Dockworkers Hit as Cops Fire on Antiwar Crowds

by Bob Mattingly

This article, and the ones that follow, are from the web site Labor Tuesday for April 8, 2003. They have been edited for Labor Standard.

Oakland, Calif., April 7—At least nine members of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) were shot today by Oakland City cops, as the cops attempted to chase a reported 500 antiwar protesters from the gates of American President Lines, a shipper of military cargo to Iraq. “They shot my guys. We’re not going to work today,” said Trent Willis, an ILWU Local 10 business agent. “The cops had no reason to open up on them,” he added. The ILWU said it would file a formal complaint, charging that the police fired their weapons indiscriminately.

Another business agent, Jack Heyman, was reported dragged from inside a car and arrested. Some cops fired inch-thick wooden dowels from their shotguns, which raised large red and blue welts on the victims. Other cops randomly fired bean-bag rounds, noise grenades, sprays of rubber pellets, and tear gas into the crowd.

Last year the government threatened the ILWU with a military takeover of the docks, in the midst of contentious negations. The Bush administration intervened in the dispute, ending an employer-imposed lockout of the workers and provoking the union’s wrath. Although the international union has kept mum about the Iraq war, that hasn’t kept Local 10 and two other ILWU local unions from adopting resolutions opposing the U.S. attack on Iraq.

At the waterfront today, an official from the union’s international headquarters said an arbitrator was called to the docks to determine if the longshore workers had a contractual right to observe the protesters’ picket line. Before the arbitrator could make a determination, the cops started firing. “They didn’t care,” he told a reporter. “They just attacked the picket line. They declared it an illegal assembly and gave people two minutes to disperse. The police did not move to arrest anyone, they just started shooting.”

“Some people were blocking port property and the port authorities asked us to move them off,” said a deputy police chief. He claimed that the cops “moved aggressively against [the] crowds because some people threw rocks and big iron bolts at officers.”

Later several hundred protesters marched to Oakland’s federal building, where two city council members met them. One of the city officials said, “They [the cops] should not have been using the wooden bullets,” but left it unclear what the politicians would now do, if anything. Other protesters said they planned to attend the city council meeting the following evening.

Oakland’s police chief attempted to blame the protesters for the police violence, saying that the cops “feared many more [protesters] could have gathered during the day.” According to the San Francisco Chronicle (online, April 7), Democrat “Mayor Jerry Brown backed the police response.”

The cops’ shock and awe tactics seriously wounded one protester, a young woman. She was struck on the left side of her face, raising a fist-sized bulge that protruded from her jaw. Another was struck in the back three times, causing silver-dollar-sized welts. The press reported that “dozens of antiwar protesters were injured.” Police said more than thirty were arrested.

Just two days before, the city had what the Oakland Tribune headlined as a “Giant Oakland peace rally.” A crowd variously estimated from 7,000 to 20,000 peacefully marched several miles from a park to the city’s center, where politicians and celebrities spoke. “A massive army of antiwar protesters marched from Mosswood Park to Frank Ogawa Plaza, where they made a festive but formidable stand for peace Saturday,” reported an obviously impressed reporter for the Oakland Tribune, the city’s daily newspaper. Since the war began, some parts of the city have been aglow with candlelight vigils, but the antiwar march and rally was the city’s largest protest yet against the attack on Iraq.