“Contract, Yes! Government intervention, No!” was the message of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the AFL-CIO, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and many mayors at rallies up and down the West Coast, Aug. 12. Thousands took to the streets in protest of a threat by the Bush administration to take over ports militarily in the event that the union decides to strike.

“I’m here because I think you are right on track. The stakes could not be higher,” Daschle said to the Portland, Ore., rally. “I say this administration is wrong, wrong, wrong, and you’ve got every right to fight, fight, fight!”

“We will be with you until the last day to see that you get what you deserve,” Daschle said as he pledged that Democrats nationwide would defend the union’s right to strike.

Backing that message were other prominent Congressional Democrats including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), who joined Daschle in Portland; Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent strongly worded messages to the rallies.

The mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma also pledged their support to the ILWU.

“The collective bargaining process is the appropriate method by which labor disputes are to be resolved. It is in place. It should stay in place,” said San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who called on President Bush not to interfere.

The federal government “certainly should not do so by using the national guard or any group of federal troops to replace legitimate workers,” continued Brown.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Janice Hahn, representing Mayor James Hahn and the City Council, told the rally in Long Beach, Calif., of over 3,000 that the “3.5 million people in the city of Los Angeles are behind you.”

She announced that the mayor and City Council passed a resolution officially opposing any intevention by federal government in negotiations.

“The heavy hand of government” should not be allowed “to influence or change the outcome of contract negotiations,” Hahn said. “Nobody wants to strike, but it is your right!”

AFL-CIO leaders backed the ILWU with strong warnings of their own.

“President Bush, if you close down the ports, we will close down San Pedro and we will close down Long Beach!” shouted Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Miguel Contreras, who chaired the Long Beach rally.

“If you take on the ILWU, you take on all of the American labor movement!” Contreras continued, as he named the numerous unions represented at the rally. “If you want to challenge us, let’s get it on!”

“There is going to be economic justice for the members of the ILWU, or there is going to be one hell of a strike that’ll involve the entire labor movement,” Teamsters International Vice President Chuck Mack said to the Oakland rally. “[International Brotherhood of Teamsters] President [James] Hoffa asked me to tell you, whatever it takes, we’ll do to make sure there is a decent contract for ILWU members.”

With strong words of his own, ILWU International President James Spinosa told the Oakland rally of 1,500 that “the labor movement and the ILWU are not going to stand by and allow for government intervention into the bargaining process.”

Spinosa blasted their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), who are using the Bush threat as a cover to pressure the ILWU for major takeaways aimed at busting the union. “Bush better get his act together and fight those who are not doing their job in this set of negotiations, instead of the working men and women who serve our country,” he said.

“Our fathers and grandfathers who worked these ports earned the rights we have today,” said Ramon Ponce de Leon, president of ILWU Local 13 in Los Angeles. “Four of our members died in a strike for those rights. If they push us again, we’re ready, whatever the cost. It’s our day and we’ll stand up and fight!”

Many leaders rebuked the charges by the Bush administrations and the PMA that an ILWU strike or labor action is a threat to national or economic security.

“Working people cannot be blamed for the nation’s economic meltdown. While firefighters and rescue workers were risking their lives in the Sept. 11 disaster … our captains of industry had their own agenda,” said Domenick Miretti, ILWU senior liason between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. “They were engaged in creative bookkeeping, stock manipulation and shady energy deals in California.”

“They have no right to blame the state of the economy on the ILWU. That is the fault of the stock market, of the robber barons, of the greedy corporations,” said Clarence Thomas, Bay Area ILWU Local 10 secretary-treasurer. “The employers talk about how much we make but don’t tell you how many longshoremen have died. This is a dangerous job. How much do these bleeding heart shipowners make? … They make billions off our labor.”

ILWU Local 10 President Richard Mead spoke about how people all over the world are joining to protest the “facade of national security,” which “the employers and the Bush administration have conspired to weaken or break the ILWU. People in America have rights that come before corporate profit.”

Judy Goff, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, said labor and the community will make sure that “any expansion [of the Port of Oakland] is going to be built union and operated union. So now we say: ‘Bush, say out of the Port of Oakland.’”

The negotiations which had been in recess since July 21, started up once again this week on Aug. 13 but had to recess when Robert Spinosa, the 94-year-old father of ILWU President James Spinosa, passed away that evening. Although James Spinosa is the chief bargaining spokesman for the 13-member ILWU bargaining team, the remaining members will work on specific issues until a new schedule is set for negotiations.

Herb Kaye contributed to this article.

Evelina Alarcon can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com; Juan Lopez can be reached at ncalview@igc.org