Bush readies Navy to act against longshore union

LOS ANGELES – Thousands of unionists, AFL-CIO leaders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and elected officials voiced solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) at Labor Day events here as the dockers announced a Bush administration warning that trained Navy dockworkers from bases around the world have amassed in nearby San Diego, prepared to take over West Coast ports in the event of labor action.

Bush’s threatened military intervention, setting a precedent unheard of in decades of American history, coincides with ILWU reports that employers – the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) – sabotaged the negotiation process over the weekend by drastically switching terms just as the two sides were reaching agreement on the two biggest issues – health benefits and how new technology will affect union jurisdiction.

The PMA suddenly reversed itself and demanded changes in the arbitration process before it would sign off on a benefits package. “If the PMA wanted to deal, it was there on the table in front of them. But the employers have shown that they don’t want to bargain seriously. They want to create a crisis and get the government to force conditions on the union,” said James Spinosa, ILWU international president. “Until Bush butts out, the legal collective bargaining process will never get a chance to work,” said Spinosa. “In a time when we are supposed to be in a war against terrorism, why is Bush using the military against American workers involved in a legitimate labor dispute?”

“The ILWU certainly wants a contract but we are holding our ground right here, we are not stepping back with concessionary bargaining,” Spinosa shouted to the cheering rally. “We will do whatever we have to do to keep our work and our jobs!”

Jesse Jackson told the crowd, “Bush wants to do what Reagan did to air traffic controllers, but you must stand your ground, because if they bust this union then all unions will be next!” In a statement read at the rally, Richard Trumka, national AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer, said, “President Bush is using the power of the presidency and the cover of war and homeland security to pervert the collective bargaining process and it is the shame of the nation!”

“Hear me loud and clear: when and if job actions are necessary, the PMA and the Bush administration will not be confronted just by 16,000 longshore workers. They will face a united labor movement,” Trumka said. “This fight is not just for a contract,” he continued. “It’s a fight for freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom to form and join unions!”

Ramon Ponce de Leon, president of 5,000-member ILWU Local 13 in Los Angeles, told the rally that members are “ready to rock” when the International “gives the word.” The ILWU negotiating committee said it will not continue temporary contract extensions.

The author can reached at EvnAlarcon@aol.com