Wash. mill town workers march for Bernie

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. – One week before Washington State’s March 26 caucuses, “Labor for Bernie Sanders” marched through this union mill town chanting “Banks got bail outs, we got sold out” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho– the oligarchy’s got to go.”

Leading the march with their banners were members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Inland Boatmen’s Union, and the United Steelworkers. Former Communications Workers president, Larry Cohen, national leader of “Labor for Bernie” came to join the march and rally.

Several hundred Bernie Sanders supporters on the North Olympic Peninsula joined the Port Townsend march one day before Bernie Sanders spoke at KeyArena in Seattle to an immense overflow crowd. Admission to his Seattle rally was free. His rival, Hillary Clinton, was scheduled to appear at expensive fundraising events in the Seattle area March 22.

ILWU rank and filer, Brian Skiffington, carried one end of the ILWU banner even though his right arm was bandaged and in a sling due to a nasty on-the-job accident at the Port of Tacoma. The banner proclaimed, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.” Said Skiffinton, “For me, Bernie is the only voice speaking out for working people.”

Tammy French, a social studies teacher at Forks High School marched with her child on her shoulders. “Bernie’s definitely the candidate I’ve been waiting for my entire life,” she said as she marched with her husband, Woody, and their other child. “He has an inspiring message and he inspires us,” Woody French added.

The crowd had gathered in Port Townsends’s Uptown marked by lovely Victorian mansions where mill owners, ship owners, and merchants lived a century ago. The city, blooming with cherry trees and daffodils, was celebrating its Victorian past the same weekend. Women dressed in bonnets and hoop skirts, men in top hats and swallow tail suits strolled about. Some of them joined the Labor for Bernie parade. The march proceeded down the hill to Pope Marine Park on the waterfront and cheered speakers who urged victory for Sanders in the Washington State caucuses.

ILWU organizer, Jeff Engels, who lives in Port Townsend, told the crowd he worked 20 years as a seafarer and knows well the seaport’s past when seamen were “shanghaied,” forced to toil aboard merchant ships for meager wages so the wealthy could enjoy their life of ease in their “Uptown” mansions.

“It’s time to win Washington State and the rest of the West for Bernie Sanders,” he thundered as the crowd cheered.

He introduced Isabelle Leclair, a youth leader of the Skokomish Tribe, who was invited by President Obama to visit the White House last fall. “Bernie Sanders has been the only constant since day one,” she said. “He is the only candidate who believes there is a future to believe in, a candidate who thinks I should not be in debt when I graduate” from college.

Dean McGrath, President of ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma, said Bernie Sanders “had the courage to stand up when they were bailing out the banks and say, ‘No! We should be bailing out the people.”

McGrath decried income inequality so insane that corporate CEOs pocket income “470 times” greater than the income earned by the workers who “create the wealth” for the corporations.

He asked for a show of hands of those with pensions to live on. Few in the crowd raised their hands. “That is horrible!” McGrath said. “That’s what happens when people fall asleep.” Yet half the delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination “are out there. Now we’re coming into the west.  We can transform America. That’s what this campaign is all about.”

Larry Cohen said he met Bernie Sanders 25 years ago. His message then was the same as it is today, Cohen said. Wall Street, he continued, “is coming for us. We stand up! We fight back!” He crowd took up the chant. “We stand up! We fight back.”

Cohen said he served for many years as a Democratic Party “super-delegate” when he was president of the CWA. The Democratic National Committee is “hollowed out,” he charged, dominated by Wall Street financiers who ram through “rotten trade deals” like the Trans Pacific Partnership. “It is time for real change,” he said. “No more super-PACs. No more super-delegates. We need to fight for that in Philadelphia. We’ve got a candidate this time, Bernie Sanders, who is saying, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ He is the best candidate for president we have had in our lifetime…

Cohen concluded, “What are we going to do in the next seven days? Knock on doors, call people. We are activists and we know how to stand up and fight back. When we get to that caucus we say: We’re proud to be for Bernie Sanders. We’re proud to be part of this revolution.”

Photo: Tim Wheeler/PW


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 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.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.