On May Day, West Coast Dock
Workers Will Shut Down the Ports to Protest the Iraq War
by Jack Heyman
[This article was published
in the “Open Forum” section (p. B-9) of the San Francisco Chronicle on
Wednesday, April 9, 2008. It has been edited slightly for style purposes by
Labor Standard. The author is a longshoreman who works on the Oakland docks.]
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 percent 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,
dock workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have decided to
stop work for eight hours in all U.S. 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 antiwar resolution. The motion called the war an
imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi
civilians were being wasted, and it 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 ship owners, 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, 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.
Francisco longshore union has a proud history of opposition to the
war in Iraq,
being the first union to call for an end to the war and immediate withdrawal of
troops. Representatives of the union spoke at antiwar rallies in February 2003,
including one in London attended by nearly 2
million people, the largest ever held in Britain. Executive Board member
Clarence Thomas went to Iraq
with a delegation to observe workers’ rights during the occupation.
At the start of the war in Iraq, hundreds of protesters demonstrated on the
and longshore workers honored their picket lines. Without warning, police in
riot gear opened fire with so-called less-than-lethal weapons, shooting
protesters and longshoremen alike with wooden dowels, rubber bullets, pellet
bags, concussion grenades, and tear gas. A UN Human Rights Commission
investigator characterized the Oakland police
attack as “the most violent” against antiwar protesters in the United States.
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 dock workers 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.
Information on May Day protest in San Francisco
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
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.maydayilwu.googlepages.com;
or call (415) 776-8100.