Monday, March 17, 2008

After March 19

[Cross-posted from Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time with a few edits.]

This is about a planned protest that I stumbled across while scanning news reports for the news about the protests this past weekend. Perhaps I should have known about it sooner, but I didn't. I do think it can be considered a sign of the times. The initial source is the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, California.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) represents about 25,000 dockworkers along the US West Coast and thousands more in Canada and Hawai'i. The contract it has with marine terminal operators allows the union to hold a monthly "stop-work" membership meeting. But there are meetings and then again, there are "meetings." And so

[u]nion delegates voted in February to hold the "stop-work" meeting on May 1 "in honor of labor history and to express our support for the troops by bringing them home safely," delegates said.
The plan, that is, was to shut down ports all along the west coast of the US for a period of eight hours to protest the Iraq war.

Now, the truth is that it's hardly unusual for ILWU Local 10, which sponsored the resolution, to be involved in antiwar activities. Despite that, I have to admit that the vision of dockworkers staging what amounts to a strike against the war, even for just one shift, gives me the same sort of feeling that seeing hardhats marching in Central Park for a nuclear freeze in 1982 did.

Initially, the bosses didn't express any concern over the planned protest. Just over a week ago,
Steve Getzug, spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, a shippers’ group, said shipping company officials were too busy preparing for contract negotiations[, which are beginning now,] to pay much attention to the protest.
But by this past Friday they apparently had changed their minds, and are now trying to kill the plan by saying it violates the contract because it's to occur during the day shift and the contract, they say, allows such "stop-work" meetings only during the second shift.
"[W]e are not going to agree to it," [PMA President Jim] McKenna is quoted as telling the [Journal of Commerce]. ...

Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Friday they were reviewing their options.
Without prejudging or predicting the union's plans or intentions, the possibility has to exist that they will go ahead with it anyway. Contract negotiation time is touchy for all concerned, and while there is always a risk to a union of civil action for conducting an "illegal strike," even a specifically-limited one, it is equally true that the bosses may be reluctant to piss off the union with threats over what, if they plan for it, could be reduced to the level of an inconvenience - especially in the middle of negotiations to renew a contract that expires on July 1.

Although there is no way to know, I have a suspicion that the change in attitude comes as a result of getting the word from friends in high places back east that they don't wanna see no protestin', nohow. One thing that drives that suspicion beyond my normal levels of paranoia is that the plan was not for just dockworkers to protest. The actual text of the resolution says

That it is time to take labor’s protest to a more powerful level of struggle by calling on unions and working people in the U. S. and internationally to mobilize for a “No Peace No Work Holiday” May 1, 2008 for 8 hours to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U. S. troops from the Middle East; and


That a clarion call from the ILWU be sent with an urgent appeal for unity of action to the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win Coalition and all of the international labor organizations to which we are affiliated to bring an end to this bloody war once and for all.
(The letter to the AFL-CIO was sent February 22; the text can be found at this link.)
“If we can do something so dramatic as to shut down the ports on the west coast, I think people will realize how important” opposition to the war is, said Jack Heyman, an executive board member of San Francisco’s ILWU Local 10, and prominent anti-war activist.
Especially if they are joined by other unions taking their own “No Peace No Work Holiday.” In that light, an attempt by the Shrub gang to "nip this thing in the bud" with a whispered word in the ear of some corporate cronies hardly seems far-fetched.