Solidarity Day rallies held on June 27 at the West Coast ports of Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle brought together a powerful united front of unions and community groups together with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) as 10,500 of its members face a fierce battle over its new contract and a possible intervention by the Bush administration.

In the largest of the events, over 4,000 gathered at the Los Angeles port outside of the ILWU dispatch hall. Wearing bilingual t-shirts saying “Unity on the Waterfront/Unidad en los Puertos,” union leaders expressed confidence that the ILWU would prevail in its contract fight with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). Leader after leader vowed to make the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s largest port complex, “wall to wall union.”

“They [the PMA] are trying to dismantle this great union, but we’re not going to stand for it!” said Ramone Ponce De Leon, president of ILWU Local 13, to the cheering rally. “The unions of Southern California and dockworkers around the world stand with us.”

Jim Santangelo, president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Joint Council 42 (Southern CA) and international vice president, said that IBT General President James Hoffa’s presence at Spinosa’s side in negotiations “sends a clear message that if you think you can divide us you are wrong. The Teamsters are 100 percent behind the ILWU.”

Teamsters drivers and Latino immigrant truck drivers, who are attempting to organize into the union, drove horn blasting big-rig trucks past the LA rally in a show of solidarity with the ILWU and to highlight their goal of organizing 15,000 truck drivers on the West Coast. The immigrant drivers are forced to work at minimum wage with no benefits. Teamster leader Louie Gianpapa hailed the immigrant truckers for their courage in joining that rally at risk to themselves.

In Oakland, more than 1,000 longshore workers, teamsters, city port workers and workers from dozens of other supporting unions filled Port View Park. (See story in 7/6 edition for more details.)

Referring to the threat of a Bush intervention in the event of a strike, Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10 secretary-treasurer, told the rally, “today we are being labeled as a threat to national security because we fight for a contract that would provide job security and the maintenance of our health and welfare benefits. They are trying to use the war on terrorism to undermine our constitutional rights. But today is an historic occasion where we speak truth to power, and we won’t allow lies.”

“Our ancestors came to our nation seeking the American Dream, but the PMA has no room in its strategy for the ILWU or immigrant truck drivers,” said Chuck Mack, Teamsters Joint Council 7 President (Northern California) and International Vice President. “Now with unity of longshore workers and Teamsters, they can never win.”

Oakland City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel pledged her support to the ILWU in its contract fight. Nadel reported that 25 percent of the children in her West Oakland neighborhood have asthma, much of it related to pollution from truck emissions and other chemicals in the area. She pointed to the importance of winning passage of Assembly Bill 2850, which would penalize trucking companies whose diesel trucks idle for more than half an hour outside the terminal gates.

In Seattle, a large crowd of maritime workers, Teamsters and a broad representation of the area’s unions, including the leadership of King County Labor Council, were joined by a delegation from the Canadian section of the ILWU who crossed the border for the occasion. The Sailors Union of the Pacific unfurled their banner, made in 1886, at pier 23 in an “impressive, very moving” gesture of solidarity.

Lonnie Nelson and Ray Leos contributed to this article.

Herb Kaye can be reached at ncalview@igc.org;

Evelina Alarcon can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com


CONTRIBUTOR

Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.

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