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International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)

Open Letter: Union Needs to Back Climate Change Protesters, Not Persecute Them

The Vancouver Ecosocialist Group, including the trade unionists listed below, have issued this open letter to the International Longshore Warehouse Union. It responds to the union’s offer of a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of climate change protesters at the Port Metro Vancouver’s office. The open letter was originally published by the Vancouver Observer. Rankandfile.ca republishes this letter in the interests of open, democratic debate within the labour movement, particularly on issues as important as the environment and government attacks on the right to protest and free speech. – the Rankandfile.ca editors

ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko announced December 20 on the waterfront union’s website and in the mainstream media the offer of a “$2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of masked intruders who violently occupied Port Metro Vancouver’s office on Monday December 16 and intimidated office staff.”

This action by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has tarnished its own proud history of peaceful civil disobedience by refusing to load ships in support of progressive struggles. Only four years ago a sizable march of ILWU members, supporters, and international guests erected a plaque in Vancouver to the outcome of one such refusal. That one led to a massive lockout and to the 1935 Battle of Ballantyne Pier, where hundreds of dock workers fought police for hours in an attempt to stop scabbing.

Rising Tide and Allies Shut Down Port of Vancouver

Portland Rising Tide North American - Monday, November 4th, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Vancouver and Portland Rising Tide are joining with other friends, allies, and activists in the Pacific Northwest to shut down the Port of Vancouver, Washington, right now in solidarity with the ILWU.

This from Portland Rising Tide’s Facebook page: “Good morning Port of Vancouver, if you can’t keep your grain terminal safe for workers, how can you make an oil terminal safe? You can’t so this morning Rising Tide is shutting you down!”

The ILWU has been locked out of a grain shipment terminal by United Grain. “United Grain and its Japanese owners at Mitsui have failed to negotiate in good faith with the men and women of the ILWU for months and instead chose to aggressively prepare for a lockout, spending enormous resources on an out-of-state security firm,” according to a statement made by ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent earlier this year.

On July 15, 2011, hundreds of ILWU protestors blockaded a mile-long train coming into the terminal in protest. The struggle has continued through numerous actions of resistance, including this June, when ILWU members blocked a transport van from leaving the port.

Today, the ILWU’s struggle in the area is spilling over into a new terminal as Rising Tide activists are calling out the unaccountable and irresponsible behavior of the Port of Vancouver in both the ILWU lockout and the approval of a new oil terminal. The terminal would process 380,000 barrels of oil coming in by rail from the Bakken shale and probably the tar sands.

Many activists have pointed to recent oil disasters, such as the explosion of an oil train in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that incinerated the entire town square.

Summing up the Kaiser strike and lockout 1998-2000: Union Leaders Fear A Self-Directed Rank And File More Than Defeat

By Robby Barnes and Sylvie Kashdan - November 5, 2000

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Eugene Debs asserted that the role of the established AFL union leadership was "to chloroform the working class while the ruling class went through its pockets." This was accomplished through blocking workers' participation in direct democracy in the unions, short-circuiting activist strategies that were favored by the majority, and ignoring or persecuting critics. Unfortunately, this tradition is not dead yet.

When the Kaiser steelworkers' strike and lockout began in 1998, their union, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), published an article comparing the good old days in the company under Henry J. Kaiser with the bad new days of vicious anti-union and anti-worker practices since Kaiser has been owned by MAXXAM, under the direction of Charles Hurwitz. Henry Kaiser was cited for recognizing and rewarding his workers for their intelligence, craftsmanship, achievements and hard work. Mr. Kaiser was also praised for being responsive to workers' concerns. The article said, "

It's no secret that Henry J. Kaiser is dead, because if he were still alive, we would not be on strike at Kaiser Aluminum. That's because labor relations at our company used to be governed by Mr. Kaiser's philosophy. And as a result, a job at Kaiser Aluminum used to be something special. In contrast to many of today's corporate executives, Mr. Kaiser insisted on treating us like 'human beings', not as disposable tools in the production process. The company's strategy for improving productivity was based on recognizing our "ability, skill and good will."

And when you got a job at Kaiser, it was a job for life." ("Kaiser, Then and Now," from USWA Trentwood Local forum, Why We're On Strike at Kaiser Aluminum A Message to our Communities from the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local Union 329, Spokane, Washington, Local Union 338, Spokane, Washington, Local Union 341, Newark, Ohio, Local Union 5702, Gramercy, Louisiana, Local Union 7945, Tacoma, Washington. Published in Mid 1998 and available at http://www.choicenet1.com/steelworkers/forum/default.asp)

This union perspective helped to define the workers' struggle in artificially limited terms. By romanticizing Henry Kaiser and his workforce policies, it downplayed the real significance of the workers' struggles that convinced this savvy New Deal era businessman to give his employees better-than-average wages and benefits in order to head off the disruptions and financial losses resulting from insurgency. It glossed over many currently relevant issues, including the recent trends in capitalist "restructuring" and "downsizings" which have become standard practice for corporations throughout the world in the past 20 to 30 years. The union bureaucrats also encouraged people to think of the recent problems with Kaiser's policies as due to unusually greedy and evil managers, guilty of bad business practices. They held off placing the Kaiser worker's problems squarely in the context of current trends toward intensified workforce exploitation--as corporations strive for higher rates of profits by simultaneously eliminating skilled jobs, in offices, stores and factories, etc., and demanding that people work harder for lower wages. And on a more basic level, the union leaders continued to encourage the rank and file to believe that their problems lay in having to fight against bad bosses, rather than against the usual interests of employers and socio-economic relations in the world.

They also distorted the realities of Kaiser Aluminum's exploitative practices before 1988, when MAXXAM acquired the company. Even before 1988, Kaiser was periodically demanding that the workers accept sacrifices, including layoffs and lower wages. But at that time union leaders encourage the workers to be "loyal" and accede to those demands. They only began to consider resistance when it became clear that the company was directly attacking the union, by closing unionized facilities and moving production to "right-to-work" states, where laws make it extremely difficult for unions to organize and bargain.

Tacoma Pier Shut Down!: Sea Diamond, Laden With Kaiser Aluminum Scab Cargo, Idled By MTW-Organized Solidarity Action

By x337969 - November 1998

Tacoma, Washington - At sunrise on Monday, November 7th, Puget Sound Marine Transport Workers and other Wobblies set up a picketline at Pier 7 in the Port of Tacoma in solidarity with locked-out Steelworkers from Kaiser Aluminum.

The Sea Diamond, a cargo ship loaded with bauxite destined for Kaiser's Tacoma and Spokane facilities, was delayed for 24 hours, after members of Earth First! (EF!) occupied a crane and a conveyor belt at Pier 7.

The action was called for by members of the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) who have been on strike for the last three months. The strike was prompted by Kaiser Aluminum's refusal to talk to the union over issues such as downsizing, cuts in medical and retirement benefits. Kaiser began moving trailers to house its scabs onto the polluted factory site before negotiations with the union were even set to begin.

Management at Kaiser--a subsidiary of the infamous Maxxam Corporation, owned by junk bond baron Charles Hurwitz--has conducted a determined effort to break the Steelworkers' union through the use of scab labor and strikebreaking goons from the International Management Assistance Corporation (IMAC).

The first ILWU dockworkers began arriving to work the ship at about 7:00 am. Jeremy Read, Branch Organizer of MTW-IWW San Francisco Bay Ports Local 9, explained to a crane operator the nature of the picket. The crane operator, realizing his right not to endanger the health and safety of anyone on the job site, promptly went home.

Longshore workers honored the picketline without hesitation. Many who had not been dispatched to work the Sea Diamond came down, out of both support and curiosity. Many were surprised that EF! had acted in solidarity with union workers, as many had viewed its past actions as opposed to workers' interests particularly in the lumber industry. Other longshore workers grabbed "bulls" (or forklifts), and moved checker shacks around to the picketline so pickets could get out of the rain.

EF! activists scouted Pier 7, and the first two were arrested after attempting to occupy the crane. Fortunately, others had made it up to the crane's boom, and some were posted in the scaffolding of the conveyor belt to the silos150 feet above ground.

As members of the press arrived, crane climbers rappelled from their position aloft in an attempt to unfurl a gigantic banner which read "HURWITZ CUTS JOBS AS FAST AS HE CUTS TREES". The wind ended up whipping the banner and the climbers about, creating a spectacle eagerly filmed by the TV crews. The climbers were cited for criminal trespass, but were not hurt. Climbers descended the crane in the afternoon, and were not cited or arrested.

The Sea Diamond dropped anchor at about 10:00am, and water craft ranging from an Wobbly sailboat to personal boats drifted around the port, preventing the ship from docking. Foss tugboats, operated by Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific members, cruised by to check out the action, as did Coast Guard vessels.

Throughout the action, Steelworkers maintained their legal six-member, informational picketline.

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