Port workers spend Labor Day on picket line

LONGVIEW, Wash. – Embattled dockworkers marched on their picket lines, Labor Day weekend, standing tall against EGT, the international grain consortium that seeks to break the union at their huge new grain terminal in the Port of Longview.

The struggle has been raging since early June when EGT first filed a lawsuit demanding nullification of a long-standing agreement that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will handle every commodity that moves through this port on the Columbia River downstream from Portland, Oregon.

Many of the women and men picketed the EGT terminal in the morning and then went to the Labor Day picnic at a nearby RV Park.

“We had a good turnout for the picnic,” said ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman in a phone interview with PeoplesWorld.org.  (Story continues after video.)

“It was just a social gathering, a day of rest,” he added, but with a strong dose of “multi-union” solidarity fired up by the struggle with EGT.

“We have such great union and community support here. We have over 300 businesses in the Longview-Kelso area displaying our sign in their front window: ‘We Support the ILWU.'”

He added, “The community knows who has been here for 80 years. We’ve provided so much charity, given so much. EGT rode into town on their white horse with all these promises. But they hired outside the community, hired outside the state, even hired outside the country to build this terminal. The local businesses got nothing.”

That union-community solidarity was on full display last July 14, he said, when 700 ILWU members and their union allies sat down on the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad stopping a mile long train loaded with wheat and blocking delivery of the first load of grain for the EGT elevators.

“We stopped that train dead in its tracks,” Coffman said. “We had hundreds standing with us, men, women and children.”

The railroad has since suspended all deliveries and the grain elevators stand empty awaiting the outcome of the struggle.

“Since 1934, the ILWU has represented grain elevator workers at all the Pacific Northwest ports,” Coffman said. EGT, a multi-billion dollar outfit that includes St. Louis-based, Bunge International, demanded the port allow them to subcontract with non-union General Construction, a Seattle-based company which in turn would employ members of Local 701 of the Operating Engineers based in Oregon to handle the grain.

 “EGT wanted to bring Local 701 in through the back door,” said Coffman. “Its one union raiding another and it is unacceptable.”

Prominent among the picket signs blasting EGT union busting are placards that proclaim “701 Scabs.”

He pointed out that Local 612 of the Operating Engineers in Tacoma and Local 302 in Seattle have sharply denounced Local 701. The president of the Tacoma local said, “Never would we think that members of the Operating Engineers would do another craft’s work.”

EGT went to the federal court in Tacoma requesting a restraining order prohibiting picketing of the grain terminal.

“They wanted all unions, all people, removed from the site,” Coffman said. “The judge refused all of it. He did not remove us from the site. We’ve got a ton of people walking with us. Other locals of the ILWU, United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Machinists, the Washington State Employees Association. It’s very diverse. We have retirees coming down to join us, great support from the ILWU locals in Vancouver, Washington and Portland.”

A member of the ILWU since 1974, Coffman said his hero is ILWU founder Harry Bridges, whose portrait adorns the wall of the Local 21 hiring

“I thank Harry Bridges every day when I walk in the hall for what he has given us,” Coffman said. “Here is a man who faced deportation back to Australia. He was fighting deportation, and he succeeded because ILWU members gave him such strong support. We’re facing the same thing today. Collective bargaining is under attack by corporate America and the rich. We have to stand together and fight back.”

Photo: (Teresa Albano/PW)




Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.