ILWU shuts down West Coast ports to honor Juneteenth
Among the ports shut down on June 19 by the ILWU was the one in Oakland. | Michelle Kern and Alex Farr / PW

OAKLAND, Calif.—In honor of Juneteenth, 29 West Coast ports—all the major ports from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego—were shut down for eight hours June 19 by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Here in Oakland, an estimated 10,000 marchers gathered at the Oakland SSA terminal port at a 10 a.m. rally to hear union and community leaders speak, including civil rights leader and prison abolitionist Angela Davis.

Juneteenth, celebrated annually since 1866, is a holiday marking the anniversary of the day—June 19, 1865— when Black slaves in Texas were informed by federal authorities that they were free, more than two years after the official declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery.

This Juneteenth port shutdown was planned by the union to honor the Movement for Black Lives and to remember George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, three Black people killed by senseless violence this spring—the first two by police, the third by white vigilantes. ILWU national leaders attended the June 8 memorial for George Floyd.

Keith Shanklin, the first Black union president of ILWU Local 34 in Oakland, initiated the event, collaborating with ILWU Locals 10, 75, and 91. In a letter to ILWU International President Willie Adams calling for the action, Shanklin wrote, “All lives will matter when Black lives matter because an injury to one is an injury to all!”

The ILWU unions have previously shut down their ports in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., May Day, and Occupy Wall Street. However, Friday was the first time in history that the ILWU celebrated the end of slavery, said Marina V. Secchitano, National President of the Inlandboatman’s Union of the Pacific.

Secchitano also highlighted the historical support of the ILWU for Black workers in its radical history, before any other unions had made the effort, quoting trailblazing ILWU labor leader Harry Bridges, “If there are only two workers left on the docks, one will be Black and the other one white.”

Adams, ILWU international president, announced at the rally that port workers in Genoa, Italy, and in South Africa also shut down their ports in solidarity with the Juneteenth West Coast shutdown.

During South African apartheid, the ILWU refused to unload cargo from that country in solidarity with the struggles of Black South Africans to end apartheid.

Speaking at the rally was Michael Brown, Sr., father of Michael Brown, Jr., who was shot and killed in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., by white police officer Darren Wilson, sparking one of the first large-scale public protests in the Black Lives Matter movement. “Justice is all we want, we are done dying,” Brown said.

Taun Hall, mother of Miles Hall, killed in 2019 by Walnut Creek police, told the crowd her son was shot by officers who knew he suffered from mental illness. Hall said police are not equipped or trained to help people with mental illness, and the system that is in place to aid the mentally ill also has severe shortcomings.

For eight hours straight, every port on the West Coast of North America was shut down in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. | Michelle Kern and Alex Farr / PW

Pamela Price, East Bay civil rights attorney and a candidate for Alameda County District Attorney in 2018, connected police violence with economic threats against the Black community of Oakland. Price said that between the years 2000 and 2020, 129 people died in Alameda County police custody, and only one case, the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009, was ever prosecuted.

From this, Price said, it is “clear why we have to defund police…and eliminate police violence.” She emphasized that it is necessary to value people over profits. She also cited the issues posed by the Howard Terminal Coliseum project, a development proposal that would potentially destabilize the Black community in East Oakland, the labor backbone of the maritime and shipping industry in Oakland.

Angela Davis, speaking from her car, highlighted the radical history of the ILWU. She thanked the union for “their contributions to all of our struggles against racism and capitalismagainst racial capitalism…especially now for speaking out against the brutal racist murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and many others whose lives who have been claimed by the structural violence of racism.”

Davis said she hoped the action of the ILWU would motivate other unions to follow its example by also speaking out.

Rally participants then marched from the port to downtown Oakland, where they gathered for a second rally at Oscar Grant Plaza in front of City Hall.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Kern
Michelle Kern

Michelle Kern is Adjunct Professor, Creative Arts and Social Science Department at College of San Mateo, California. She is Chapter Chair at AFT local 1493, Organizer at AFT local 1493 and contributing writer to Peoplesworld.org.

Alex Farr
Alex Farr

Alex Farr writes from San Francisco.

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