From Camps to Ports: Wall Street of the Waterfront

by Steve Stallone
(current Secretary of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, and Communications Director of the ILWU from 1997-2007.)

originally published December 8, 2011

The Occupy movement is barely more than two months old and already showing signs of growing up. Seeing their encampments thwarted, they are responding with a coordinated counterpunch themselves. The Occupy groups in California, Oregon and Washington state are moving together against the US centers of the global economy—the ports of the West Coast that handle some 60% of the country’s international trade—and their 1% owners.

Inspired by the massive participation that shut down the Port of Oakland during Occupy’s “General Strike” Nov. 2, the movement’s chapters in San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle all plan port shutdown actions on Monday, Dec. 12. They hope to amass picket demonstrations so large that the dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), long the radical labor vanguard of the West, will invoke the part of their contract allowing them not to cross the line because it is a health and safety risk.

This type of community picket action for political purposes has a long and venerable place in ILWU history. Back in 1939 longshoremen honored a picket line set up at the Port of San Francisco by the local Chinese community to stop a load of steel being sent to then-fascist Japan for its war effort, at that time focused on mainland China, but soon crossing the Pacific. Again it was used in 1977 against a South African ship in protest of that country’s apartheid policies, in 1997 against a ship loaded by scab labor in support of the dockers in Liverpool, England, in 2003 to stop a ship being loaded with war materiel bound for the just-declared war on Iraq, and most recently just a couple of years ago against an Israeli ship in protest of the Israeli military attack on the Turkish ship bringing medical and construction supplies to Gaza.

This time the Occupiers are doing it to highlight the nasty anti-union tactics of a major international food and grain conglomerate, Export Grain Terminal (EGT), whose majority owner, Bunge Ltd. is a multi-national company busting unions from Texas to Bulgaria to Argentina and is also deeply involved with corporate takeover of food systems, displacing local agriculture with soybean monoculture.  EGT is trying to break the labor standards and jurisdiction of the ILWU by bringing in scabs to load their grain ships at the Port of Longview.

[the remainder of the article is available at Counterpunch.org]