ILWU convenes with eye on future battles

The experiences of a hard-fought contract battle against a gang up that included the Pacific Maritime Association, a coalition of retailers and the Bush administration will loom large in the minds of delegates to 32nd Convention of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), April 28 – May 2, as they map strategy for the coming year.

While the ILWU won a phenomenal contract victory, which the AFL-CIO characterized as a benchmark for all of labor, the challenge of the Bush/employer offensive against dockworkers remains.

In a message published in the ILWU Dispatcher, International President James Spinosa, said delegates who will meet in San Francisco faced an “an awesome responsibility,” in setting the union’s goals for the next three years.

“Our enemies are not done with us,” Spinosa said. “Right now employers are cynically using the terrorist threat and the need for security to weaken the ILWU. They are working overtime to see that legitimate port security legislation is twisted to harass individual longshore workers, to diminish our power at the point of production and to chip away at our jurisdiction, reducing jobs that should be ours.”

Spinosa pointed to the constant barrage of anti-worker laws that are coming from Republican lawmakers at the state and national level that require the ILWU to step up its political and legislative activity. He credits timely actions by the ILWU Washington D.C. office and the ILWU rank and file Legislative Action Committee for moving quickly to rally friends in Congress and state governments to defend the ILWU when Bush threatened military intervention at the docks during contract negotiations and when legislation was introduced in Congress to take away rights to collective bargaining and to strike.

Those bills “never made it to the floor,” Spinosa continued. “It is clear that the defense of ILWU interests requires us to be much more involved in the political process ... We need to reward our friends and punish our enemies.”

The international officers will bring proposals to accomplish that. One will ask delegates to agree to make a $50 per year per member voluntary political action contribution official ILWU policy. If achieved, that could raise nearly half a million dollars for local and national political action, including the critical 2004 presidential elections.

The Convention will recognize the importance of coalition building and alliances as many leaders who helped the ILWU score a victory will be address the convention.

AFL-CIO National Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, will very likely receive a rousing response because the AFL-CIO made a priority of the dockers contract fight. Jerry Acosta, AFL-CIO regional deputy director, told the World that the solidarity developed during the contract fight will continue. “The ILWU has its eyes on future battles and how to meet the new challenges. The AFL-CIO has pledged that we will be there with them every step of the way.”

Their contract significantly improved pensions and health care, and won important union jurisdiction issues over new technology.

Other important allies who will speak include the Rev. Jesse Jackson, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The speakers list also includes John Bowers, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and Chuck Mack, an international vice president of the Teamsters union. Ken Riley, President of ILA Local 1422 who led the campaign that freed the “Charleston 5” – five dockworkers in Charleston, South Carolina falsely charged with conspiracy to riot after a police attack on their picketline – is an invited guest.

Riley told the World “Dockworkers in the ILA owe a debt to the ILWU, for their support to free the Charleston 5 and their contract victory. Both sides of our upcoming contract negotiations in 2004 are already referencing the West Coast. The ILWU victory will definitely play a positive role for the ILA in our negotiations.”

A presentation by William Mendoza, head of SINALTRAINAL, Colombia’s food and beverage union, will highlight the ILWU’s commitment to international solidarity in Colombia. Mendoza is part of a four-person delegation touring the U.S. in an effort to organize support for a boycott Coca Cola for its role in the repression of Colombian unionists

Also, it is expected that delegates will be discussing the recent attack by Oakland police against a peaceful anti-war protest at the Port of Oakland that targeted the Stevedoring Services of America dock. Nine ILWU Local 10 longshoremen who were attempting to report to their jobs, were shot with rubber bullets, beaten and injured by police who attacked the peaceful protest.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com