The use of the Sept. 11 tragedy against organized labor hit a new stage when Tom Ridge, head of Homeland Security, phoned James Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to tell him that President Bush was watching its contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) very closely.

Ridge told Spinosa that stopping trade at the ports was not acceptable. He said that a strike would be a danger to the nation’s security and to the economy. In other words, if the ILWU strikes, President Bush will intervene.

That must have been music to the PMA’s ears. Representing 85 shipping and stevedoring companies, Joseph Miniace, CEO of the PMA, has led a lobbying team in Washington, D.C., to bring on intervention on the basis of national security.

The right to withdraw one’s labor in a labor dispute is the backbone of a union. If President Bush can undermine the ILWU’s right to strike on the basis of national security, which union will the president be coming for next?

At a Los Angeles ILWU commemoration of “Bloody Thursday” July 5 many leaders protested the exploiting of Sept. 11 fears by the PMA. “Blood that was shed in 1934 was shed to make America better, and the PMA should be ashamed of themselves if they think they can use the Sept. 11 tragedy to undermine the negotiation process,” said State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-San Fernando Valley). “It is unconscionable to lower wages and benefits for union members on the backs of union members who lost their lives on Sept. 11.”

“You don’t come into the ILWU’s backyard and start taking jobs and benefits away from people who spilled blood for them,” said Ramone Ponce De Leon, president of the union’s 4,500-member Local 13, to the rally. “The employers are not just facing the ILWU. They’re also facing the community that depends on port industry.”

These leaders are right. The use of national security to weaken labor and lower the standard of living of American workers is an insult to the victims of Sept. 11.

The PMA is using Sept. 11 not to secure America, but to secure a greater profit margin for shipping firms. They are joined in their profit motive – and their lobbying in Washington – by the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, which represents global retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, Nike and Toyota.

It is longshore workers who are really concerned about America and the future living standard of American workers. This union has stood by the side of working people’s rights throughout their history. Their support for labor here and around the globe has been crucial. Just ask the Australian Maritime Union, the Liverpool dockers or Nelson Mandela.

Ask the Charleston 5 dockers in South Carolina, or the United Farm Workers of America.

The ILWU has a tradition of solidarity and justice that is hard to match. That is why the 5-million-member International Transportation Workers Federation and the 30,000-member International Dockworkers Council have pledged to do whatever is necessary in their nations to support them.

Spinosa responded publicly to Ridge’s challenge at a Solidarity Day Rally in Oakland on June 27 when he said, “There is nothing unpatriotic about American workers insisting on their rights under American law.”

James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, put his union at the side of Spinosa and the ILWU and told that same rally, “How dare anyone question whether American workers are patriotic! You cannot hide behind patriotism to steal our jobs!”

When Spinosa and Hoffa stand together like that, they are defending more than the ILWU and Teamsters. They are defending the rights of the entire labor movement.

It is now the turn of the entire labor and justice movement in our country to respond in a very visible way.

The first challenge is to send a message to President Bush and to the Congress not to intervene in the contract negotiations. Next, send a message to the PMA to bargain in good faith and not use Sept. 11 against the ILWU. Third, pass a resolution in your union or organization to the ILWU expressing your solidarity and willingness to stand by them.

This battle is a fight for all working families in America. Let the ILWU know you’ve got their back. An injury to one is an injury to all.

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