Antiwar Dockworkers Win in Oakland
Million Worker March Called for Oct. 16

Civil Liberties Victory in Oakland Courts: All Charges Dropped Against Port Antiwar Protesters; Longshoremen Plan Mass March on Washington

by Jack Heyman

This article first appeared in CounterPunch magazine for May 12, 2004. It has been edited for Labor Standard. Jack Heyman is business agent for Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in San Francisco. He was the longshore union official arrested during the antiwar demonstration in the port of Oakland on April 7, 2003. He has been active in ILWU solidarity actions since the militant 1984 anti-apartheid action in San Francisco. For more information click here.

“This is a victory we’re all gonna celebrate!” exclaimed Charles Braves, deacon of the predominantly Black longshore workers local in Charleston, South Carolina. He was talking about the April 22 court decision by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office to drop all the bogus charges against antiwar protesters and a longshore union official arrested after being attacked by riot-clad police in the port of Oakland a year ago.

The Charleston longshoremen, themselves the victims of a police attack in their port, had participated in one of several rallies held between the headquarters of the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the Alameda County Superior Courthouse. The Bay Area protest rallies, crammed in between the police building and the courthouse, had become both a metaphor for and a test of civil liberties in America since 9/11.

The day after the police attack in the port of Oakland, the New York Times (April 8, 2003) quoted OPD Chief Richard Word as saying that police dispersed the crowd at the behest of the maritime companies. American President Lines (APL) and Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) were being picketed for war-profiteering. SSA, a hostile anti-union outfit, received a “no bid” contract by Bush to run the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Maritime employers had even admitted that they met with the police and the Port Commission three days before the April 7 demonstration to discuss how to handle the protest. The California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, the state’s anti-terrorist agency, “warned” police that they could expect violence from the protesters. This was not so much a “police riot” as it was a planned police attack. The Department of Homeland Security paid Oakland police nearly half a million dollars for their “services.”

The District Attorney’s bogus charges against the defendants were filed nearly two months after the police attack and only when the authorities learned that a press conference was being called to announce a civil suit against the OPD, with the lead plaintiff being the longshore union, ILWU Local 10. Many of the nearly 50 people injured by the April 7 police attack were shot in the back, including 9 longshoremen on their way to work. Several required hospital emergency room treatment. One hitch: the police were not allowing ambulances for protesters in the port area. It was beyond the classic case of blaming the victim for the crime: now, unconscionably, the victims had to suffer until medical attention could be found. Even the United Nations, which sanctioned the U.S. war against North Korea, and later, Vietnam and NATO’s war in Yugoslavia, cited the Oakland police violence against antiwar activists as a “human rights” violation.

Role of Democrat Mayor Jerry Brown

The real sideshow in this political circus is the “progressive” Democrat mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, who from the very beginning defended the indefensible police onslaught. Police had maintained that they fired on demonstrators with “less-than-lethal” weapons only after they were pelted with rocks and bottles. Even police videos show this to be a lie. Nevertheless, while the Oakland school system is bankrupt, Brown was doggedly protecting his “boys in blue” by pursuing this costly and unwinnable litigation.

A “blue ribbon” panel, appointed to investigate, disbanded before it even convened. The City Council and the Citizens’ Police Review Board (CPRB) held public meetings on the police attack, which had been characterized by the New York Times as the most violent “clash” during the Iraq war. One member of the CPRB announced that he had resigned because the Board was a sham that whitewashed police atrocities.

One of the Oakland 25 defendants, a legal observer, said the KGB in her native Ukraine never treated her as badly as the OPD did. In 1997, before he was elected mayor, Brown participated in a similar picket protest in the port of Oakland in support of dockworkers in Liverpool, England, blocking trucks from entering the marine terminal. He even faxed a message: “Congratulations on your efforts to advance and protect the right of working people to join in solidarity. Free speech is the cornerstone of a democratic society.” To date, Brown, who only a few years ago said big business donors had corrupted both parties and was talking about an alternative political party, has not uttered a word of criticism of the police violence nor of international maritime companies with whom the police colluded.

With the implementation of IMF-type capitalist “free trade” agreements, port workers around the world have especially been targeted for increased government repression. In Rotterdam and Barcelona last November, dockworkers protesting a union-busting measure in the European Parliament to privatize the ports, were viciously attacked by police. And since the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Bush administration has steamrollered its anti-labor agenda.

During West Coast longshore negotiations in 2002, Defense (i.e. War) Secretary Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Czar Ridge, threatened to occupy the docks with troops, ostensibly for “national security” reasons, if there were any dockworker protests that delayed ship sailings.

The Bush administration’s coercion paved the way for a lockout of longshore workers by Pacific Coast maritime employers, which shut West Coast ports down for ten days. Hypocritically, this was not deemed a risk to national security. This, in turn, was followed by Bush’s invoking of the Taft-Hartley Act at the request of Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein, which forced longshoremen back to work under conditions demanded by the employers.

No politician in Washington, Democrat or Republican, spoke out against the longshore union being shackled by this slave-labor law.

Workers Face Political Conundrum

Moreover, the “war on terror”—with its attendant legislation, the Patriot Act, Homeland Security Act, ad infinitum, as well as the imperialist war in Iraq—enjoys bipartisan support, from Democrats as well as Republicans. How do working people solve this political conundrum without wading into the “lesser of two evils” swamp?

Longshore Local 10, which has inspired many by its stands on social and political issues through dock actions—against South African apartheid, in solidarity with anti-WTO protesters in Seattle, for freedom for Black political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, in protest against the bloody Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile—now is calling for a Million Worker March on Washington on October 16 (<>).

March Independent of Both Parties

This march is to be independent of both the Democrat and Republican Parties. Organizers say it’s time for the working class to stop being the whipping boy for capitalist greed—no more cannon fodder for imperialist wars, defend workers’ rights, civil rights and civil liberties, an end to the piracy of public institutions through privatization, increased funding for social needs like health care, education, housing, and jobs.

The power of workers, they say, has to be harnessed into a massive protest mobilization in Washington to demonstrate to the ruling class that their political monopoly will no longer go unchallenged. The momentum for the longshoremen’s call for the march seems to be growing with endorsements from the San Francisco, Charleston (South Carolina), and Albany and Troy (New York) Labor Councils, Long Island City Teamsters’ Local 808, an IBEW local in Philadelphia, the Northern California Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Black Caucus of the Teamsters Union, and other unions and community groups around the country. Danny Glover and Dick Gregory have signed on as well.

The last time longshoremen were shot by police, in 1934, it provoked a general strike in San Francisco. It is a history that is imbedded in the culture of longshore workers on the West Coast waterfront.

AFL-CIO officials have either been intimidated by or bought into Bush’s “war on terror” and the Iraq war, but not so the rank and file. Portland longshore worker Jack Mulcahy intoned, ”If the ports had been shut down when police fired on longshoremen and antiwar activists, maybe the government would never have filed charges.”

Government repression and employer takeaways are the tinder that fuels the fire for mass marches. 

Kick-Off Rally for Million Worker March

[Note: The following Kick-Off Rally for the MILLION WORKER MARCH ON WASHINGTON, D.C.—OCTOBER 16 will be held on Saturday, May 22, at 8 p.m., at the ILWU Local 10 Hiring Hall, 400 North Point (@ Mason), San Francisco, California.]

Welcoming Remarks:
Henry Graham, President, ILWU Local 10

Featured Speakers Include:

Other Speakers To Be Announced.

(For more information contact 510-815-1309 or 707-552-9992)

Partial List of Endorsers of the Million Worker March:

ILWU Local 10; Teamsters Local 808 (Long Island City, N.Y.); Northern California Teamsters Black Caucus; Northern California Chapter, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; San Francisco Labor Council; Donna Dewitt, President, South Carolina AFL-CIO; Letter Carriers Local 214; GCIU Local 4-N; San Francisco Chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA); UAW 1981 Chapter 3; AFSCME Local 1072; Charleston, South Carolina Labor Council; Troy (New York) Labor Council; Albany (New York) Labor Council; Jim Houghton, Director, Harlem Fight Back; Dick Gregory; Danny Glover; Father Lawrence Lucas, Our Lady of Lourdes, Roman Catholic Church, Harlem; Al Avants, Secretary-Treasurer, UFCW Local 373R; Michael Lewis, IBEW Local 617 (San Mateo); Solano County Peace and Justice Coalition; I.W.W.

(list in formation)