January 14, 2012
Dear friend(s) and comrade(s):
We are writing to inform you about a very serious class confrontation developing on the northwest coast of the United States, in Longview (Washington state).
In that small city, an international grain company, EGT, owned jointly by three firms (US-based Bunge North America, Japan-based Itochu and Korea-based STX Pan Ocean), spent $200 million constructing a new state-of-the-art grain terminal.
While the construction was underway, EGT indicated that it would continue to employ the 225 members of ILWU Local 21 in Longview, in keeping with the solid unionization of west coast American ports since the 1930s by the ILWU (International Longshore Workers Union).
Instead, when the construction was completed, EGT turned to a “rogue” union, General Construction and Operating Engineers Local 701, with the intention of displacing the ILWU with a “sweetheart” contract saving the company (according to its estimates) $1 million a year in labor costs.
The breaking of Local 21 will undoubtedly be a prelude to further attacks on the ILWU up and down the west coast, with automation another battering ram. Clearly, the bosses and the state are out to pit ILWU workers against Occupy militants in order to isolate and weaken both. They recognize and fear the demonstrated power of joint Occupy/ILWU action.
In spite of that threat, the ILWU International called for confining the protest to EGT and Longview and for not shutting down other ports. They will tell the longshoremen to cross Occupy picket lines everywhere except Longview. On January 6, ILWU thugs attacked a meeting of Occupy Seattle that was planning solidarity actions with Longview.
Local 10 oppositionists, including former officers and rank-and-filers, declare that they will shut the Port of Oakland down if the ship attempts to land. In fact, the thugs who attacked the January 6 Occupy Seattle meeting did so just when retired Oakland longshoreman and Local 10 opposition leader, Jack Heyman, told the meeting that the ILWU rank-and-file in Oakland, Portland and Seattle had voted with their feet to honor the Occupy picket lines and close those ports on December 12, Occupy’s West Coast port shutdown, and would do so again when the grain ship docks at Longview. Whether or not this will happen, against the intense pressure being brought by the state and the bosses, with the complicity of the ILWU International and several Local presidents, remains to be seen.
After months of standoff, on September 7 of last year, riot police escorted a train to the EGT terminal, arresting 19 people. On the morning of September 8, hundreds of longshoremen entered the terminal and destroyed the grain delivery. Later that day, longshoremen in five neighboring ports, including Seattle (Washington) and Portland (Oregon) wildcatted in solidarity with Longview.
Since that confrontation in early September, 220 of the 225 members of Local 21 have been arrested. The local president has been arrested six times and his arm broken by police. Both private thugs and police have created an atmosphere in Longview reminiscent of the 1920’s coalfield wars. The thugs are jumping longshoremen on the street and the police are dragging union members from their homes in the middle of the night.
A new ship is due to arrive in Longview to load a grain shipment some time in the next two weeks. It will be escorted by ships of the United States Coast Guard as well as helicopters; further police and private goon forces will be present to militarize the town. Under the new national security law signed by President Obama on New Year’s eve, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) anyone committing a “belligerent act” against the United States can be imprisoned indefinitely without charges or trial on the orders of the president. US ports are already semi-militarized by “Homeland Security”, with longshoremen required to show no less than three electronic “smart card” IDs to enter their workplace every day, and are subject to background security checks. It hardly requires a leap of the imagination to envision the possibility of linking militant labor action to “terrorism.”
It is essential that this attack on workers on the west coast of the United States receive maximum international attention and active solidarity. While the date of the arrival of the ship is still a secret, Occupy forces in the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland and Seattle are organizing caravans for a convergence on Longview when the date becomes known. Elsewhere in the United States, Occupy is planning demonstrations at Coast Guard offices and at the offices of the three corporations which jointly own EGT.
International support, starting with longshore workers in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, is also essential. In 2001, five black longshoremen in Charleston (South Carolina) were facing years of prison on trumped-up charges after police charged their picket line. Once dock workers in Europe announced that they would not handle ships going to or from Charleston, all charges against the “Charleston 5” were dropped.
Something similar, on an even grander scale, is necessary today.
Insurgent Notes urges everyone receiving this to join the struggle, either by preparing to join the convergence in Longview, or participating in the actions closer to them against the United States Coast Guard or Bunge, Itochu and STX Pan Ocean.
The Longview confrontation will be the latest, and hardest test to date of the ability of the forces which shut down west coast ports on November 2 and December 12 to continue to mobilize mass support. Key to its success will be a serious, class-wide alliance of rank-and-file dock workers, the much larger numbers of unorganized truckers in the ports, and the casualized mass which forms the radical wing of Occupy. Turn this defensive struggle into an offensive one now!