West Coast Longshore maps fightback

SAN FRANCISCO – The longshore division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which met here on May 5-9, made it clear that dockers are not resting on the laurels of the recent contract victory against their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Representatives from 30 West Coast longshore locals, who caucused for five days following the 32nd ILWU Convention, agreed that a new fightback strategy was crucial if they are to succeed against the Bush administration and global shipping employers.

“We cannot let our guard down anymore. The fight is not over, it has just begun,” said ILWU International President James Spinosa. He reminded the caucus that during negotiations the PMA was more focused on battling the ILWU outside of the bargaining room than inside of it.

Longshore officers emphasized that the PMA initiated an anti-union public relations attack in the media and brought in the West Coast Waterfront Coalition of retailers to lobby legislators against the ILWU at the state and federal level, practices not used in negotiations before.

“We have no choice. The PMA wants to break the hold our union has on the West Coast by any means available. We must adopt a game plan in response,” Spinosa said.

High up in that new ILWU game plan is the proposal to build up the union’s Political Action Fund, to beef up docker presence in Washington, D.C., and to intensify involvement in local politics and the 2004 elections.

“We must recognize that our government has the ability to legislate away our legal rights and our jobs,” said the officers who reported to the caucus. They also noted the pressure exerted on the union during negotiations by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and other governmental agencies.

Acknowledging the need to act, the caucus will ask over 10,000 longshore members to each give a $50 per year voluntary donation to the Political Action Fund. That would amount to well over a half-million dollars.

Delegates were upset about the Bush administration and others in Congress using security as a ruse to kill union jobs at the ports and to destroy the union.

Local 10’s Lawrence Thibeaux, an ILWU legislative team member, told the caucus that legislators don’t want to discuss real security like the need for seals on containers. Instead, he said, they emphasize more control over workers: background checks, national ID cards and searches.

Mike Mitre of Local 13 in Los Angeles heads up the ILWU’s port security work. He said that the PMA is preparing a port security study that will ultimately be turned over to Congress. He also reported that PMA chief Joseph Miniace is being proposed to be the new chairman of the Marine Transportation System committee.

That scenario worries Los Angeles Local 63’s Peter Payton, another legislative team member, who warned that the PMA and members of Congress “may use security to try to go after the longshore dispatch system.”

The caucus voted to fund several new projects to buttress their power on the docks, including projects in public relations (to counter the PMA’s anti-union media apparatus), membership education, coalition building, research, and international solidarity. “International solidarity must be cultivated continuously, not only when needed,” said the longshore officers.

The caucus also agreed to fund a research project that will make organizing recommendations. Peter Olney, associate director at the Institute for Labor and Employment, reported that jobs are expanding in the industry but not in the traditional longshore port. That calls for carefully selecting the best organizing targets in the cargo-handling chain, he said.

Dave Arian from Local 13 spoke to the importance of research. “Before this contract, we were not prepared to deal with the employer other than at the point of production. We have to keep track of the capitalist world. How was it that Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) was able to dominate the PMA in negotiations and then get a contract in Iraq?” he asked.

The caucus broke from its meeting on May 7 to congregate at the Oakland Courthouse in solidarity with Local 10 Business Agent Jack Heyman, who was arrested and beaten up by police during a peaceful anti-war protest at the port of Oakland on April 7. When dockers filled the halls of the courthouse, it was announced that no charges would be pressed against Heyman that day.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com