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(en) US, The Perspectives of the NorthWest Anarchist Federation #1 - Port Troqueros, Lucas-Anarchist Communist Union of Seattle

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 12 Mar 2005 12:38:07 +0100 (CET)


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An interview by Lucas of Ernesto.
Q: What is the history behind the Port Troqueros struggles?
Ernesto: In 1980 there was the Stagger's Act, a national law that
detarrifed 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 detarriffing
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 the employer and driving it as an
assumed "independent contractor". The advantage to the drivers was
that they would report to the IRS a minute portion of what they really
made, giving them an advantage over their Union counterparts, who
were heavily taxed. The benefit to the motor carriers was not having to
pay payroll taxes or 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. Many began to get out and sold their trucks to new
immigrants escaping 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, most of whom had no documents. They now
had social security cards and shied away from government aid
programs. The IBT had tried to organize them prematurely in 1985 but
it totally 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 possible 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 their 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 working in the
harbor possible. A troquero usually underestimates 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 minimal
wage is totally false. Many port trucking companies have difficulty
finding drivers at double 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-$1000.- 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 troqueros find themselves in need of legitimacy
and realize that their income is superficially 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 December 4, 1999
summit in Charleston, SC hosted by Robert Bates and friends, and the
recent April 30 complete shutdown of the State commercial
transportation system. A promising development is the arrival of the
IWW. Legally, the biggest feat was the March 31, 1989 IRS
determination letter #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 lawsuits by
www.glicklegal.com
Q: Do the Port Troqueros plan on going to the NLRB?
Ernesto: 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 won. Now we are
in for the kill. The IRS, state labor board, and state workers comp
board regard 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 to compromise 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 strikes against the
employers, even when we picket our secondary employers, the port
terminals. None of our actions have even been questioned by law
enforcement. On the contrary. On the east coast they always form
associations, non-profits, and then ask for rates and get themselves
into legal trouble. An overwhelming number of Los Angeles Troqueros
are quite versed in the legal foundation of our being employees 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 of filing
against any of the current motor carriers. 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 lawsuits. These actions create upset and serves as a major
stimulation for organizing.
Q: What happened in April and June?
Ernesto: Early in the year we were planning a May Day convoy or
shutdown. The spike in diesel was a major catalyst. The whole damn
state shut down. It wasn't "organized" and there wasn't any leadership,
yet everyone 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 'wrong' 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 public 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 a strike
around 2001 at California United 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 begins to mobilize in the Los Angeles
harbor 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 solidarity 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 country?
Ernesto: It seems that the NW had lost touch with the rest of us but
thanks to recent IWW solidarity they might be back on board for the
next one.
Q: Is there a connection being built behind the unionization 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 evildoers. 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 progressive groups have totally ignored the
Troquero movement. Instead, they seem to concentrate on organizing
each other. The only groups that have tried to help have been
anarchist, 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 organizing. 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 enemies.
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 non-compliance with key regulations by the industry. Most recent
Teamster Port Campaign activities were poorly attended and thus not
publicized. The paid professional teamster organizers exist in a
different reality from that of the Troqueros. The Teamsters have to
realize that they cannot use key individuals to influence a larger group
and then axe the initial contacts and still have the rest follow the
Teamsters. Our brotherhood is based upon decades of mutual support
and joint struggle. We have grown old together in this struggle. We've
been through a lot, and are very close. On April 30 at Banning Park
there was a lot of hugging, because many of us hadn't seen each other
for years. There was a lot of bonding.
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 organizing with the
IWW?
Ernesto: This past year the presence of the IWW has been noticed.
The solidarity along the West Coast was inspiring and the website of
local 530 is quickly becoming the "unofficial" website for port
organizing. But 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 supporting 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 to make that happen. Sometimes we need to let
Troqueros at all the ports know that there is an action against xyz lines
and to begin picketing. The IWW can help with communication. The
IWW 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 who are making no
progress. Depending upon the commitment of the Bay area IWW,
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 IWWers 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

An Interview by Lucas of Harijt.

Q: How did the port truck driver organizing start?
Harjit: The truckers contacted us through the main office in
Philadelphia. They knew that during the strike last year the Teamsters
had not been as supportive and they had seen the IWW signs just as
support. They went to the Teamsters first to organize and were denied
and then remembered us and brought us out. I was brought in because
of my knowledge of the culture and language because my parents are
from Punjab and Punjabi is my first language. We were asked to come
to a meeting and there we explained what we could provide. The
trucker's decided that they would join the union that day, and since
then we have made many trips to meet with truckers and organize
them.
Q: What is the situation with the port truck drivers now?
Harjit : As I understand they had developed a certain level of self
organization already, so how does having a legitimate union structure
differ? Well, the situation is that they are independent contractors. So
organizing them cannot be done by any typical means. There is no
contract to be won here, there is organizing and using direct action to
get the needs of the trucking community met. We help organize, plan
meetings, explain legal options, but we do not dictate what actions
they can and cannot take.

Q: What gains have been made thus far in the Stockton port? What
gains still need to be won?
Harjit: The biggest gain made has been respect. The drivers have told
me specifically that there is much less racism from the Longshoremen
and Railworkers now that specific incidents are reported to us and
looked into. We have had two strikes and won both to some degree.
We have gained a few people their ability to work back after they were
unethically banned from rail yards, which is a feat no one had
accomplished we are told. We need to work on the issue delay time.

Q: What direction is Stockton heading? Do you feel like progress is
being made?
Harjit: Stockton is moving forward steadily. We are building trust and
strength as a union and our strategy is winning out against mainstream
union theory. We believe that workers have a right to unionize with or
without the laws consent.

Q: What about expansion? Does the bay area IWW plan on expanding
the organizing to other California ports? What about major ports in
other cities?
Harjit: We are looking into other cities, but are realistic about
capability.

Q: What advice would you give anyone interested in organizing in their
own cities?
Harjit: I think going down to talk and help out is key. Just listen to
workers; they know the problems of their own jobs. However,
challenge them to go outside of their box. Too many organizers feel
that they must become the worker or live similar to the worker. This
was something done in the 60's as well. Workers are not perfect; they
are part of the society I hope to change. We must remember workers are
not something to romanticize and that they are humans with biases
and prejudices that we should challenge, not take on.
Q: What roadblocks do you see in the future as organizing in the port
continues?
Harjit: The companies locking down and challenging workers power.
Nothing new.

War for the rich peace for the poor
Harjit


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