In the latest effort to strengthen labor’s hand in the global economy, West Coast dockworkers this month welcomed pilots at the Panama Canal into their union. Meanwhile longshore unions on the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts are forging new ties.
At one of the world’s strategic passageways, the Panama Canal Pilots Union joined the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on Sept. 7, the 32nd anniversary of the United States turning over control of the Canal Zone to Panama. The ILWU represents longshore workers along the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada.
In welcoming the canal pilots, ILWU International President Bob McEllrath said, “This is an historic agreement that unites workers in different countries with a critical link in the global supply chain,” reported the Dispatcher, the ILWU’s publication.
The new affiliation “will provide each with more solidarity and support that will be there when we need it,” McEllrath added.
The canal’s importance will be magnified once work is completed to expand and modernize the nearly century old passageway between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, to accommodate the newer, bigger container ships.
This strategic alliance comes as the ILWU and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), which represents dockworkers on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico coastline, are taking steps to strengthen their relationship.
Pointing to employers’ efforts to pit the ILWU against the ILA, “using the word ‘competition’ to put a wedge” between the two unions over jobs, McEllrath told the ILA’s quadrennial convention in July, “We are one.”
“I’m going to work with the new ILA president, Harold Daggett,” McEllrath added. “We’re going to fight together, we’re going to keep our jurisdiction and we’re going to keep our unions’ jobs.”
For his part, Daggett said he intends to “bring the ILA closer to the ILWU, as we have many matters of mutual interest in dealing with management in protecting our jurisdictions and memberships.”
The ILWU’s McEllrath will sit in the next round of ILA contract negotiations at the invitation of the ILA’s Daggett, the Dispatcher reported.