SAN FRANCISCO – Delegates to the 32nd Convention of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), celebrated their recent contract victory and targeted the 2004 elections as the next major battle facing their members.

“The single biggest challenge ahead for the ILWU and the entire American labor movement is defeating Bush and anti-worker members of Congress in the 2004 elections,” ILWU President James Spinosa said in his keynote address.

While calling the contract battle “the biggest battle the ILWU has faced in more than 50 years,” Spinosa warned that the attack against the union from employers and the Bush administration is not over.

“The employers are unhappy that they missed a good chance to cripple the ILWU and haven’t given up their plotting. Republicans are stronger than before, having seized both houses of Congress in 2002. The political climate has gotten worse, with the war on Iraq and heightened security concerns being used to restrict workers rights,” Spinosa said.

“A second term Bush will slash and burn workers without ever having to worry about another election,” continued Spinosa. “Things are bad now, but if we fail in 2004, the labor movement will face a real nightmare.”

Spinosa called for membership education on the issues and then an all-out door-to-door mobilization of the ranks to go out into their communities to register voters and work to convince neighbors to go to the polls. He also emphasized that like the contract battle the ILWU would be working in full coordination with the AFL-CIO.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and other speakers also focused on 2004. “We need no more incentive. We must run George Bush out of the White House,” Trumka said to applause. “Our unions are our single most important political weapon against wealthy corporations and their ideologues who are pulling our nation to the right. This is a moment unmatched in history.”

In his invocation to the convention, Rev. Jesse Jackson blasted Bush and Republicans for creating an atmosphere that tells workers if you are patriotic, you cannot fight back. “They want to put duct tape over your mouth,” he told delegates, “but as Americans we have the right to fight the right.”

“If ever there was a time for a massive march on Washington for jobs or income, for a comprehensive health care plan, it is now,” he said to applause.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown complimented the ILWU for making great sacrifices on behalf of working people and condemned the economic policies of President Bush, singling out the problem of “disappearing jobs” as the number one issue before the country.

Ken Riley, president of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422, and leader of the campaign that freed the Charleston 5 in South Carolina said the ILWU was a victory for all Americans. He told the World he agrees with other speakers that defeating Bush and his allies in 2004 is crucial. “If Bush is reelected he will promote legislation that will handicap labor from now until eternity,” he said.

Riley said that many Democratic Party officials think the victor in South Carolina’s third-in-the-nation primary will get the Democratic presidential nomination.

California Gov. Gray Davis said all Americans can take a lesson from the ILWU. “When the pressure was on, you acted in your best self interest. The nation is stronger because you stood strong,” he said. Delegates cheered when Davis criticized national policy that uses security concerns to harass and take away rights of port workers.

ILA Vice President Al Cernades thanked delegates for their courage in withstanding the Taft-Hartley law, employer lockout and threats of military intervention. “You set a high standard for us all,” he said, referring to the upcoming ILA contract negotiations next year.

Teamster President James R. Hoffa sent a letter to the convention emphasizing the alliance between the ILWU, ILA and Teamsters. Ron Carver, Port Campaign director for the Teamsters, read the message where Hoffa pledged the three unions will continue to work to insure that one day “every worker at the ports will carry a union card representing one of our great unions.”

Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, received a standing ovation when he reminded delegates of “our long, militant and fighting histories; our commitment to our members; our willingness to stand up in the campaigns for justice, peace and human rights that have placed us in the hearts and minds of many workers around the world. Our internationalism continues to be the beacon of hope for the future for working men and women around the world,” he concluded.

The ILWU is well-known for its rank and file activism, which was very visible at this convention. At press time, many were lined up at the microphone to speak in favor of three resolutions calling for comprehensive national health care provided by a single-payer for all. Another resolution called for all ILWU divisions to put together a joint health program similar to that negotiated by the longshore division. The resolutions were approved unanimously.

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Juan Lopez contributed to this article.