Labor slams Oakland police

OAKLAND, Calif. – Accusing the Oakland Police Department of acting as “private security guards for multi-national corporations,” delegates to the Alameda County Central Labor Council (CLC) unanimously condemned the April 7 police attack on anti-war demonstrators and longshore workers at the docks, here. Community outrage is also mounting after new revelations of collusion between the police, employers and possibly the Bush administration’s Office of Homeland Security, surfaced.

Dozens of protesters and nine workers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), were injured by the wooden dowels, rubber bullets and concussion grenades the police fired. Several hundred demonstrators had gathered in front of port facilities they said were used by corporations profiteering from the war against Iraq. The longshore workers were on the sidelines of the protest waiting to go to work.

Sri Louise, a protester with the Mobile Yoga Unit who was wounded in the jaw, told the World that when the police began firing their weapons, “everybody had left the entry way. We were in the street. We had dispersed. We were committed to not do anything that would warrant an arrest.”

The CLC was angered by a reported meeting on April 4 that included the Police Department, Port of Oakland officials and representatives of the Pacific Maritime Association. The CLC questioned why the meeting, which was to prepare for a response to anti-war actions planned for three days later, had no labor representatives.

Clarence Thomas, delegate to the labor council for ILWU Local 10, told the World, “There must have been compelling reasons” why his union was not invited to the meeting between police and employers. “It raises concerns,” he added, “as to whether there were other government officials, members of Homeland Security or the Coast Guard, involved.”

In last year’s contract negotiations, in which the union prevailed, the ILWU faced blatant Bush administration interference on the side of employers. This interference included a “veiled threat” in the form of a phone call from Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, the open threat of federal troops if the union engaged in any form of job action, and the use of the anti-labor Taft Hartley Act.

The CLC called on the Oakland City Council to “direct an independent, complete investigation” of the use of excessive police force to determine, among other things, “whether these actions violated the council’s resolution against using local resources to enforce the Homeland Security Act.”

“Whose idea was it to bring the police to the docks in riot gear and why?” Henry Graham, ILWU Local 10 president, asked in an angry letter to Mayor Jerry Brown and Chief of Police Richard Word, both of whom have defended the police behavior.

Graham, a witness to the events, demanded to know “Who gave the order to fire” on a “peaceful community picket line” and on longshore workers who “were not part of the picket line and were 100 yards away from the demonstrators.”

Using an “array of paramilitary” projectiles, Graham said, “several Longshoremen were actually shot in the back. One member was shot a total of six times.” Of the nine injured workers, five had to be taken to the hospital and one required surgery.

When Local 10 Business Agent Jack Heyman tried to inform police they were firing on longshoremen standing by to go to work, Graham said, he was forcibly removed from his vehicle, thrown to the ground and sent to county jail where he spent 18 hours.

Steve Stallone, lLWU communications director, speaking for the ILWU International officers, told the City Council the day after the police attack, “What kind of chilling message does this send ILWU members, when the police open fire on them under orders from employers who locked us out in a bitter contract struggle just months ago. Our union was founded on the blood of workers shot and killed by police. We did not tolerate such actions in 1934 and we sure as hell will not tolerate it in 2003.”

In the coming week, community and city council meetings will take up the issue of the police attack and, on April 26, there will be a rally and march sponsored jointly by ILWU Local 10 and the CLC. The Oakland City Council Safety Committee will hold a public hearing April 29, which will be followed by a closed session at which the council will decide on the venue for the investigation.

Organizers for an April 28 community forum, sponsored by labor unions and other social justice organizations, said the gathering will discuss “what we want in a police force” for ending police violence at the port and in our communities, especially the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

In addition to an investigation of the police department, groups are calling for firing those responsible for the police misconduct and strengthening of the city’s Citizens Police Review Board. They are also calling for an investigation of the role of city and port officials and the corporations based at the port.

Oakland Vice Mayor Nancy Nadel told the World, “It’s important for me to review police protocols – whether or not they followed them. And if they followed them, I think we need to revise them.”

Judy Goff, executive secretary-treasurer of the CLC, told the World neither the labor council nor the people of Oakland will tolerate “yet another attack on fundamental civil liberties and civil rights – whether coming from the anti-worker Bush administration, from which we expect it, or our police department, from which we expect more professionalism and protection of constitutional rights.”

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org