ILWU survival at stake in Nov. 5 vote

LOS ANGELES – The West Coast waterfront battle is moving beyond the docks to the Nov. 5 elections as the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and giant retailers make clear their aim to destroy the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) through union-busting legislation in the new Congress next January.

“The very future of the ILWU is directly tied to the results of the November elections,” said Steve Stallone, ILWU communications director. “If Republicans win control of the Senate and maintain control of the House, the ILWU’s future is in grave danger.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 16 that some in Washington, their appetites whetted by the Bush administration’s enforcement of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act imposed last week, now want to go a step further. James Flanigan writes that “Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta is being urged by a group of rail, truck and shipping companies to consider a form of the Railway Labor Act.” That measure imposes compulsory arbitration on labor disputes and denies labor unions the right to strike, a scenario that spells union busting for the ILWU.

Lindsay McClaughlin, ILWU legislative director, told the World, “Republican Senators have made it clear that they intend to introduce legislation next year which will insure that this union can never strike.”

He added, “Once they do it to us, then all workers will suffer the results. ... Such legislation could very likely include steelworkers, autoworkers, mining and other industrial workers.”

Rick Bank, director of the AFL-CIO’s Center for Collective Bargaining, told the World, “From the beginning, Bush has been totally one-sided in his aid to employers. Their endgame is to destroy the ILWU bargaining unit and that is a challenge to the entire labor movement.”

The AFL-CIO has been meeting daily on the waterfront crisis to mobilize a fightback. They intend to issue special election material for use in all the AFL-CIO targeted races aimed at explaining to union voters what is at stake in the attack against the ILWU.

The ILWU will send their union members to Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, New Jersey and New Hampshire – five key states where the battle for control of the Senate is raging. The Democrats gained a one seat majority in the Senate when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party last January but Bush and the Republicans hope to regain control of the Senate Nov. 5.

McClaughlin reported that Republican Senators are using the West Coast labor battle in an effort to rally against pro-labor Democrats in Senate races. Minnesota’s Republican Senate candidate, Norm Coleman, is attacking incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) because Wellstone refused to support the use of the Taft-Hartley Act by the Bush administration.

Republican Senator Conrad Burns from Montana is not waiting until next year as he calls on Congress to pass legislation now that would extend Bush’s Taft-Hartley law against the ILWU 30 days longer.

The AFL-CIO has also completed research showing that the PMA has filled the financial coffers of Republican candidates in the key Senate races.

“Huge shipping conglomerates, powerful retailers have the full weight of the Bush administration and his party supporting them with an anti working people agenda,” said McClaughlin who emphasized that voters need to hear the truth about the meaning of the dockers fight. “Multinationals are locking out the American people and their jobs are what’s at stake.”

“I hate to think what this world would be like without the ILWU,” said McClaughlin. “The public can support longshore workers by voting against Republicans in this election.”

Bank emphasized that the PMA lockout of the ILWU has led to dangerous conditions for longshore workers due to the build up of cargo at the docks. “The AFL-CIO has called on the federal government to enforce OSHA and put inspectors to monitor the docks and enforce safety regulations,” said Bank.

Instead, of this common sense approach, the Bush Labor Department has instructed federal OSHA to stay off the docks. Only California OSHA is monitoring the situation.

“PMA is more focused on using Taft-Hartley to harass us than solving the logistical disaster they created,” said ILWU International President James Spinosa. “The congestion on the docks is reducing productivity as well as safety. But these employers are only concerned with numbers of containers moved and not the human toll of their production.”

The ILWU reports that congestion has already led to accidents, and major ports are experiencing acute shortages of equipment and manpower. At the new Maersk facility in the Port of Los Angeles, two accidents occurred on Oct. 11. An outside trucker hit an ILWU-driven truck and when the union Business Agent came to the scene to investigate, his truck was hit by another outside trucker.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com