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Longshore Struggle Brews on Both Coasts
by Mark Vorpahl (portland [at] )
Tuesday Jan 8th, 2013 4:42 PM
Part I It’s a familiar pattern: those on top of the economic ladder enjoy massive profits, while expecting workers to sacrifice even more for the “greater good.”
This storyline weaves itself into every justification for anti-worker policies. From Washington’s potential Grand Bargain that would cut trillions from needed social programs, to the workplaces with their stagnating wages and declining benefits, those on top plead poverty to workers while stuffing their pockets beyond belief.

The argument is also currently being repeated by the giant multinational corporations that control the nation’s shipping ports.

Fortunately, the Longshore workers are organized into powerful unions that have the ability to fight back against big business greed — something that was recently demonstrated at the port strikes in Los Angles and Long Beach, and which is now underway in the union negotiations happening at ports along the East Coast and at the ports in the Northwest.

Victory in Southern California

An impressive victory was achieved in Los Angeles last month as a result of an eight-day strike by the 800 members of the Office Clerical Unit of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63.

For two years the workers had been without a contract as a result of stalling by the Harbor Employer Association. The main issue on the table was job security: the employers were hiring more nonunion superintendents through attrition, outsourcing work to nonunion contractors elsewhere in the U.S. and overseas, and finding ways to get fewer employees to perform more work. The members of ILWU Local 63 wanted to put a halt to this not only to preserve their own jobs, but to have these jobs available for future generations.

After two years at the bargaining table, it became clear that the Harbor Employer Association was unwilling to move on the union’s issues. The membership was left with no choice but to strike. And it was Longshore solidarity that won the day.

Ten thousand dockworkers refused to cross Local 63′s picket line, leaving 10 of the 14 ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach at a standstill and $760 million a day of merchandise untouched.

The strike made the impact it needed to; suddenly, the Harbor Employer Association discovered that they were able to make more movement on the union’s demands in a few days than they had for the previous two years.

After eight days on strike, a tentative agreement was reached and later ratified by membership vote. The Harbor Employer Association’s attempts to outsource, at the cost of future working class jobs, hit an unmovable obstacle, resulting in a victory that demonstrates how taking collective action to shut down production can win.

Developments on the East Coast

On the East Coast, a different Longshore union is facing its own difficulties. The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) represents 15,000 union dockworkers at 14 ports from Maine to Texas. These ports handle 40 percent of all U.S. container cargo. The ILA is in negotiations with the United States Maritime Alliance Ltd. (USMX), an alliance of container carriers, direct employers, and port associates.

It has been 35 years since the ILA went out on strike. And at the end of December, it looked likely that this stretch was up. Dec. 29 was the final day of extended contract negotiations and the membership was ready to grab their picket signs.

The main point of contention was container royalties, a decades-old fee of $4.85 per ton of container cargo paid to the ILA membership. This is a significant amount of income that the workers take in. USMX insisted on reinstating a cap on this fee that the ILA had successfully fought to remove in the last two-year contract.

In an e-mail an ILA spokesman said the following:

We let USMX defer $42 million of container royalty money to help pay for the $1.00 an hour increase that was due longshore workers — we, in essence, paid for our own raise — and now USMX wants the CAP back on. They got the benefit and now they want us to go backwards.

On Dec. 28, ILA President Harold J. Daggett sent out a public announcement stating:

I am pleased to announce that the ILA made major gains on the Container Royalty issue that will protect our ILA members. Consequently, we agreed to extend the ILA Master Contract by 30 days, beyond the December 29th deadline (because of the year-end holidays, the deadline of the new extension will be February 6, 2013).

What these major gains are remains unclear, and George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is demanding that all parties keep their lips tight for now. Consequently, there is no telling how the next few weeks of negotiations will go.

The ILA membership does not have any reason to stand down from strike preparations. The moment for decision will come when the membership has a tentative agreement in their hands and has a chance to read the fine print, collectively discuss it and vote.

The only certainty is that they are more likely to get a good contract and avoid a strike if they are prepared to go on a strike that will choke USMX’s profit flow off.

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by Communist Workers Group
Wednesday Jan 9th, 2013 6:19 PM
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Mobilize all of labor to defend Longshoremen!

Obama/Solis/Government hands off the ILA!
Smash Taft-Hartley strike-breaking through
all-out working class struggle!

ILA/ILWU unite to shut down the ports on all three coasts!

The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) has been in negotiations with the USMX (United States Maritime Alliance) bosses for the last several months. No contract agreement has been reached yet, but the ILA leaders have agreed to a contract extension until February 6th, thus averting a strike for the moment. As negotiations drag on, a February 6th strike is a possibility. On the West Coast, the International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Portland is also under attack by the bosses. There has been saber-rattling in both struggles by the bosses and their supporters. More than 100 business owners, along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott have called for Obama to impose Taft-Hartley strike-breaking. On the West Coast, Obama’s Coast Guard has been deployed for the express purpose of escorting any scab ships if it comes down to a strike or lockout, while private security strikebreakers stand in the wings.

Instead of mobilizing support for these struggles, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had all his energies focused on the fiscal cliff; propping up the Democrats and beating up on the Republicans, and in the process, not even denouncing Obama and Pelosi outright over their proposed chained CPI Social Security cost of living increase calculation (which was eventually withdrawn at least for the time being.) The fiscal cliff doom was a lot of hype to divert and scare workers while lining the pockets of corporations by protected enshrined tax dodges as the ruling class promises to go after past social gains like Social Security and Medicare in the run up to March 1st debt ceiling deadline. One other thing is real though; the working class and the oppressed are being led off a cliff by the Democratic Party sellout union tops that are unwilling to do what is necessary to defend our unions or to defend even the minimal remaining social safety net that is under attack.

The miserable fiscal cliff deal pleases no one except Grover Norquist. Obama January 1st spin was that he carried out his campaign promises to avoid unnecessary cuts to social services. However, the fiscal cliff deal is only temporary, until the automatic spending cuts take effect in March unless a new deal is reached. The State Federation and Central Labor Council layers of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy will all fall into line behind Trumka and the Democrats even as they catch fire from the rank-and-file members who are being left high and dry by this largely one-sided class war against the working class and the oppressed. And now in the direct line of fire are the Longshoremen.

To the misleaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor federations must be added the reformists of the Workers World Party and the Southern Workers Assembly who are distributing an online petition to ask Obama to abstain from imposing strikebreaking Taft-Hartley provisions on the ILA. This petition is couched in the language of disappointed Democrats not that of militant trade unionists who understand where the class line lies. This online petition came our way from Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity and we can only hope that they have better plans for supporting the Longshore struggle and opposing government strikebreaking.

For their part, the ILA bureaucracy already has plans to conduct a potential strike with one hand tied. Their strike preparations include instructions to handle perishable goods, military cargo, automobiles, non-containerized cargo and mail. This is nonsense. Shut down the ports tight, all the cargo and all the ports!

Both the ILA struggle on the East and Gulf Coasts, and the ILWU on the West Coast are key labor battles by unions that wield enormous power and that have traditions of labor militancy. In the wake of the defeat of labor in Michigan, once a bastion of organized labor, we cannot afford many more defeats. It is time to fight! United ILA/ILWU struggle that shuts down the ports with the backing of much of the rest of organized labor and the oppressed could not only stop the string of working class defeats, but could also be mobilized to fight the attacks on social welfare.

It was the ILWU which hot-cargoed goods from South Africa during the apartheid regime, ILWU locals 10 & 19 supported the immigrant worker led May 1st Great American Boycott where Latino labor coast to coast went into the streets and reminded the American worker what May 1st is about. The ILWU local 10 initiated a political strike against racist police repression and the murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA. It is reasonable to expect and correct to call upon the port communities of the oppressed to support and defend Longshore labor Action. It is correct to see Longshore labor action as a form of you own self defense.

The Communist Workers Group CWG encourages workers to keep a close eye on the ILA struggle along with that of the West Coast ILWU. Bring these struggles to your union and community and spread the word! An injury to one is an injury to all! Mobilize all-out support for the Longshoremen on all the coasts!