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(en) US, FIREBRAND* #2 - WORKPLACE ORGANIZING Port Troqueros: Fighting for Workers Autonomy

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 13 Dec 2004 10:31:01 +0100 (CET)


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Interviewed by Lucas, a member of the Anarchist-
Communist Union of Seattle, a Local Union of FNAC.
Q: What is the history behind the Port Troqueros strug gles?
Ernesto: In 1980 there was the Stagger's Act, a national
law that DETARRIFFED the transportation industry. It
did not DEREGULATE the industry as many like to claim
and all pretend to understand and believe. The industry has
always been very well regulated but with the de-tarriff-
ing nobody paid any attention to the law. Along with
leaving set tarriffs, key trucking companies began to
get rid of their company trucks by selling them to the
drivers. In the first few years a truck driver could make
more by buying a truck from their employer and driving it
as an assumed "independent contractor". The advantage
to the driver was that they would report to the IRS a
minute portion of what they really made giving them an
advantage over their Union counterparts that were heavi-
ly taxed. The benefit to the motor carriers was not having
to pay payroll taxes, workers comp, and they got rid of the
Union. Eventually the Union was broken and the new
"owner-operators" as they called themselves, began to
undercut themselves in a race to the bottom. Soon enough
many began to get out and sold their trucks to the new
immigrants from the civil unrest in Central America, El
Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc. etc. By 1984 90%
of the port drivers drove their own trucks and just as many
were Central American immigrants.

The "amnesty" program of 1987 provided legal status for
most of the workers in the harbor, which before many had
no documents. They now had real social security cards
and shied away from government aid programs. The IBT
had tried to organize them prematurely in 1985 and total-
ly flopped, a predicable outcome. The workers formed
their own union, the WRTU, Waterfront Rail Truckers
Union in 1987 and already had an "association" called
TUTA as well, Troqueros Unidos en el Transporte
Associados. The Union soon realized that it had legal
problems surrounding the status of the workers and possi-
ble anti-trust action.

Around August 29, 1988 I was invited to the park by my
in-laws and their friends to address the Union group. I
discovered that they were really employees and began a
long-term effort at rectifying the status using my tax
knowledge and insurance background.

Q: What economic and political factors are pushing the
Port Troqueros to fight for union recognition?
Ernesto: The underground economy is what makes work-
ing in the harbor possible. A troquero usually underesti-
mates his income by at least 30-60% in order not to pay
any taxes and have the family qualify for government
handouts. The wife usually works cash and in many cases
reports herself as a single parent. As the troqueros find a
need for legitimacy they soon discover that there is really no
legitimate money in the harbor. Also, a good number of
troqueros defy the underground economy and wish to do
things legally, right.

The desire to work with dignity, not having to be bound
by the underground economy, is the key motivation in the
organizing of the port. The propaganda put out by many
well-wishers about the troqueros earning just above mini-
mal wage is totally active duty for Operation Safew
false. Many port striking drivers carrying essential
trucking companies have difficulty finding drivers at dou-
ble the minimum wage. A prime example is that at $15 an
hour a driver earns $600 a week and after taxes earns
about $500 a week. That same driver would rather work
"cash" for $550 a week and have more take-home money.
For drivers driving their own trucks the net income after
the expense of the truck is about $600-$1k a week with
the average about $800. This money is not taxed and at
the end of the year only half of it is reported as net
income. The spin that these are poorly paid workers is
untrue and counterproductive. Most of these drivers are
already netting the equivalent of a Teamster driver's net
income after taxes, so why risk it? With time many tro-
queros find themselves in need of legitimacy and realize
that their income is superficial dependent upon the
underground economy.

Dignity. Dignity is the key motivating factor in our
struggle. Our mobilizing Port-wide has not really
been for more money, that is done at the company level.
Mass action is for an industry change, to rectify the transportation
system. We have accused government agencies of the selective non-enforcement
of key regulation which if enforced, would legitimize the industry and will
create an environment ideal for organizing. The enemy that we are fighting
is the underground economy, the dirty little secret of capitalist America.

Q: What kind of progress are Port Troqueros making in
the struggle for better conditions?
Ernesto: Progress happens at the company level. Back in
1988 we would joke that one day all the truck drivers in
the nation would be fighting for their employment rights,
and that it all initiated with a bunch of immigrant workers
in the Los Angeles harbor. Well, it happened. The three
most important mobilizing events were the West Coast
shutdown of Nov. 1993, the historical Decembe 4, 1999 summit in
Charleston, SC hosted by Robert Bates and friends, and the recen
April 30 complete shut down of the State com mercial transportation
system. A promising development is the arrival of the IWW Legally,
the biggest fea was the March 31, 1989 IRS determination lette #522
which established us as employees for IRS purposes and then the
consolidated IRS Tax Court decision of 1996 which upheld the
employment status. Two pending cases will totally upset
the status quo, a recent action before the Social Security
Administration and the insurance fraud class action law-
suits by www.glicklegal.com
Q: The Port Troqueros are legally considered "independ-
ent contractors", by the NLRB. This is untrue and very
clearly demonstrates the problem that the misinformation
by the industry continues to be spinned, even by our allies.
Out of curiosity, what is your source onthis question/statement?
Ernesto: It doesn't exist! We have no intention on going to the
NLRB as we don't have the resources. Instead, we chose to go to
the IRS and have won. Now we are in for the kill. The IRS, state
labor board, and state workers comp board hold us as employees.
In a nutshell, we don't hope to negotiate with these firms at
the NLRB since these firms have no reason for their existence
outside of the underground economy.
It is the intention of many of us to destroy these illegal
companies. Put them out of their misery. Now that
the evildoer illegal trucking companies see that we don't
intend on compromising with them but instead want to
obliterate them, their associations, the CTA and ATA, are
holding hands with the Teamsters. The NLRB is a non-
issue for us. In all our labor actions we identify all our
work stoppages as a STRIKE against the employers, even
when we picket our secondary employers, the port termi-
nals. None of our actions have even been questioned by
law enforcement. To the contrary, on the east coast they
always form associations, non-profits, and then ask for
rates and have gotten themselves into legal trouble. An
overwhelming number of Los Angeles Troqueros Are
quite versed in the legal foundation of our being employ-
ees and the industry and the government knows it.
Q: Why is this and what threat does it pose to the fight for
unionization?
Ernesto: The NLRB is a non-issue as we have no intention
on filing against any of the current motor carriers since
once outside of the underground economy they will cease
to exist. Our goal is to clean up the industry and the
weapon of choice is the IRS/SSA and the insurance law-
suits. These actions create upset and serves as a major
stimulation for organizing.
Q: What happened in April and June?
Ernesto: Since early in the year we were planning on a
May Day convoy or shutdown. The spike in diesel was a
major catalyst. The whole damn state shut down. It was-
n't "organized" and there wasn't any leadership yet every-
one knew what they had to do. It showed the power that
exists. Afterwards, there was a bit of criticism that "it was
done all wrong." We then asked "please tell us what we
did so that we can do it again!"
Q)What triggered the California wildcat strike?
Ernesto:The spike in the price of diesel was the catalyst.
But what really moved it was a bunch of old friends and
their friends seeing the possibility of making a major pub-
lic statement and totally committing to its success.
Q) Did it have any success in changing conditions?
Ernesto: Yes, it scared the shit out of the industry and the
government. It became obvious that they can't stop us in the future. In
other harbors they can create "representatives" to talk to and threaten
with anti-trust action and/ or civil lawsuits.
In Los Angeles we don't give a shit. If any of us goes to jail
the rest will continue the strike. I remember at a strike in
around 2001 at CaliforniaUnited Terminals. The terminal
manager called me and threatened to tell my guys to go
back to work. He attempted to scare me in front of my
brothers, saying that he had a lot of lawyers standing by.
I asked him "but can they drive trucks?" Whenever
Troqueros even begin to mobilize in the Los Angeles har-
bor the industry immediately takes remedial action, more
money.
Q: What can be said about the recent "June 28th through
July 4th" shut down?
Ernesto: It showed that the rest of the nation had woken
up to the example set by California.
Q: How successful was it on the west coast?
Ernesto: It flopped. The catalyst was missing. A few of
us joined by some local anarchist supporters put up a sol-
idarity picket line at Trapac terminal 136 and by the next
day the terminal was down to 50% with many saying that
if they knew they wouldn't had worked. The solidarity
was there.
Q: How about the East coast?
Ernesto: The East coast kicked ass!!!!!!!! They finally
woke up!
Q: What is the status of Port Troqueros in the northwest?
Ernesto: Key mobilizers in the NW keep in touch with us
through the internet. The NW port drivers have been in
the middle of internal squabbles with the IBT.
Q: Is there the same enthusiasm and energy present as in
other parts of the nation?
Ernesto: It seems that the NW had lost touch with the rest
of us but thanks to the recent solidarity by the IWW they
might be back on board for the next one.
Q: Is there a connection being built behind the unioniza-
tion effort and the war right now?
Ernesto: Port Troqueros have a different concept of who
are the real evildoers. Most believe that it is hypocritical
and contradictory for us to be in foreign lands enforcing
laws when there is the selective non-enforcement of the
law in the port transportation system to protect the evildo-
ers. The price of diesel is always an issue but rather
than support imperialism to keep the price of diesel down
the solution that we propose is for the trucking companies
to pay for the diesel. The anti-war movement and all pro-
gressive groups have totally ignored the Troquero move-
ment. Instead, they seem to concentrate on organizing
each other. The only groups that have tried to help have
been the anarchist and most recently, the IWW.
Q: What position have the Teamsters taken in regards to
organizing the Port Troqueros?
Ernesto: The Teamsters deny that they are doing any
organizing, and it is true, they are not doing any organiz-
ing. The Teamsters have failed to state the objectives or
direction of the Port Campaign.
The Teamsters are avoiding upsetting the status quo and
find it Quite simple to form alliances with the industry
associations of the evil-doer trucking companies, our ene-
mies.
>>>>>>>>>>Q: What can be done to support
or mobilize truckers in the
northwest?
Ernesto:
Communication!!!!!!!!! Let
them know what is happening
in the rest of the Ports. The
NW has been our weakest link.<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Q: What kind of reputation do they have among Port Troqueros?
Ernesto: The Teamster reputation never recovered after
the 1985 fiasco. The Initial response to the Port
Campaign in 2000-2002 was decent under the leadership
of George Cashman. There is a lot of distrust since the
IBT has avoided the central question of employment and
the non-compliance with key regulation by the industry.
Most recent Teamster Port Campaign activities are poor-
ly attended and thus not publicized. The paid profession-
al teamster organizers exist in a different reality as that of
the Troqueros. The Teamsters have to realize that
they cannot use key individuals to me a larger group and
then axe the initial contacts and still have the rest follow
them. Our brotherhood is based upon decades of mutual
support and joint struggle. We have grown old together in
this struggle, been through a lot, and are very close. On
April 30 at Banning Park there was a lot of hugging as
many of us hadn't seen each other for years. A lot of bond-
ing.
Q: What about the IWW?
Ernesto: For over 20 years Los Angeles Port Troqueros
have been organizing on a consensus basis with mutual
support between units. The IWW is the natural organizing
vehicle for port drivers.
Q: Is there any interest among Port Troqueros in organiz-
ing with the Industrial Workers of the World?
Ernesto: This past year the presence of the IWW has been
noticed. The solidarity along the West Coast was inspir-
ing and the website of local 530 is quickly becoming the
"unofficial" website for port organizing.
Troqueros are not "going to join" the IBT nor the IWW.
Rather, the IWW has joined the worker's struggle as
opposed to the IBT which has chosen to continue in its
separate world and not join the workers.
Q) Which IWW locals have been most active in support-
ing port haulers?
Enesto: The presentation by Art Almeida at the Liberty
Bell celebration in San Pedro earlier this year was the
most important action in promoting IWW/ Troquero unity.
The IWW local 530 website gives our struggle a sense of
legitimacy.
Q: What position do you see the IWW taking in the Port
Troqueros struggle?
Ernesto: Troqueros organize from the bottom up. The
problem is that at times we need immediate solidarity on
a company level or a shipping/rail line level and the IWW
has the national communications structure in place.
Sometimes we need to let Troqueros at all the ports know
that there is an action against xyz lines and to begin pick-
eting. The IWW can help with the communication. They
can go down to the steamship line terminal with a flag and
within hours the terminal will be emptied.
Q: Do you see them limited only to solidarity work or do
you think they have the potential to organize among Port
Troqueros?
Ernesto: Until we rid our industry of all evildoers there
will never be any labor peace. Gone are the days of the
IBT Master Freight agreements and the lavish Longshore
contracts. In the last 20 years Troqueros have created a
new dimension in labor relations. Open ended contracts
only guaranteed by the workers willingness to strike. The
IWW can be utilized to harness this power!
Q: What kind of interest is there in forming an
Independent Truckers Union?
Ernesto: Been there, done that! In Los Angeles there is
no longer any interest in forming independent unions
to replace the lack of presence of traditional unions. It
is the same fiasco, the NLRA and the might of capital.
There will be no difference. Instead, all focus is on
redefining the worker/management relationship for the
future.
Q: What can be said about the recent unionization of the
Stockton Port Troqueros?
Ernesto: Word travels very quickly that the IWW, la nueva
union, was involved in a direct strike. Workers are saying
"that is what we have always needed!"
Q: How will this affect the organizing activities of the Bay
Area port Troqueros?
Ernesto: Currently, there are well-meaning individuals
attempting to find a
political solution to the labor unrest in the Bay area and
are making no progress. Depending upon the commitment
of Bay area wobblies Oakland is there for the picking.
Q: What can be done to support or mobilize truckers in the
northwest?
Ernesto: Communication!!!!!!!!! Let them know what is
happening in the rest of the Ports. The NW has been our
weakest link. I strongly suggest that any wobs helping
Troqueros consider getting Nextel radios/phones. We all
communicate with the nationwide walkie talkie. Also, the
IWW can send text messages to all the Troqueros using
Nextel solely by knowing their telephone numbers.
Solidarity,
Ernesto Jesus Nevarez
===========================
* The Firebrand Collective identifies itself as anarchist-communist.



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