SAN FRANCISCO – The AFL-CIO, San Francisco’s mayor and other leaders pledged support to West Coast dockers at a rally here July 24, as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s (ILWU) contract battle rages on.

“Your fight is our fight,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson told 1,000 longshore workers and supporters at the headquarters of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). “We are here to tell the PMA, ‘stop putting out your trashy proposals! They are unacceptable! We demand real negotiations and a real contract.’”

Chavez-Thompson said, “We are not going to let them cheat you out of your health care, take away your hiring hall or outsource your work!”

Referring to possible Bush administration use of national security to impose the Taft-Hartley or Railway Labor Act, Chavez-Thompson said, “The AFL-CIO stands with you 1,000 percent. If they crush the ILWU, we are all next. We can’t afford to let that happen. This is one battle we are going to win.”

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown told the crowd, “This city must not allow under any circumstances that these employers prevail. With the number of dollars that have flowed into the hands of the owners and the employers, they ought to be stepping forward and making whatever concessions they need to make to keep us working.”

“We need good jobs, job security and good benefits,” Brown declared. “All of labor is prepared. Even George Bush cannot save them [the PMA]!”

International Brotherhood of Teamsters Vice President Chuck Mack told the rally, “Let the message go out very loud and clear to the PMA and to the Bush administration that if you have to strike, the Teamsters are going to be there. Not only are we going to support your picket line but we’re going to walk your picket line.”

The same day dockers unanimously rejected the latest PMA proposal, which they said contained drastic union concessions, including a two-tier benefit system in which new employees would receive lower benefits than current members.

“The PMA’s position is that basic worker benefits cost too much,” Steve Stallone, ILWU Communications Director, told the World. Stallone said the new technology the PMA wants “will increase profits dramatically, so the ILWU should share in that.”

The union has called off negotiations until Aug. 13 and empowered the negotiating committee to seek strike authorization from the membership if necessary, Stallone said. The contract has been extended until Aug. 14.

ILWU International President James Spinosa blasted the PMA and Bush administration for exploiting Sept. 11 to undermine negotiations. “Our government played a heavy hand, a hand of manipulation, one that says ‘give us your welfare, your pension, your right to freedom of expression,’” he said. “But, we can’t settle for that. The government has to get out of these negotiations. They have to let working people negotiate what their needs are!”

Clarence Thomas, Bay Area ILWU Local 10 secretary-treasurer, criticized PMA lobbying for intervention and repressive port security legislation. “Our longshore legislative committee is confronting constant lies and propaganda against us in Washington, D.C., but longshore workers are not a threat to security,” he said. “Our struggle is not just about longshore workers. It’s about all workers standing up against corporate greed. It’s about basic economic and democratic needs of the people.”

Alameda County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Judy Goff and her San Francisco and Sacramento counterparts, Walter Johnson and Bill Camp, pledged full mobilization “against government intervention in the collective bargaining process.”

“We have to defend our country from economic terrorism,” declared Camp, “You close San Francisco and we’ll close the [state] capitol!”

The ILWU and AFL-CIO will hold Aug. 12 rallies at all major West Coast ports to get the government out of negotiations. State Sen. Richard Alarcon, Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee chair, is organizing a public hearing on the issue Aug. 9 in Los Angeles.

The Friends of Labor, a Los Angeles ILWU community support group, is asking customers not to shop at Home Depot, a member of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, a retailer group backing the PMA.

Evelina Alarcon can be reached at; Juan Lopez can be reached at