Fight for Rights and Empowerment
On October 1, police led demonstrators off the sidewalk and onto the traffic lane of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Then when the hundreds of protesters were only part way across, the police blocked both ends of the bridge and penned them in. Protesters were forced to stay on the bridge and then were shipped out to police stations across the city. More than 700 people were arrested by this police entrapment.
Since that time, the on-going demonstrations, known as Occupy Wall Street, have received almost daily coverage in the monopoly media. President Barack Obama, in response to a press question about the protests said he thinks “It expresses the frustrations the American people feel” that “the same folks who acted irresponsibly [are] trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place. So yes, I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.”
It can be said that the entrapment by police of protesters and efforts to entangle them in the legal system are symbolic of efforts by the U.S. rulers, and Obama as their current champion, to do the same to the working class. To pen it up in public spaces and limit its struggles to those imposed by the rulers and reacting to their brutal anti-social, anti-worker cuts and police attacks. It is to block the working class from striking out on its own independent path, with its own thinking and genuine alternative to the current system – with its economic crises, imperialist wars and threats of fascism and world war. The fight by the working class for a new direction for the economy is to be blocked and silenced. The fight for a human-centered society where the rights of all at home and abroad are put at the center is to be blocked and silenced.
One form this silencing takes is the broad promotion that the “solution” to the current crisis is restoring “balance” or “fairness” to the existing set up, using taxes or similar instruments of the government. As Obama put it, “We’ve got to make sure that everyone in this country gets a fair shake, and a fair shot, and a chance to get ahead.” This is the limit, the corral, the rulers want to impose, of “restoring fairness” in a situation ripe for a new direction, a new content — not for the old “chance to get ahead” but for a new human centered society where the constitution enshrines the rights of all and they are guaranteed in law. Today, all past arrangements that provided the bourgeoisie’s definition of civil rights with a guarantee and based labor relations on bourgeois notions of fairness are finished. The more unequal the system — divided between rich and poor — is revealed to be, the more the promotion of fairness as the guiding principle to sort out relations between competing interests rings hollow.
Bringing human-centered social consciousness and politics into the center of the political and economic life of the country is necessary and is the task of the working class. This requires refusing to be penned in by U.S. imperialism and its “solutions.” It requires consciously rejecting the imposition of agendas whose aim is said to be to “pressure” those in power. This negates the historical need to set one’s own agenda by analyzing how to defend rights and organize to be the decision makers.
It is also the case that the concentration of economic wealth in fewer hands, which is indeed broadly opposed by people across the country, is being accompanied by the concentration of political power in the hands of the executive, the Office of the President. We are witnessing the disarray and disintegration of the two parties of the rich, their inability to function within the old arrangements. Differences within the ruling circles are not being resolved through elections or congressional committees and maneuvering over the budget. Gridlock has become the norm. Political discourse has been eliminated from election campaigns and they are dominated by mud-slinging, generating fear, divisions and diversions from solutions demanded by the people. Elections, and funding of them, are directed much more to the backing of individual candidates, not parties. Discrediting and limiting of the power of Congress and promotion of the president as the force able to “get things done” is taking place. The "debt" deal appointed a Super Committee for budget matters, which likely will remove these matters from Congress.
Within this, Obama is developing machinery for people to support him as president, against Congress. This includes the newly established “We the People” site at the White House website, where anyone can “petition” the president and call for action on issues of concern, like the environment, economy, education and so forth. As Obama states, it is a “direct line” to the president. In attempting to get his jobs bill passed, Obama has gone not to Congress, but across the country appealing to people to “agree with me” and tell Congress to “pass this bill right away.” These actions reflect institutionalizing arrangements for far greater concentration of power in the executive while directing the working class into the corral of supporting the president against a Congress that “refuses to act.”
It is within this context that Obama expresses his sympathy for the protesters and says they “are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works.” For Obama, the opposition to corporate greed and influence being expressed by protesters can be utilized as a mandate for his program for jobs, taxes, and so forth. As he says, it is an expression of “broad-based frustration” with Congress and “folks [on Wall Street] who acted irresponsibly” and their “abusive practices.” He supports protests “giving voice” to frustration, indeed he hears the “voice” and will be the one to act on it.
In this manner, the necessity for new political arrangements that favor the working class, that empower the people themselves to govern and decide is removed from the thinking and discourse. The voice of the working class for a new direction for the economy and for new political arrangements where the people themselves have power is silenced. Consistent with this, since the demonstration October 1, there has been almost daily media coverage of “Occupy Wall Street.” Organizations known to be main backers of Obama, like MoveOn.org, Rebuild the American Dream, and others are joining nationwide efforts, including a “virtual march” that coincided with the NYC march on Wednesday, October 5, where unions also joined in support. It is notable that the media, forces like MoveOn and various union presidents that participate in the Obama administration and campaigns, are all promoting the protest when normally protests face a wall of silence. Indeed, there is just such a wall against the courageous hunger strike by prisoners now occurring in California, involving more than 12,000 prisoners defending their rights and opposing solitary confinement and torture. There is little being said and certainly not similar support for the struggle of longshore workers in Longview, Washington, defending their rights against brutal police repression. The promotion of the New York protest is not accidental, any more than police leading protesters onto the bridge was an accident. There should not be illusions as to the ability of Obama and the monopoly media to manipulate the situation in their favor.
The task facing the working class together with the youth is to refuse to be penned in by the rulers and their false solutions. It is to elaborate and organize for a new direction by taking up the defense of rights in a manner that organizes the working class to be effective and to exercise control over its affairs.
The working class of the United States must deal with the elimination of rule of law and institutionalizing of the lawless violence and “might makes right” dictate of U.S. Empire all over the world, over which President Obama is presiding. He has now authorized the targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens abroad, as took place in Yemen. This reverses a long-held expectation that the president alone cannot and would not authorize assassinations of U.S. citizens. It reflects the increase in state violence, extending police and FBI assassinations, like those against African American and Puerto Rican leaders like Fred Hampton and Filiberto Ojeda Rios, to anyone the president alone brands as a “threat,” and orders executed. It is being accompanied by the greatly increased use of torture and solitary confinement against prisoners inside the country and criminalizing of resistance by the youth and workers.
Drone assassinations and massacres, open use of CIA and Special Forces wherever the U.S. decides, military intervention in the name of regime change, torture and indefinite detention, are all examples of how this lawless violence is escalating to keep the rivals to U.S. striving for world domination in check. The brutal U.S.-led invasion of Libya and Obama’s demand now that the U.S. “must insist on unrestricted humanitarian access,” anywhere in the world, is further indication of the reactionary and fascist direction of U.S. imperialism with which the U.S. working class must settle scores if it is to make headway in its own struggle for rights and empowerment within the United States.
On September 7 and 8, Washington State longshore workers in Seattle, Tacoma, Longview and Vancouver (Wash.) stood up as one in defense of their rights. Over one thousand members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) closed down the Seattle and Tacoma ports while a thousand more closed the ports along the Columbia River in Longview and Vancouver and engaged in other actions both days.
The workers at Longview overwhelmed the new grain terminal of monopoly cartel EGT and entered the premises demanding their right to a contract and the removal of scab labor. They expressed their frustration with the refusal of the EGT monopoly to abide by an agreement with the Longview Port that only union longshore workers of the ILWU work the port, and with the company’s unwillingness to enter into any discussion with the ILWU.
The workers have continued their struggle with demonstrations, more sit-downs on the port railroad tracks and organizing to gain broad support for their fight. Workers from the Teamsters, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers, Inland Boatmen’s Union, and Painters union have participated in demonstrations. More than 200 local businesses display signs in their windows expressing their support for ILWU Local 21 and their fight for rights. Many international unions have also organized actions and sent messages.
The Longview workers have also faced brutal state organized violence and repression, with hundreds of arrests. West Coast dockworkers stopped all machinery and equipment for fifteen minutes September 26 denouncing the arrest of ILWU International President Bob McEllrath for participating in actions. They stood in silence and anger against the police brutality and repression of their struggle. McEllrath followed in the footsteps of 200 ILWU Local 21 members — all with arrest warrants for participating in the struggle — who attempted to turn themselves in at the Cowlitz County Hall of Justice on September 16. Their offer was ignored and instead police ambushed workers and their families, using multiple-squad cars in the following days. Police have also openly spied on the union hall, followed and harassed union members and arrested and jailed people for minor misdemeanor offenses.
Now EGT has hired a private army, Special Response Corporation, in a further attempt to intimidate the workers and block the just struggle for their rights. The workers are rejecting all these efforts and advancing their fight. Their experience is a significant example in current efforts by the workers to defend the progressive trend of history for human-centered societies where the rights of all are guaranteed.
September 7-8 Port Closures
Before sunrise in Longview, 500 workers overwhelmed the gates of the EGT grain terminal, demanding their right to a contract and the removal of scab labor. Workers left the premises after several hours to return to their union hall.
Instead of abiding by the Longview Port agreement, EGT, an international cartel owned by the St. Louis-based food monopoly Bunge, Itochu International of Japan and STX Pan Ocean of South Korea, has hired scab mercenaries from Portland to work the new grain terminal at wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions below the Pacific Northwest standard and outside the unity of the ILWU. EGT bragged that it would “save” over a million dollars a year on the 50 workers needed to run the new grain terminal.
If this is allowed to pass, Pacific Northwest longshore workers say this would break the unity of workers necessary to maintain their collective port agreements and their standard of living established over decades of struggle. Longshore workers emphasize that the ILWU was born in the Northwest in the heroic struggles of 1934 against state and company organized violence and intimidation. The workers’ victory marked a new beginning and broke new ground in defense of the rights of all. If the unity of longshore workers is breached for whatever reason, the even more aggressive monopolies and state of today will tear apart the existing living and working standards and destroy their trade union.
Meanwhile upstream on the Columbia River, 400 longshore workers and their supporters in Vancouver (Wash.) occupied the railway line to stop the first grain train heading for the Longview Port. They were met with state-organized violence from a large contingent of heavily armed police sent to criminalize the workers, who were defending their rights, and to inflict injuries on them with baton charges, tear gas and pepper-spray and to arrest dozens including ILWU president Bob McEllrath. Reports say that longshore workers stood their ground demanding McEllrath’s release and the recognition of their rights. His release came after negotiations during which the demonstrators were told “next time the authorities would bring in the army.”
Longshore workers in the Pacific Northwest say that they are determined to bring the entire Longview Port, including the new grain terminal within their union family and under a similar -collective agreement. The conditions of today, where monopolies act with impunity under the protection of an anti-social aggressive state machine, demand the opening of new ground in defense of workers’ rights just as the situation in 1934 called for heroic actions to open new ground to establish the ILWU.
Longshore and other transportation workers along the west coast of North America add value to the commodities they handle. Those workers have first priority on the added-value they create; governments have second claim, while the claims of owners of capital come last. That is the progressive trend of history and the only way a modern society can operate. Governments and companies must be held to account to abide by that modern definition of the distribution of added-value.
To turn a modern society upside down and have a monopoly deny the rights of the actual producers and the progressive trend of history and declare its claim on the added-value workers produce as the first priority and for government authorities to support that obsolete position using the power of the state machine to criminalize workers will not work and can never work.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and ILWU Local 21 responded to ongoing police brutality and harassment related to its labor dispute with EGT Development at the Port of Longview by filing a civil rights lawsuit against Mark Nelson, the Sheriff of Cowlitz County; Jim Duscha, City of Longview Police Chief; Cowlitz County; and the City of Longview.
“The ILWU is filing this lawsuit to stop the abuse of longshore workers and their supporters who are being violently pursued and intentionally prosecuted for exercising their free speech and associational rights,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath. “Longshore workers and their supporters are no longer free to move about their hometown without fear of being ambushed in front of children and families by an out-of-control Police Chief and Sheriff. This blatant abuse of authority has to stop.”
The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court Western District of Washington on September 22, 2011. The suit is aimed at stopping a law enforcement campaign against union members and supporters that includes:
• arresting and jailing members for non-violent misdemeanor citations that ordinarily do not merit arrest let alone jail;
• acting with aggression, brutality and force when arresting members for non-violent misdemeanors without probable cause for such force and without having a reasonable suspicion that the members or supporters posed an immediate or credible threat or injury to law enforcement or any other person;
• refusing to arrest members when they voluntarily presented themselves for arrest and instead insisting on arresting them in surprise visits to their homes or in “made-for-television” style scenes;
• engaging in almost constant open and obvious surveillance of the ILWU Local 21 union hall;
• following and roughing up individuals wearing clothes bearing the ILWU name or logo and/or driving vehicles marked with the ILWU name or logo; and
• shining bright lights into union members’ homes for hours at a time late at night;
• following and conducting surveillance of union members and officials in their homes.
Leal Sundet, ILWU Coast Committeeman said, “Local union officers have tried for weeks to engage law enforcement and the Port of Longview to coordinate peaceful picketing and targeted acts of lawful and constitutionally protected public demonstrations and civil disobedience in an isolated rural area on public port property. These efforts have been rebuffed with law enforcement choosing instead to impose its own brutal campaign of retaliation and excessive force on the union and its supporters.”
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents 50,000 men and women on the docks, in grain terminals and in other industries in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii. Union longshoremen have worked in all Northwest grain terminals for the past 80 years.
In related legal news, on the afternoon of September 8, a U.S. District Court Judge in Tacoma denied the National Labor Relations Boards’s (NLRB) motion to ban picketing at the EGT facility in the Port of Longview. The judge issued a narrow injunction that preserved the right of union members to peacefully picket — far short of what EGT and the NLRB wanted.
The same court October 7 made a specific finding that EGT’s lease at the port of Longview incorporates the ILWU Local 21 working agreement, saying: “Here, the parties were acutely aware of the Working Agreement, and of the Port’s (and the ILWU’s) belief that it established union longshore jurisdiction over the property to be leased – both on the docks and on the land side of the facility. The Working Agreement is clearly identified and referenced in Exhibit G-2, which in turn is incorporated into Exhibit G, which in turn is incorporated by reference into the lease by Section 29.1, and is referenced in Section 6.3.” Further Court orders consistent with the finding are expected.
At the same time, the court issued $250,000 in fines against ILWU for supposed “damage to property.” The union is appealing.
On September 29, on a beautiful fall evening in the park in front of Longview’s Monticello Hotel, 800 to 1,000 community and labor supporters raised their voices in support of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21.
Community resentment towards EGT, a multinational joint venture between U.S.-based Bunge, Japanese-based Itochu, and Korean-based STX Pan Ocean, has been building ever since the groundbreaking for its state-of-the-art grain export terminal. EGT, which received special state tax incentives as well as a favorable lease agreement with the Port of Longview, bypassed local labor in the construction phase of the project and refuses to accept the agreement that the ILWU has with the Port that all work there, loading and unloading ships and barges, is ILWU work. Not a good way to introduce yourself to your new community.
With unemployment at 11.3 percent here in Cowlitz County and with no employment relief in sight, community members expressed their frustration and anger over EGT’s arrogance and continuing disrespect of the community of Longview. This disrespect has sharpened with EGT’s hiring of Special Response Corporation (SRC) a specialty security services firm made up of ex-military and law enforcement personnel who are “trained to meet the intensity of a crisis,” according to the SRC website. An advertisement for SRC shows a picture of a uniformed agent, complete with riot shield, with a headline “A Private Army When You Need It Most.”
What the community of Longview needs least of all is a private army of mercenaries preventing ILWU members from standing up for their jobs. Harassment by law enforcement has already gotten out of hand with ILWU members being arrested at their homes and in church parking lots. Last week when ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman was arrested with nine ILWU members’ wives, a 57-year-old longshoreman’s mother suffered a torn rotator cuff while being arrested, and another women’s face was pushed down into the gravel between the railroad tracks. Non-violent civil disobedience should never be met with this type of reaction.
As Thursday’s community rally went on, a rally billed as “A Peaceful Community Rally,” two things became clear.
First, law enforcement and town leaders did not get the “peaceful” part of the message, as Town Hall was shut down at 4 p.m., presumably to protect people from the peaceful rally-goers. Two helicopters hovered high above the rally.
The second thing that became clear was that the community supporting the ILWU extends well beyond Longview-Kelso. A resolution in support of ILWU 21 was presented from the San Francisco Labor Council. Ian’s Pizza, the pizza parlor that supplied free pizza to the Madison, Wisconsin protestors this spring, also sent a message of solidarity to the ILWU.
We are calling on everyone to get your union, council or organization to pass resolutions in support of ILWU 21 and send copies to Local 21 and to the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC). This act will help show the community of Longview how widespread the support is for ILWU 21.
ILWU Local 21
The ongoing struggle by workers at the Longview Port in Washington State is receiving nationwide and international support. The workers and their union, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), are resisting efforts to break the union and attack the standard of living of all dockworkers. The workers have faced fierce resistance by the state and organized to close the ports and demonstrate to defend their rights.
Longshore workers in Oregon, California and on the East Coast and Gulf states are also supporting the struggle in Longview. A statement issued by the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) said: “We join in solidarity with our Sisters and Brothers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in condemning the attack by police in riot gear on hundreds of ILWU member-protesters in Washington State and the detention of ILWU President Bob McEllrath.” Below are some examples of the international support for their struggle. (Picture above is of Korean workers demonstrating in support of the Longview workers.)
Panama Canal Pilots
The Panama Canal Pilots Union has received, with great concern, the news of the aggression that ILWU members were subjected to, including its President Bob McEllrath. This type of behavior from an international consortium is unacceptable and the manner in which the police dealt with the situation is not representative of conduct in a modern society. No worker should be subject to any kind of repression for protesting in the defense of their rights. We urge EGT to stop with their intentions and to respect the rights of ILWU members. The Panama Canal Pilots Union stands in solidarity with our brothers from the ILWU.
Australian Maritime Workers Support ILWU Workers
Members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) organized a solidarity rally in support of ILWU Local 21 members at the Townsville Port. They demonstrated in front of a ship owned by STX Pan Ocean, part owner of EGT. The MUA website reports: “The Townsville community today rallied in support of the Longview Dockers – a group of Washington State waterfront workers under attack for the simple act of standing up for their jobs and their rights. ITF Australian Coordinator Dean Summers said ‘Today we’re gathering in Townsville to show the Longview Dockers that they have the support and solidarity of their brothers and sisters around the world. No one should face threats and intimidation for standing up for basic rights.’”
Dockworkers in Montreal, Canada
The Dockers of Montreal, Canada want to give you our support in the struggle against EGT. We stand with you in mind and spirit as we are very familiar with your struggle. We have the same cause on our side of the border, fighting those companies that use the same tactic of using non-union workers to do the job we have been doing for more than 100 years. We have already informed all our members of your struggle in Longview so keep in mind you are not alone. We are all with you.
Women Leaders from International Transport Federation
We, the women union leaders attending the International Transport Workers Federation’s (ITF) Women’s Leadership, Strategy and Organizing Conference, want to express our support for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the struggle for their union jobs at the Port of Longview, Washington State. We have watched your struggle with admiration, and have been heartened to see it taken up by your and our colleagues worldwide in the International Transport Workers’ Federation and its member unions – not least its Dockers’ unions, who understand all too well the importance of what you are fighting for. As union leaders from maritime unions in India, Australia, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Croatia, Bulgaria, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Barbados, Jamaica and the U.S., we are glad to have this opportunity to express our solidarity and our unflinching support for you as members of the ILWU. (September 29 2011)