Another PATCO in the Making?
Bush Using “National Security” Against West Coast
All Out Mobilization Needed to Defend Union Rights
The following are “quick phone conversations
conducted today, August 6, in preparation for radio features for Free Speech
Radio News and the Workers Independent News Service (also radio) affiliated with
the University of Wisconsin at Madison.” The interviewer, MB, is Martha
Baskin, who speaks first with Steve Stallone of the dockworkers and then with a
professor from the state of Washington.
ILWU, International Longshore and Warehouse Union,
represents 10,500 West Coast dockworkers currently in negotiations with the
multinational shipping corporations and terminal owners united in the Pacific
Maritime Association (PMA).
Stallone, press spokesperson for the ILWU and
editor of the union’s newspaper, The
Dispatcher (San Francisco): There is a secret White House
Task Force that was set up to oversee and monitor the longshore negotiations. It
consists of officials from the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of
Defense (DOD), the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Homeland
Security. They contacted the ILWU in mid-June, and they basically laid a number
of threats on the union.
They wanted us to settle the
contract negotiations quickly, and if we didn’t, they said they could: (1)
invoke a Taft-Hartley injunction, which is an 80-day “cooling-off” period,
which just means nobody can go on strike or take any actions; you have to
continue to work under the old contract and after 80 days you’re just back at
the same thing—just a delaying situation, not a big deal. It was [initiated
by] Taft in 1948, Senators Taft and Hartley—basically a way in the beginning
of the Cold War days to weaken the power of labor unions and it has numerous
things in it that weaken the power of labor.
(2) They threatened to back up the
Taft-Hartley injunction with new legislation that would basically take away the
ILWU’s rights to collective bargaining and our right to strike.
(3) They threatened new
legislation that would break up our coastwide contract. We have one contract
that covers the entire coast. They claim we have a “monopoly.” So now the
union is supposedly in “violation” of antitrust laws.
And (4), most ominously, they
threatened to send National Guard troops to militarily take over all the ports
on the West Coast.
So that’s what we’re facing
here—let’s just go through these threats. Taft-Hartley is no big deal.
We’ve been Taft-Hartleyed before. That just postpones things. It doesn’t
destroy the union.
But special legislation to take
away our right to bargain collectively and our right to strike—these are
rights that were granted to American workers with the National Labor Relations
Act in 1935. The NLRA is a landmark civil rights act for workers. It says
workers have the right to form unions, the legal right to bargain collectively,
and the legal right to strike.
MB: And yet no threat of a strike has
been made on your part.
how about that. But they basically want to take away what is pretty much the
only power a union has. Understand that we’re talking about 10,000 blue-collar
workers versus an employer association of 79 multinational, multibillion-dollar
MB: Such as?
as Sealand, Mersk, Stevedoring Services of America. You can look them up on the
PMA’s web site. And Bush is intervening on their behalf.
People should also understand that almost none of those are American companies. There’s a handful—you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Out of those 79 companies, only five are American. But for them Bush is going to take away the civil rights of American workers.
MB: So from your point of view,
what’s behind this?
This is a situation that Bush is using. The new Bush policy appears to be
that union rights equal a “national security” threat. You just take a look
at what’s holding up the Homeland Security Bill that’s in Congress. Bush
wants to be able to take away the union rights and the rights of collective
bargaining of the government workers who are being moved into the homeland
security department, rights they have in their current positions. Bush has
already taken away the union rights of hundreds of workers in the Justice
Department last January because of national security, or so he said. The Bush
administration has a bill currently pending in Congress that says airline
industry workers and their unions won’t have the right to collectively
bargain. So we’re next. They’re going to try and take away our rights and
basically pick off unions one by one.
I want to emphasize what we’re
looking at here—with an attorney from the DOL contacting our people and laying
these threats out. If you’d like to talk to him, I’ll give you his name. His
name is Andrew Sift, of the Department of Labor in D.C. He has contacted the
union and he has laid these threats on us. The first contacts were in mid-June
even before the contract expired. They decided they had to step in,
MB: And since then he’s been
contacting you more regularly?
on a daily basis. Well, he says he wants the contract settled. But here’s the
situation. The PMA is not negotiating. Why should they negotiate? They know the
government is threatening us. There’s absolutely no incentive for them to
negotiate a deal if they know they have the government standing there saying,
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of these guys for you; you don’t
have to do anything.” That’s why every proposal the PMA has put on the table
has been a proposal designed to be rejected. They don’t want a deal. They
never wanted a deal and they still aren’t bargaining seriously. That’s why
we’re getting nowhere. Instead of helping to solve this situation Bush’s
intervention is making the situation impossible.
They’re trying to say it’s
necessary because if we were to go on strike, it would endanger the economy.
Well, right now the economy is being endangered by Bush’s pals at Enron,
WorldCom, and all their scandals and bankruptcies. That’s what’s making the
stock market crash, not the ILWU. Following Bush’s logic he should be sending
troops to Wall Street.
So the union is going public with
this, and the only thing we can do is let the rest of the world know the madness
that is Bush administration policy—and to create a movement in this country to
put the pressure on Bush to get out – get out of our negotiations, let the
legal collective bargaining process proceed.
MB: Do you think that this has been
the PMA’s understanding from the get-go, a quid pro quo from the White House?
Yes, for more than a couple of years Joe Miniace (CEO of the Pacific
Maritime Association) has been spending most of his time in Washington, D.C.,
working on this.
With the ultimate goal of breaking
Absolutely, absolutely. And Miniace knows that this is his best opportunity in
the post-911 era, with the paranoia and the national security hysteria and the
Bush administration willing to back him. This is the best chance he’s ever had
to bust the union.
And so what are the odds?
Well, it’s not like we’re going down without a fight. And we have
allies. Right now the executive committee of the AFL-CIO is meeting in Chicago.
AFL-CIO has vowed to make this contract negotiation the top priority of the American labor movement. They are putting all their resources at our disposal to make a national movement out of this. We will not just be going public like this and putting the word out to the rest of the world. We will be doing this in a way to try and get support from all our congressional representatives and Senators with the goal of them signing a pledge in support of the ILWU’s legal rights, to try and make it impossible for Bush to follow through on his threats to pass legislation. To make it politically unfeasible for him to act to put troops on the docks.
MB: Was that really an option?
was one of the things Andrew Sift said to us (the attorney from the Department
of Labor). He said these are the things that the task force [is considering],
this secret White House Task Force that we didn’t even know about until they
contacted us, though we got hold of an internal memo of one of the employer
groups about their meeting with the secret task force. They’re holding
meetings with them and we didn’t even know this task force existed.
So where was I going with this?
(I’ve been doing this since 6:30 this morning.)
Your strategy of reaching out to
the public will be revealed in the rally next week?
we will have rallies in the major port cities on the West Coast in which we will
be making the point to get Bush out of our negotiations, so that business can
proceed. Just to show you where we’re going, the rally in Portland will
feature a guest speaker, Senate Majority Leader Tom Dashchle. The AFL-CIO has
some clout; they have some resources. And like I said, the American labor
movement is drawing a line in the sand on this situation. Because if they can
take out the ILWU when our contract comes up, they can take out every union as
their contracts come up.
by MB: We talk about who (else) to talk to in the ILWU. Details of rally on
August 12, etc.]
[Apparently that is the end of the
interview with Steve Stallone. Martha Baskin next interviews a professor from
the University of Washington.]
David Olson, political science professor, University of
Washington: What do we know? What I know is
what I’m being told by other parties—some of it anonymous, some not—the
creation of the special task force within the commerce, labor, and homeland
security departments, and transportation, the monitoring of talks, the threat of
bringing in the national guard—this is truly unprecedented. You’ve got to go
back to 1948, and I’m not sure that ‘48 even measures up to this one.
What’s disturbing about it is
this administration, which has surrounded itself with secrecy in so many
different areas is also surrounding itself with secrecy on this one, and if they
have a plan, they are doing this behind closed doors, and the facts of the
matter are that over the last 30 years—every three-year cycle—the ILWU and
the PMA go into collective bargaining. The facts are that they rarely reach an
agreement before the contract expires. The facts are there has been no slowdown
as reported by the PMA or by the shippers or by the steamship lines in the
months that have elapsed.
So what’s the rationale here?
The rationale appears to be that if the ILWU goes on a strike, which they have
not threatened to do at this point, or if they engage in a slowdown, that it
will compromise the nation’s economy or maybe even the international economy.
But what’s wrong with this argument is that since the contract expired the
ILWU has continued to work, as they have in past years. It’s part of the
collective bargaining process. It goes on until September or October—and now
we find out that the White House has surreptitiously put together a task force
that has developed a set of policies that are intended to attack the ILWU.
The coastwide contract was won in
the 1934 strike. That and the hiring hall are sacred to the ILWU. If this
administration comes after the coastwide contract, this administration will do
more to upset and harm the nation’s economy, because these are fighting words.
And this is a group of workers who are not going to accept a breach of the
coastwide contract. It is one of the two fundamental principles of that
organization. So I’m aghast.
The two principles that came out
of the 1934 strike were, first, that the workers would be hired out of a hiring
hall and that hall would be jointly operated by the union and the employer.
That’s sacred. It replaced the old shape-up system where workers would come
down to the docks and the boss would choose, and he would not pick people who
were in favor of unions or caused trouble.
The second sacred principle to the
ILWU is the coastwide contract. If longshore workers were organized in one of
the ports of the West Coast and not in another, the shipper would simply
leapfrog from one to the other and effectively bust the strike. This happened in
1912, this happened in 1906, in 1896, in 1892, and one of the brilliant moves of
Harry Bridges was to insist on a coastwide contract that the ILWU, the longshore
division, would negotiate, a master contract that would cover everything from
San Diego to Bellingham.
If this national administration
goes after the coastwide contract, these are fighting words. We’re going to go
back to 1934 all over again, and in 1934 there were deaths in S.F and Seattle.
In Los Angeles there were long protracted struggles. Nothing could act more
quickly to disturb the nation’s economy than an attack on the coastwide
But it’s not just the coastwide
contract. They’re threatening to bring in military personnel to operate the
cargo-handling facilities on the docks. This is absurd. The ILWU is one of the
most highly trained, technically advanced work forces in the country. Operating
a container crane or operating the vehicles that move the cargo around the dock
is an extremely skilled occupation that takes years of experience, working up
from B-men to A-men, becoming a regular in the longshore union.
It’s also very dangerous.
Longshoring used to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, up there
with mining and farming. The skill level of the longshore workers is such that,
even though it’s still dangerous, you don’t see the kind of deaths and
injuries that previously were there. So are they going to bring rookies out of
the military and put them on the dock, unloading 6,000-ton container ships? This
is absolutely absurd. It’s insanity.
I can only surmise that this
administration views the longshore union as too powerful, as too militant, as
too rank-and-file-controlled, as too racially integrated, as too threatening to
some kind of object in the economic system, and they’ve chosen to throw the
sword down. When you do this on the docks the sword is going to bounce back up
again, and we’re talking about a major conflagration on the waterfront.
And you think that even now in the
year 2002 that would be manifest?
this administration does what I’ve just been talking about, I am 100%
confident that we would have warfare on the docks.
MB: What do you think the
administration is about here? (The ILWU has its own thoughts on the matter.) Are
they actually trying to break one of the country’s remaining powerful unions?
Olson: Well, this administration does
not like strong trade unions. And this is a strong trade union. They do not like
militant trade unions. And this is a militant trade union. They do not like
internationally-oriented trade unions. They love globalized capital. But they
hate globalized labor. This is an internationally-oriented union.
The Bush administration doesn’t particularly seem in favor of racially desegregating the work force. This is a union that did that in 1934.
So I can only surmise that this
administration has viewed the expiration of the contract as a rationale for
breaking the coastwide contract, for replacing the existing workers, and if
that’s their calculus, they have made a terrible, terrible mistake that is
going to redound—everybody loses, the workers lose, the employers lose, the
national government will lose, international commerce will lose, shippers will
lose, the freight forwarders will lose. There are no winners in this. Except for
some ideologically driven policy wonks in some third-level position in the
bureaucracy in D.C.
Here’s my guess about this task
force. I don’t know if you saw
the AP story today that Strope put out. (Reads from the story.) “‘The Bush
administration has convened a special task force together with officials from
commerce, labor, transportation, and homeland and has been exploring federal
intervention, monitoring talks, and meeting with both sides,’ the official
said, insisting on anonymity. (That’s an official of this special task force.)
The administration is exploring several options to intervene to keep cargo
moving, although the most likely is for President Bush to declare a national and
economic emergency forcing a strike delay for 80 days.”
So that’s my take on where
things are at here. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not a pretty picture,
no. Apparently the AFL-CIO is getting fairly involved here. What you want to
watch is the Teamsters. Jimmy Hoffa was invited back in April—I think you and
I actually talked about this in May.
MB: Yes, we did, and I was just going
to bring that up.
Olson: And I thought this was going to
be the security they were going to have to buffer themselves from the White
House, but apparently not.
MB: Well, I guess you perhaps have to
remember Hoffa’s roots in that regard.
Olson: Well, I’m not sure. When the
contract expired Hoffa appeared in solidarity with Spinosa from the ILWU, and
I’m just not sure quite what’s going on there. I think it’s too easy to
say he’s folded up his tent and walked.
MB: Yeah, but then you also have to
look at the history. Way, way back. The history of the Teamsters and the
longshore union, and that’s certainly not a good one.
Olson: That’s true, but in the 1934
strike Dave Beck called the Teamsters off the docks, and there was a great
rivalry between Beck and Bridges in the 1934 strike, and it’s unclear what
would have happened if Beck had not pulled the Teamsters off the docks. I was
speculating with some other labor folks, who were saying that one thing about
Hoffa is if he wanted the longshore contract for the Teamsters, he certainly
would get it with this administration. But Hoffa has been party to the
negotiations since back in April.
I think labor more generally is
going to be threatened by this. But the ILWU is the most militant union in the
country. The most democratic in the country, the most rank-and-file-controlled
in the country. If the Bush administration is asking for a fight on this one,
they’re going to get it. And they’re going to lose it.