USA: Mobilize to Support Longshore Workers

Key Battle for the Labour and Occupy Movements

Longview, Washington has become ground zero for one of the most important battles in both the labor and Occupy movements. In this small town on the southwestern coast of Washington, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is engaged in a crucial battle with EGT, an international conglomerate of grain exporters. EGT is trying to operate the first grain terminal in 70 years without ILWU labor, attempting to break the power of the ILWU.

For over two years, Local 21 of the ILWU in Longview has been waging a heroic struggle to defend living wage union jobs. Now, EGT is expected to send its first ship to the new terminal at Longview in January or early February to load grain bound for Asia using non-ILWU labor. Local 21 is calling on the Occupy movement and workers everywhere to resist this attack on the union by responding with a massive protest in Longview when the ship arrives. Occupy Longview has officially put “out a call to action to block the EGT grain ship expected to arrive mid-January.” It’s absolutely crucial that unions, Occupy activists, workers, and young people everywhere mobilize to Longview to make it impossible for the ship to load grain so we can defend these decent-paying union jobs.

It’s been over two years since EGT was first awarded public land and tax breaks to build the first export grain terminal in the U.S. in 25 years. Taxpayers contributed to a $200 million state-of-the-art facility that’s guaranteed to rake in profits for exporters, and now EGT wants to operate it on the cheap. EGT has sued the Port of Longview attempting to wiggle out of their legal contract that requires them to use ILWU labor, and they walked away from negotiations with the ILWU, hiring Operating Engineers Local 701 to scab on the ILWU, despite the engineers union being condemned by a whole slew of unions.

Local 21 has had jurisdiction over jobs at the Port of Longview for more than 70 years, and good ILWU jobs have been the essential lifeline that hard working families depend on. If EGT gets away with violating its legal contract to operate this terminal with ILWU labor, what other jobs on the waterfront will be attacked next?

Local 21 has faced enormous obstacles in its fight against the EGT multinational corporation. Practically the entire establishment – the police, the courts, the media, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – have sided with EGT against the ILWU. The media spread lies about Local 21 taking “hostages” in an action in September. Police have hounded union members. 220 people have been arrested in the local of 225 members on spurious charges in this struggle. And when the EGT ship arrives, the ILWU has been told the ship will be escorted by the U.S. Coast Guard, helicopters, and police from multiple jurisdictions, even though EGT will be breaking its legal obligation to use ILWU labor!

This is the first known attempt in 28 years to use the U.S. military to intervene in a labor dispute on the side of management since the National Guard was used against the 1983 Phelps Dodge miners’ strike. The struggle between the ILWU and EGT has exposed the nature of capitalist society where the system is completely stacked in favor of the richest 1% against working people.

In spite of all the forces arrayed against local 21, Local 21 has a lot of support from unions, the community, and Occupy, and too much is at stake for Local 21 to back down. That’s why the Longview community and supporters throughout the region felt they had no choice but to use militant tactics including unauthorized wildcat strikes, blockading trains, and dumping grain on train tracks.

The ILWU expects to receive possibly up to 4 days’ notice when the EGT ship arrives. When that ship arrives and the ILWU puts out the call to action, everyone must do everything they can to come protest in Longview.

Like the historic labor struggle in Wisconsin in February 2011, this action is a crucial battle for all workers, not just the ILWU. It has the potential to be a turning point for the labor movement and the Occupy movement that could strengthen the movement of the 99% against the 1%. If EGT succeeds, however, it will be a green light to other employers to intensify exploitation of workers. As the Secretary/Treasurer of the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council stated, “in 2014, the ILWU will negotiate its master contract with the Pacific Maritime Association. If they lose, you can bet the PMA will take notice and hit hard.”

Occupy Longview issued a statement “calling out to all occupies, from New York City down to Florida, all the way through to the West Coast, to join us in solidarity.” ILWU Local 21 and the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council have both passed resolutions and organized public meetings calling on the wider labor movement and “everyone in the 99%” to mobilize. The ILWU is one of the most militant unions in the country with a tradition of supporting other workers and struggles by oppressed groups, and now the rest of the 99% needs to return the favor to the ILWU.

Unions are the main organizations that working people have to resist the attacks of big business. That’s why all workers, especially port workers, must support this call and make the trip to Longview. Not just ILWU members, but Teamsters, non-union truckers, railroad workers—all workers as well as Occupy activists and young people have an important stake in making sure we organize the most powerful action possible with the widest number of people.

EGT and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA – shipping companies association) are clearly ruthless capitalist entities, and we must be prepared to defend ourselves with any necessary tactic. The PMA is pressuring the NLRB to seek an injunction to declare any disruptions of ports illegal under the anti-union Taft Hartley Act. While this is no minor threat that could result in fines and permanent criminal records, we cannot accept corrupt laws designed to provide special privileges for the richest 1% when living wage jobs are on the line. The best defense against Taft Hartley is to build the biggest, strongest movement of workers and supporters possible, effectively making it politically unviable for EGT. the PMA, and the government to enforce Taft Hartley. At the same time, we need to work to repeal the Taft Hartley Act by building a new political party of unions, workers, the Occupy movement, and our allies that clearly stands with the 99%, not the richest 1%. It’s also crucial that the entire labor movement and Occupy mobilizes massive solidarity and prepares for any retaliation against the ILWU.

With a determined approach and massive militant action, the labor movement and Occupy can stop EGT from operating a scab terminal, we can defend ILWU jobs, and we can help build a new vibrant labor movement.

Mobilize to Longview!

Defend Living Wage Jobs!

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

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January 2012