ILWU to Bush: We wont let you take waterfront from us

LOS ANGELES – International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) President James Spinosa and AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka both spoke at the Oct. 22 general membership meeting of ILWU Local 13 where nearly 2,000 members packed the union hall to hear reports on developments in their battle with their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

The message delivered by the two leaders and Ramon Ponce de Leon, president of Local 13, the largest West Coast ILWU local, was loud and clear, “Stand united, we are going to fight, and we are going to win!”

Spinosa said the goal of the employers association “is to destroy what we have enjoyed since 1934 and we are not going to let them do it. We’ve gone beyond traditional collective bargaining over contract demands. They want to destroy our union and take control of the waterfront. Corporate America with all its greed is at our doorstep.”

Spinosa said President Bush was part of the PMA game plan to break the union. “They have the media, the president, and the courts set up to get us.” He added that by invoking the Taft-Hartley Act, PMA was setting the stage to bankrupt the union.

Spinosa said the situation required the ILWU to “think outside the box and outsmart the ship owners. We have to shift into a different mode,” he said. “Our mode has to be ‘You are not going to take this waterfront away from us.’”

Spinosa called on the rank and file to “do their job” in the fight for a decent contract. “You’ve gotta do your job and not allow the PMA to beat us in court. Stay on the job. They can’t beat us if we stay on the job because we are protecting our job.”

Trumka, former president of the United Mine Workers, told how that union had fought back when hit with the Taft-Hartley Act. “We struck for 118 days and we won because we stuck together. We know two things for sure. First, the PMA and shippers will try to conquer us by dividing us. Second, as long as we reject their scheming and stand together – we will win.”

Trumka commended the ILWU membership for their courage and commitment. “You are making history instead of becoming history,” he said to cheers, adding that the federation pledged its “support, expertise, respect and solidarity today, tomorrow and as long as it takes.”

Trumka blasted President Bush for interfering in collective bargaining and stressed significance of the ILWU battle for the rest of labor. “Bush knows that if he can bring this union down, the rest will be easy. But when this union stands him down – and you will – Bush will think twice about taking on another union.”

Trumka emphasized the importance of the November elections and congratulated the ILWU for sending 35 members to five states to participate in electoral campaigns. “This election will determine who will control all three branches of the federal government; it will decide whether Bush can interfere in negotiations or not. You are showing incredible solidarity by sending your members across the country while you face this battle on the waterfront.”

The meeting ended after Dave Arian, public relations chair for the negotiating committee, explained the union’s strategy for next stage of the fight and Rob Remar, ILWU legal counsel, explained the workings of the Taft-Hartley Act and its implications for the union. Spinosa, Trumka and the other officers were given a standing ovation when they left the stage at the end of the meeting.

This story is excerpted from an article in The Dispatcher. The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com