Rally demands justice at ports

LOS ANGELES – Demanding “justice at the waterfront,” the nation’s three most powerful transportation unions will join forces on Thursday, June 27, for a history-making Solidarity Day at West Coast ports.

Focused on support for 10,500 West Coast longshore workers whose contract expires on July 1, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the East Coast International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), the national AFL-CIO, and the International Transportation Workers Federation (ITF) will lock arms in support of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) at massive labor/community rallies to be held at the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Tacoma.

The rallies will raise demands for a fair longshore contract, workplace rights for port truckers, environmental protection for port communities and real port security that does not violate workers’ civil liberties or labor rights.

Showing the solidarity between the three unions, workers will wear T-shirts with the logos of the ILWU, ILA and Teamsters. In an unprecedented demonstration of unity, ILWU International President James Spinosa will be joined at the Oakland rally by Teamster General President James P. Hoffa, ILA International President John Bowers, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, Chair of the Maritime Division of the ITF Kees Marges, ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley, who spearheaded the campaign to free the Charleston Five, and many community leaders and elected officials.

Before the rally, Hoffa, Bowers, Trumka and Marges will send a strong message to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents 85 shipping and stevedoring companies, by sitting alongside of Spinosa at the contract negotiating table in San Francisco.

The Teamsters have made a commitment not to cross any ILWU picketlines; this week the AFL-CIO agreed to make the ILWU contract fight one of its national priorities.

At their meeting last week, the ITF, representing 5 million transportation workers around the globe, issued a strong statement in support of the ILWU. They have put out an alert to their member unions representing dockers from nations including Japan, Korea, Panama, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and most of the European Union countries.

“We are working very closely with the ILWU to ensure that if world wide solidarity action is required it is integrated and immediate,” stated ITF Maritime Division Chair Kees Marges.

That powerful united front is necessary because the ILWU faces one of the most contentious battles of its history with the PMA threatening to lock out members and reroute ships. The PMA’s mission is to win concessions that some ILWU leaders have said “would bust the union.”

In a press release issued this week, the ITF stated that the ILWU reported to them that the PMA is even trying “to remove health and welfare benefits,” an issue which has always been a non-negotiable strike issue as far as the ILWU is concerned.

Also looming large over negotiations is the issue of port security, which Joseph Miniace, CEO of the PMA, is looking to exploit in an atmosphere of post-Sept. 11 fears. Miniace and his team have spent months lobbying Congress and urging President George W. Bush to declare a possible strike or slowdown at the ports a “peril to national health or safety,” and invoke the Taft-Hartley Act, requiring an 80-day cooling-off period.

This week the AFL-CIO agreed that Trumka will join the ILWU in their lobbying campaign in Congress.

The stakes are high in this waterfront battle. The West Coast ports are strategic centers of world trade, handling 52 percent of all waterborne imports to the United States – equal to about 7 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The ports support nearly 4 million jobs in the U.S. and in the year 2000 generated an estimated $723 billion.

The ILWU is a powerful union that has won its members some of the best wages and benefits in the nation. In a “just in time” delivery operation these workers wield a mighty economic sword. As Spinosa has said, the ILWU longshore workers are positioned “on the artery of the global economy.”

The PMA aims to weaken that power by pushing for new technology that will eliminate jobs, for changes in work rules and the arbitration process and for port security measures that diminish workers rights.

The PMA has received the support of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, an organization representing shippers like Wal-Mart, Nike, Target, the GAP, Gallo and Hewlett Packard. Recently, Robin Lanier, executive director of the Waterfront Coalition, told members, “go to the carriers and tell them don’t roll over this time!”

Steve Stallone, ILWU communications director, told the World that the ILWU is open to new technology and work rules, as long as “the three principles agreed to in 1960 continue to serve as guidelines” – that members perform the work, the changes do not make jobs more onerous and members share in the wealth created by productivity gains.

The serious attack on the ILWU with possible government intervention are compelling reasons why the Teamsters, ILA, national AFL-CIO and the ITF, have made the ILWU contract fight a priority. This week the AFL-CIO agreed that Trumka will join the ILWU in their lobbying campaign in Congress.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com