The ongoing struggle of longshore workers at grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest seemed back-burnered since International Longshore and Warehouse Union members overwhelmingly rejected the Pacific Northwest Grainhandlers Association’s highly concessionary “last-best offer” back in December.
Since that time ILWU members at three of the big four grain exporters have worked under imposed conditions after the bosses refused to continue talks. In a break with the other giant food merchants, Cargill/CHS continued negotiations, extending the ILWU’s existing contract. However, on Feb. 4, the Federal Register announced the U.S. Coast Guard is “establishing safety zones around … Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association facilities. … These safety zones are being established to ensure that protest activities relating to an ongoing labor dispute involving these facilities do not create hazardous navigation conditions for vessels in the navigable channel or vessels attempting to moor at the facilities.” (tinyurl.com/ascrf6p)
The door was opened to the PNGA’s current drive for concessions when the ILWU International rejected the vibrant solidarity movement organized by Occupy and rank-and-file workers, including ILWU members, that was building for a classwide showdown at the Export Grain Terminal in Longview, Wash. A similar Coast Guard announcement for an anti-worker “security zone” was established around the port of Longview a year ago. At that time, the PNGA pushed for a one-year contract, waiting for the outcome at EGT.
Now, in a drive to extend the EGT concessions to all Pacific Northwest grain terminals, the PNGA has threatened a lockout and hired Gettier strike-breaking agents. Gettier was on hand to drive scab “replacement workers” to the Boron, Calif., borax mine after international mining giant Rio Tinto locked out 600 ILWU Local 30 members in 2010.