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(en) Defenstrator #21 - The International Longshore Workers Union Against the Bosses Once Again - By mcmike

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.defenestrator.org/)
Date Thu, 26 Dec 2002 05:03:06 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

The International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) represents thousands of
workers along the West Coast. The ILWU also has the responsibility of moving
nearly 30% of the U.S gross domestic product, which is a very large amount
passing through union hands. This past summer saw the docks heating up as
conflicts over negotiations for a new contract with the Pacific Maritime
Associations (PMA), began faltering ....

The International Longshore Workers
Union (ILWU) represents thousands of workers along the West Coast. The
ILWU also has the responsibility of moving nearly 30% of the U.S gross domestic
product, which is a very large amount passing through union hands. This past
summer saw the docks heating up as conflicts over negotiations for a new
contract with the Pacific Maritime Associations (PMA), began faltering.
Negotiations were underway with the old contract deadline steadily approaching
expiration on July 1st. The PMA represents Management Shipping Lines, which
operates along the west coast, as their West Coast bargaining group. The PMA
collectively negotiates with the ILWU, who act as the bargaining group for all
ILWU members. Along with the actual comercial and private shipping lines, the
PMA is also closely associated with a group called the West Coast Waterfront
Coalition. The WCWC is made up of production and retail giants, which the
shipping lines act as importers for, like The Gap, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target,
Mattel, and Toyota to name just a few. (for a complete list check out

The colusion between the PMA and the WCWC, along with its represented
multinational corporation, stand completely in opposition to union worker control
of the docks. The last thing that the boss groups want is to allow a powerful
union, and a high demand for workers rights, to interfere with profit.

The West Coast Waterfront Coalition (WCWC) , as well as the PMA are
interested in protecting only one thing, their own asses. Boss groups, like dock
and port employers, want to eliminate labor rights and standards for any dock, on
any coast, in any country. And, especially, to ensure that there be no strong
unions left to fight against their attacks on working people. The last few decades
have seen unprecedented attacks upon unions and workers right across the globe.
The wonderful expansion of Ôglobalization? as the government loves to brag on
about, has certainly been an organized Ôglobal? attack on workers everywhere.
Among the most targeted, dock workers have had their hands full as companies
and governments attempt to further privatize the docks, rid them of the unions. As
well as set up clear passage for globalization?s rewards to enter their countries,
namely, products and goods produced in developing countries whose workers
don?t enjoy even the pittance of rights and protections that workers in the West
barely hold on to. The ILWU has been working without contract since July, and
extended its contract into September while contract negotiations took place. The
talks stalled over PMA attempts to introduce new technologies to the dock
resulting in around 1,500 union job losses, as well as slashing key medical
benefits.. What?s seriously at stake, and highly important to the union, is the
direct attack upon the union hiring hall which was established to ensure the
continuation of new union jobs. The PMA is attempting to present the conflict as
the ILWU?s refusal of the new technology which the PMA wants to introduce to
the docks. However, under the ILWU Mechanization and Modernization
Agreement, the union has consistantly embraced new technologies as long as the
new jobs that come with it would be union jobs. ILWU contractors have always
recognized that all new jobs which technology might bring to the dock would be
union. This is a key conflict which the PMA has with the union. Very few unions
are left that maintain such a strong hiring hall as the ILWU, and the bosses want
to break that tradition. In this case, the new technology that PMA wants to
introduce is computer systems which would flow from off site, directly into the
terminal operating systems in the West Coast ports. The union holds that all the
new job which come with the integration of computer? systems (like terminal
controls, pre-gate supervisor jobs, and the work of planning out the ship, rail, and
container yards) would be union.

Contract negotiations continued for months with no gains being met, and with the
PMA refusing to even agree to the ILWUs most basic health benefit demands.
This is the point where things began to heat up. As the PMA refused to agree to
the ILWU demands, two paths seemed to loom on the horizon; a union strike or a
company lockout of the workers. To add a little background information, at the
same time as it appeared that the union may have to consider a strike to settle the
bosses conflict, ILWU international president James Spinosa was contacted by
Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge with a simple and clear message. The
government would not tolerate a strike, and if the ILWU intended to pursue a
strike on the West Coast, it would be broken. Ridge threatened use of Federal
Troops to re-open and run any docks shut down by an ILWU strike, as well as use
of the anti-union Taft-Hartly Act. On September 27th the PMA locked the ILWU
out of the docks leaving the ports in precarious situations as the day?s work was
left unfinished. Solidarity against the PMA lockout was quick to spread as word
made its way down the coast of what was happening. In Tacoma when the PMA
ordered members of the machinist union (IAM) to finish the ILWU jobs ,as ships
were left with half unloaded cargo and with hatch doors still open, the mechanics
refused. Pickets started up immediately up and down the West Coast as soon as
word spread of the lockout. And again in Oakland machinist union members
refused PMA orders to work ILWU jobs. Also in Portland, trains were left sitting
on the docks as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers refused to cross ILWU
picket lines. For nearly two weeks, during the beginning of the busiest period of
work for the ports, the PMA held out and refused to negotiate in good faith with
the union. The PMA maintained that it would reopen the docks if the union would
sign a day to day contract extension. The refusal of the PMA to start legitimate
negotiations with the union was causing turmoil both on the docks as well as in
the pocketbooks of giant retailers like The Gap and Home Depot. The U.S.
economy was loosing an estimated 1 to 2 billion dollars as day due to the company
lockout on the docks. While the PMA continued to place blame on the ILWU for
the stalled negotiations, on October 6th, the ILWU offered a seven day extension,
to which the PMA then demanded a additional 90 day extension.

The unwillingness of the PMA to cooperate with the ILWU, as well as the amount
of money being lost because of the lockout, continued to support the PMA pleas
for a federal intervention in the conflict. Finally, on October 8th, The ILWU agreed
to the Dept. of Labor truce offer of a 30 day contract extension. As the union went
public it was amazed to realize that President Bush had "hastily arranged" an
early press conference which coincided with the ILWU?s one, announcing the
use of the Taft-Hartly Act to resolve the conflict. Bush had come to the aid of the
PMA and leveled an unprecedented move to impose the Taft-Hartly Act, not in a
worker strike situation , but a company lockout conflict for the first time in

The Taft-Hartly Act was passed in 1948 as an anti-union law. Coincidentally, at
the same time the U.S. government was attempting to deport Harry Bridges, the
ILWU?s founding president on grounds of being a communist! The 1940?s and
1950?s saw increasingly vicious attacks on all the gains the working class had
won in the 1930?s, and Taft-Hartly was a key weapon to aid the government and
bosses in that aim. Taft-Hartly requires both the employer and the union to return
back to work for an 90 day "cooling off" period. A "cooling off" period which is
backed by fines, contempt of court injunctions, and prison sentences for those in
violation of the terms of the contract. In this case the Taft-Hartly 80 day "cooling
off" period gets the PMA through the peak shipping season with the old ILWU
contract, and takes pressure off of them for the upcoming contract negotiations
since the docks will be calmer with less money passing through them daily.
Creating a strike free period, without work slow downs to get the PMA through
until its slow season.

The use of Taft-Hartly by President Bush is another example of both Bush?s
willingness to come to the aid of big business as well as his anti-labor,
anti-worker politics. The union was furious.

" No president has ever been on the side of management so overtly" Richard
Trumka Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO .

And Bret Caldwell, spokesperson for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,
reported to the New York Times that "We?re extremely disappointed. The whole
strategy of locking out the workers and urging the President to invoke Taft-Hartly
was clearly a employer strategy to get around negotiating a contract with these
workers. It?s a bad precedent. It gives management the upperhand."

In terms of the actual settlement of the conflict after the 80 day "cooling off
period, Taft-Hartly also carries with it powers to force workers to vote on
management?s "last, best, and final offer." Which again is a device leveled
directly at undermining unions powers to collectively bargain in their own interest.
The bosses caused the crisis, the government ran to the rescue, and the workers
bear the brunt. Another addition to the conflict was the question of straightening
out the docks, because of the backup the PMA lockout caused. The docks have
been left in a logistical nightmare for the ILWU. The PMA created a backlog of
ships in its closure of the docks and is now blaming the union for not moving them
out quick enough, and has been attempting to site the union for work slow-down
violations of Taft-Hartly. This came as no surprise to the ILWU who anticipated
the Ôslow down? tactic early on. " These 80 days will not be a Ôcooling off?
period. PMA will start alleging slowdowns and will continue that. Taft-Hartly
gives them 80 days of free shots at the union, and we expect the employers will
be dragging us to court daily" ILWU International President James Spinosa.
According to the Journal of Commerce, 30 percent more cargo was crossing the
docks this year compared to last year , which makes you wonder where the idea
slowdowns are coming from The ILWU maintains that its working at top safety
level speeds to get rid of the back-up on the ports. As the congestion and backup
create a massive level of workplace dangers for an already dangerous job, the
ILWU insists on working within regulated safety standards to the letter. Worker
speedup this past summer due to PMA demends left the union with suffering a
massive amount of injury as well as the deaths of five workers in the last six
months. As the PMA calls for increased work speed-ups on the docks it?s
interesting to remember that the U.S. Dept. of Labor cited dockworkers as the
second most hazardous job in the country, just behind mining. The current
situation on the docks has the ILWU standing firm with the resolve that "You are
not going to take this waterfront away from us- we are going to win!" The union
has been organizing solidarity marches and rallies across the coast in order to
organize more working people to support the West Coast Waterfront Coalition
(WCWC). Home Depots and Wal-Marts, as well as other member companies,
have been receiving leafleting and picketing outside their stores around the
country. Its is important to mention the significance of the International
Longshore Workers Union to the rest of the international labor movement and
working stiffs. The ILWU has been a traditionally militant U.S. union. And while
many of the unions around us have fallen head over heals in line with the bosses,
leaving most day to day/ rank and file workers behind, the ILWU has preserved
much of its progressive and militant history. The ILWU continue to display
 examples rich with history of international solidarity with workers across the
globe. Such as the ILWU?s refusal to move cargo going to or from apartheid
South Africa. The union also acted in solidarity with South American popular
movements in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980?s. During the now famous
direct action demonstrations against the World Trade Organizations meeting in
Seattle on November 30th 1999, the ILWU shut down the west coast docks as a
solidarity action with protestors who had taken to the streets that day. The
Liverpool Dockers struggle in 1997 also saw the ILWU shut the coast down in
solidarity with an international day of action. Not to mention hundreds of other
acts of solidarity with workers struggles? world wide that the ILWU has been
there for.

Today the Union is also aware of what?s at stake with its current struggle. The
ability to control the ports, to control the movement of goods in and out of the
country is a powerful tool. As global capitalism continues to expand, so does its
need for cheap, exploitable labor markets and products. The ability to control the
movement of these products, and to protest the conditions under which they were
made, or the financial institutions behind the scenes, can be a powerful tool. The
decision to target the ILWU with federal intervention is nothing short of an
attempt to break the back of the union. The ILWU is an example of a U.S. union
which still maintains high levels of membership leadership, democracy, and
autonomy on the job, as well as an example of a socially conscious union in the
hands of the rank and file, who are willing to stand behind workers across the
planet. The internationalism of the ILWU is a threat to the globalization of
capitalism because it represents organized workers who are able and willing to
stand together.

In response to the current struggle the ILWU faces, Richard Mead, President of
ILWU local 10 said," This is about global capitalism fighting global solidarity. If
they get rid of us it?ll be easier when they go out to any of the other dock
workers unions around the world."

Keep up on the situation by checking these pages out! http://www.ilwu.org/,
http://bari.iww.org/ http://www.zmag.org/LaborWatch.htm

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