US: Bush declares war on West Coast Port Workers

In a major attack on all workers, President Bush has invoked the anti-union Taft Hartley Act to force locked-out Longshore workers back to work.

Bush Declares War on West Coast Port Workers.

Bush has invoked the anti-union Taft Hartley Act to force Longshore workers back to work. Below is the text of a leaflet distributed in Seattle by Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US). Fuller report to follow. CWI online.

Support Longshore Workers

Previously, on Sept. 29, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) , a group of port operators and shipping lines, had shut the ports and locked out the longshore workers, accusing the workers of engaging in a slowdown. The reality is that the workers were merely observing safety precautions, because five longshoremen have died on the job this year.

ILWU International President James Spinosa responded: "We are tired of burying our people. All PMA President Joe Miniace ever talks about is how many containers get moved how fast. You never hear him cite statistics of the deaths and injuries, of the human toll of his profits."

The major issue in this dispute is management’s proposal to introduce new technologies to speed cargo handling, and to refuse to honor a previous agreement that when union jobs are lost due to the introduction of new technology, then alternative jobs be offered to union members. The 10,500 port workers are also fighting to defend healthcare and pensions.

The PMA has refused to negotiate with the union due to the backing of 45 giant corporations like Wal-Mart and The Gap, with over $1 trillion in annual sales. With 7% of the gross domestic product flowing through west coast ports, they have pressured the Bush administration to act to prevent a Longshore strike or slowdown disrupting their "just-in-time" system of delivering goods in 48 hours.

Bush threatened to replace the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on the West

coast with federal troops if they go on strike. Not only did he threaten to use Taft Hartley, but also to expand the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act, which governs union activity in rail transport and airlines, to justify his actions. There is also talk about using recently passed "anti-terrorist" legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act and the Office of Homeland Security to investigate the background of all workers on the waterfront.

Longshore spokesman Steve Stallone explains the essential issue: "What power does a union have other than withdrawing its labor? These have been recognized as legitimate worker rights since 1934 and are still the law of the land."

Clearly we are witnessing a new front in the "War on Terrorism." Except this time the enemies are ordinary US workers, and the intent is to cower any acts of union militancy.

Bush’s threat is a replay of Reagan’s firing and replacing striking air-traffic controllers in 1981 and the smashing of their PATCO union. At that time, unfortunately the union leadership failed to respond dynamically, putting the labor movement on the defensive. This defeat was an important factor leading to 20 years of concessions. The unions should have responded by shutting the country down, as 13 million workers in Italy did a few months ago. The unions must not make the same mistake again.

Longshore workers have vowed to continue to enforce safety rules as they work. Another lockout by the PMA is on the cards. This is a major attack on the union. Labor needs to launch a bold initiative with a massive mobilization of workers in support of Longshore workers.

Mobilize Workers to Defend Longshore Workers

  • The King County Labor Council needs to organize a massive outreach to the public. Tens of thousands of leaflets calling for support need to be distributed across the region.
  • Speakers must be sent to all unions, community organizations, colleges, high schools, and radio and TV shows to build support. TV stations that refuse to carry the message must be picketed.
  • Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other companies involved in this attack need to be targeted for informational picketing and flyering. All unions need to honor ILWU picket lines.
  • Further mass rallies must be organized to demonstrate that workers will not accept a military intervention to break our unions.
  • Any move by Bush to use troops on the waterfront to defeat the ILWU must be followed by a mass mobilization to prevent any goods being loaded onto or off ships. The King County Labor Council needs to organize an emergency meeting of delegates and supporters to discuss the need to shut down the city for one day in coordination with other West Coast port cities.
  • Labor needs to build an independent workers party to repeal the Taft Hartley Act and other anti-union legislation.

We urge all workers and young people to send messages of support to: ILWU Local 19, at 3440 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle, WA 98134.

For more information call: ILWU Local 19 at (206) 448-3489 or ILWU web page,


Visit any picket lines on the Seattle waterfront to give your support.


For more info: ,(206) 736-6807 or

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October 2002