Local 10’s action for sparking the anti-apartheid movement in the Bay Area.

*In 1997, longshoremen refused to work the Neptune Jade, a ship from England, in solidarity with locked out Liverpool dockers. The action, with the backing of ILWU President Brian McWilliams, sparked a boycott in three consecutive ports across the seas that displayed a union power that frightened maritime employers.

*That international solidarity action was followed with a campaign to defend the predominantly black longshore union, ILA Local 1422, against union busting in Charleston, South Carolina. That campaign, initiated by the ILWU and Local 1422, became a cause celebre of the entire AFL-CIO, peaking with a march of several thousand trade unionists protesting at the state capitol which was flying the Confederate flag.

*In 1999, President McWilliams addressed a rally of thousands in Seattle announcing that the

ILWU shutdown West Coast ports in solidarity with anti-WTO demonstrators including Teamsters and other unions and in protest against police brutality.

*That same year ILWU led a march of 25,000 through the streets of San Francisco, supported by the San Francisco Labor Council, to demand freedom for innocent political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. His death sentence was rescinded but he still remains imprisoned after 38 years.

*In 2008, ILWU shut down all West Coast Ports to protest the “imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” despite vicious PMA threats to sue the union under Taft-Hartley in the NLRB.

*In 2010, Local 10 shut down Bay Area ports to protest the BART police killing of Oscar Grant and has continued protest actions against racist police and fascist terror.

*In 2010 and 2014, Local 10 members refused to work ZIM Lines ships to protest the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. These actions drove ZIM ships out of the port of Oakland much to the dismay of the Zionist government.

*And in 2011, When Wisconsin workers were under attack by Governor Scott Walker and had occupied the state capitol building, AFL-CIO President Trumka and ILWU President McEllrath sent out calls for solidarity with the state workers. ILWU Local 10 answered that call with job action, shutting down all Bay Area ports in a solidarity strike action.All these actions were in violation of Taft-Hartley’s secondary boycott provision.

ILWU’s history shows that labor’s strength lies in union solidarity actions not in kangaroo courts.

Yet, this new ILWU leadership has limited the fight against Taft-Hartley to the courtroom. ILWU’s International President William Adams states in the November 2019 issue of The Dispatcher, the union’s newspaper, “While we respect the process, we disagree with the excessive damages award”. Respecting the anti-labor Taft-Hartley process means an unprecedented course of navigation for the union into treacherous waters with a broken sextant. This strategy rejects ILWU’s history of challenging Taft-Hartley from the very start. Adams, who has never played a leading role in solidarity job actions, claims ILWU may declare bankruptcy but will survive. Veteran activists know that accepting such an onerous fine will not only bankrupt the union but chill solidarity actions, stifling the future of ILWU’s proud legacy. Adam’s demagogic calls for “unity” behind this defeatist strategy will land the union’s ship on the rocks. The ILWU must appeal, publicize its case broadly and initiate labor solidarity actions.

ILWU’s Historic Role in Fighting Taft-Hartley and Building Labor Solidarity

West Coast maritime workers have long been in the forefront of U.S. labor struggles. In San Francisco in 1934 longshore workers and sailors led a mighty maritime strike in the midst of the Great Depression. A general strike in San Francisco was provoked when police killed two strikers. Today, in front of the Local 10 union hall a “Bloody Thursday” sidewalk mural of the fallen martyrs defiantly proclaims,”Men Killed, Shot in the Back, Police Murder.” The news media railed against communists, socialists and anarchists during the General Strike but to no avail. San Francisco was shut down tight with solid support from the Bay Area’s working class. Despite the conservative San Francisco Labor Council bureaucrats ordering all workers to return to work after a few days, maritime workers refused and returned to the picket lines with a new resolve and in the end won their key demands, including the hiring hall, union recognition, a coastwise contract, a six-hour shift and safe working conditions. That radical image stands the test to time and is instrumental in ILWU’s recent organizing drives at Anchor Steam brewery and Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act,(on which ICTSI owner Razon hangs his litigious hat) was passed with support from both Democratic and Republican parties at the beginning of the McCarthy witch hunts. It banned all manner of class struggle: solidarity strikes, mass picketing, closed shops, including union hiring halls, and communists from holding union office. ILWU was one of the first unions to challenge the law and became a haven for workers purged from the CIO and the AFL by anti-red union leaders. These workers led struggles in the ’30’s that built the unions: Blackie Meyers (NMU), Bill Bailey (MFOW), Shaun Maloney (SUP and the Teamsters), Morris Wright (MMSW) and Jim Herman (MCS). As West Coast maritime unions began negotiations in 1948, ILWU members at the recommendation of its Coastwide Longshore Caucus voted 89% to authorize a strike. However, in 2002 after the 9/11 attack and the subsequent government anti-terror campaign, the Longshore Caucus stopped that standard practice of backing the Negotiating Committee with a strike authorization vote, an early sign of union’s departure from its militant past.

Phil Drew cartoon from The Dispatcher, 1948.
When President Truman invoked Taft-Hartley, longshoremen responded with class struggle, a work slowdown. (What McEllrath/Sundet did in 2013 at ICTSI’s terminal in Portland was in the service of class collaboration.) After the 80-day cooling off period, Truman’s National Labor Relations Board tried to bypass the union leadership by ordering longshoremen to vote on the employers’ proposed contract. The two outstanding issues were both banned by Taft-Hartley: the union hiring hall and a union leadership that employer propaganda accused of being “dominated by the Communist Party.” Of the 26,695 members on the entire West Coast not a single ballot was cast in the NLRB vote. Later, another vote was taken on the employers’

proposals but was rejected by 96.8% and a second vote on forcing union officers to sign a non-communist affidavit was again rejected by 94.39% of the membership. Then, the ILWU went on strike. European dockworker unions expressed solidarity sending telegrams to President Truman warning that any ships loaded by the military would not be unloaded in Europe. That’s the way working class struggles are won!

During the repressive McCarthy period ILWU President Harry Bridges was jailed and threatened with deportation. Other ILWU officials including Jack Hall and Bob McElrath of the “Hawaii 7” were accused of being communists and jailed under the Smith Act. (Robert McElrath, husband of the late ILWU firebrand Ah Quon McElrath, was no relation to “Big Bob” McEllrath.) ILWU Hawaiian plantation workers struck to demand their leader Jack Hall’s freedom. He was released from jail the next day. The Communist Party (CP) had applauded the jailing under the the very same anti-communist Smith Act in 1941 of their Trotskyist opponents in the Socialist Workers Party, including leaders of the militant Minneapolis Teamsters strike of 1934. That political transgression only emboldened the government to use the Smith Act against the leadership of the CP seven years later.

In 1964, ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member Archie Brown, an open member of the Communist Party, was indicted for violating a key provision of Taft-Hartley. He was tried, convicted and arrested. Brown, with backing from the union, appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The communist-exclusion clause was ruled invalid, although AFL-CIO tops still try to use it to keep reds out of office, but the law as a whole still stands.

The West Coast longshore union was forged in the cauldron of class struggle in the ’30’s. Victory was achieved by mass picketing, appeals for solidarity and racially integrating the union. That was 30 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. The ILWU went on its own fight for reforms— building affordable housing for working people in St. Francis Square and negotiating with Kaiser to establish one of the first comprehensive medical plans for its members on the West Coast and Hawaii. These stories, portrayed in murals all over the Bay Area by WPA muralists, Victor Arnautoff and Anton Refregier, were targeted for destruction by right wing nuts during the McCarthy period because the muralists were members of the Communist Party. Today, the SF School Board and Democratic Party identity politics individuals want to cover up or destroy Arnautoff’s murals at George Washington High School. The ILWU defended those murals then as it does today. ILWU now has a majority African American, Latino, Asian and Hawaiian membership that has continued its militant history of defending immigrant workers’ rights, organizing protest actions against racist police and fascist terror and in solidarity with workers struggles internationally. All this is threatened by the verdict against the ILWU.

Razon’s Rogue Business Gambit

Razon’s modus operandi for ICTSI is raw, aggressive neo-liberal capitalism, buying up public-owned ports in developing countries, busting unions, suing competitors or government agencies and making billions in the process. Razon, like the rest of the Philippine elite, keeps close ties with the military, which is noted for its relentless repression of labor, left populist protests and the Muslim rebellion in the south. Last year, he was awarded alumnus status by the Philippine Military Academy. The pugnacious image which Razon likes to cultivate fits well into his latest venture to build luxurious super casino resorts in the Philippines to compete with Macau.

Razon, like many in the ruling class of the Philippines, are descendants of the Spanish colonists, who have waged a vicious campaign against working people whether at home or abroad. Many Filipinos work as seamen aboard foreign-owned ships. Labor contractors and shipowners exploit these crews by paying slave wages and often not remitting allotments from wages to their families back home dependent on them for survival. The ILWU has fought to defend these workers. In 1980, while Reagan was firing PATCO strikers, Philippine dictator Marcos’ agents killed two ILWU officials Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in the Seattle Local 37 union office. Marcos was successfully sued by the families for that crime.

In Honduras in 2013, Victor Crespo, General Secretary of the Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores del Muelle (SGTM), received threats on his life for organizing dock workers shortly after Razon’s ICTSI was granted a lucrative 30-year contract to operate in Puerto Cortez, Honduras. Crespo fled the country but the following year his father was murdered outside the family home.

Where the ILWU Went Wrong: Putting the ICTSI Dispute in Context

This battle between ICTSI and the ILWU began in 2012, shortly after a year-long lockout by the international grain conglomerate Export Grain Terminal (EGT) in Longview, Washington downriver from Portland. Longshore members did everything in their power to win that conflict— blocking grain trains on the tracks, and when they were slapped with injunctions their wives and daughters stood fast on the tracks. They occupied the EGT facility, defended themselves against violent police attacks and went to jail for picketing. When ILWU President McEllrath was called to the front of a protest on the railroad tracks by members he was arrested. All Northwest ports shutdown and marched on Longview the following day. That’s the power the union wields.

Yet, the moment of truth came February 2012, as a scab grain ship was escorted by an armed Coast Guard cutter dispatched by President Obama. State and local police forces were mustered. Faced with an all out fight on the docks with mass support to be mobilized in caravans committed by labor councils in Longview, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco and the burgeoning Occupy movement, the ILWU International President Bob McEllrath and Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet, fearful of a serious class battle, capitulated and forced local officials to sign the contract. Longview union members were incensed by this betrayal. They were not even given the right to vote on the contract which violates the ILWU Constitution but not capitalist law. The ILWU was able to maintain jurisdiction, but the loss in working and safety conditions was devastating. The union tops had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Dan Coffman, Longview Local 21 President, and Byron Jacobs, Secretary-Treasurer, tried to call for a Longshore Caucus, an elected body representing all ports, at the start of the EGT struggle to build solidarity actions on the Coast. International Officers blocked that effort, stopped Local 10 from implementing solidarity actions and kept the locked out workers isolated from the major ports in California. Moreover, union members like Longview Local 21’s Byron Jacobs and others were arrested for picketing and left in jail for weeks without bail or union defense. Tragically Byron died 2 years ago while working on the Longview docks because of unsafe working conditions. Many were inspired by Byron’s brave class struggle actions during that hard-fought battle.

Veterans of historic ILWU actions in defiance of Taft-Hartley against solidarity actions opposed the EGT contract in a signed leaflet, Danger! ILWU Headed in Wrong Direction! EGT-Longview Contract -Worst Ever! June 12, 2012 because it undermined basic union principles, gains and for the first time codified Taft-Hartley into a longshore contract. Apparently, this ILWU leadership has learned nothing from the union’s long and storied history. Signers of the leaflet included Local 10 members Leo Robinson, Howard Keylor and Larry Wright who led the 1984 anti-apartheid strike and Herb Mills who organized protests against the 1960 HUAC hearings at San Francisco City Hall and the 1978 refusal of longshoremen to load bombs for Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile; Jack Mulcahy, longtime Local 8 activist who participated in the militant actions of the Northwest longshore grain workers and Jack Heyman, Local 10 who initiated the 2008 May Day West Coast ports shutdown against the imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a union action stridently fought for and won against by PMA’s obstinate opposition with dire threats of suing the union over Taft-Hartley. All of these labor actions were initiated and organized from the bottom up not the top down.

ICTSI Campaign Was Top Down and Wrong—Union Solidarity Actions Are Bottom Up

Shortly after the EGT debacle was over, Sundet directed the “job trusting” campaign, actually union raiding, in Portland to get the two electrician jobs at ICTSI. Sundet, in an act of class collaboration, even got PMA to join the lawsuit jointly with the ILWU against ICTSI but the employers bailed out later. The “slowdown” claimed by ICTSI only reduced container handling by 5-7 cans an hour. ICTSI said ILWU was gimmicking safety issues. The truth is union members were being fined by Local 8 officials for raising safety beefs, shamefully doing diligent work for the employer. To top it off the judge wouldn’t allow this scandalous discipline by union bureaucrats to be introduced in court! Many members were frustrated by Sundet’s long-running top down job action. In any case the capitalist courts shouldn’t determine union jurisdiction. A job trust is an employer-worker monopolistic scheme for the benefit of the employer and labor aristocrats. An all port workers council should have been organized with longshoremen, electricians, mechanics, port truckers and other port workers to make the Portland waterfront 100% union and democratically decide jurisdictional disputes amongst the workers excluding the employers. Real class unity can challenge the employing class and even stop the fascist attacks in the Portland/Vancouver area.

At the start of the EGT campaign Sundet directed longshore workers to cross picket lines of AFL-CIO construction unions who were picketing the use of non-union labor to build the new EGT facility. Sundet’s scabrous action made it difficult later to get unions to honor ILWU picket lines and to get resolutions passed at the Oregon and Washington state AFL-CIO organizations. A couple years later during master longshore contract negotiations ILWU International Officers extended the expired agreement in order to help employers in Los Angeles quash a picket line of port truckers, mainly immigrant workers. That scam allowed the PMA arbitrator to rule it was an “illegal” action. Union officials then directed longshoremen to cross the truckers’ picket line breaking the action. It was these kinds of traitorous acts that earned ILWU President McEllrath and PMA President McKenna a joint Connie Award from the maritime capitalists.

Worse still, ILWU officials have continued to direct longshore workers to cross truckers picket lines. Local 13 president Ray Familathe, (who lost to Adams in the last election) even warned striking ILWU Boron miners in 2010 not to set up picket lines in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach under pain of losing their strike fund benefits. Other officials directed ILWU longshore workers to cross picket lines of the striking ILWU Local 63 Clerical Unit, largely women workers. ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles have been jettisoned down the hawsepipe sending the union in a downward tailspin. The need for a class struggle leadership is abundantly clear for the sake of all divisions of the ILWU.

Honoring ILWU’s “Ten Guiding Principles” and Building a Class Struggle Leadership

At the peak of the McCarthy witch hunts, the ILWU concerned about the survival of the organization, hammered together “Ten Guiding Principles”, one of which is to never cross or work behind a picket line even if ordered by your union officials. The last ILWU president, Brian McWilliams who understood the importance of labor solidarity and picket lines, was instrumental in supporting international solidarity for the Liverpool dockers struggle and shutting down West Coast ports in solidarity with the WTO protesters in Seattle.

A defining moment in the ILWU occurred at the 2002 Longshore Caucus. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Czar Ridge threatened the union that if there were any jobs actions on the docks, troops would be called out to occupy the ports. The leadership did not call for international labor solidarity actions as in the past but requested the delegates not to vote for the traditional strike authorization to bolster the Negotiating Committee.

“Homeland Security,” cartoon by Mike Konopacki 2002.
Labor Must Defend the ILWU

If ICTSI’s owner billionaire Enrique Razon is successful in his court suit, it would be a body blow to labor’s solidarity actions. Union bureaucrats, whether in ILWU or in any union, before taking any action will first consult with attorneys which means no action because of the fear of fines. Given the long history of ILWU’s labor solidarity, often challenging Taft-Hartley, it’s high time for other unions in the U.S. and internationally to reciprocate even if the ILWU isn’t at this time affiliated to the AFL-CIO. The old syndicalist motto must prevail, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

Has the labor movement learned its lesson from the defeat of the 1981 PATCO strike? President Reagan attacked the striking air traffic controllers, shackling its union leaders and hauling them off to jail in front of TV cameras, Trump style. The AFL-CIO leadership remained criminally silent, refusing to lift a finger to support the strikers’ picket lines and shut down the airports. Reportedly, when ILWU President Jim Herman suggested to IAM President William Winpisinger that airports and seaports be shutdown in an act of solidarity he was rebuffed. The trade union movement has paid a heavy price for the betrayal of PATCO strikers. Union membership has atrophied for the last 40 years, peaking in 1979 with 21 million members and atrophying to less than half that figure today.

In 2011, when AFL-CIO President Trumka issued a call for unions to support the besieged Wisconsin state workers. Only ILWU Local 10, again in defiance of Taft-Hartley and in the face of PMA employer threats, took on-the-job action and shut Bay Area ports down in a bold act of solidarity. The S.E. Wisconsin AFL-CIO issued a letter stating: “Whether it’s racist apartheid in South Africa, imperialist war in Iraq, or fascist plutocracy in Wisconsin, Local 10, over and over again, shows us “What a Union [should] look like!!” Please convey our appreciation to your members and kick some PMA ass on April 25. In Solidarity, James A. Cavanaugh, President.”

Now the survival of the ILWU is at stake. If the ranks follow ILWU’s militant history, West Coast ports will be shutdown against a union-busting, government-imposed fine. Other unions must join the fight. The ball is in the court of the working class, organized and unorganized. If Trumka doesn’t act in defense of the ILWU and call for solidarity actions, workers must pick up the cudgel. This anti-labor court decision in Portland is a decisive moment for organized labor and all working people.

Tags: ILWU Survivalunion bustingbusiness unionism
Categories: Labor News