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ILWU locals honor May Day organizer

Published Dec 7, 2008 6:17 PM

The eight-hour shutdown of West Coast ports last May Day continues to resonate internationally. On Nov. 10 in Vancouver, Longshore Workers Union Local 400 Maritime Division and Longshore Local 500 sponsored a dinner for Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member. Thomas is co-chair, along with Jack Heyman, of the Portworkers May Day Organizing Committee. The dinner, held at the Maritime Labor Centre auditorium, was attended by officers, rank-and-file members, pensioners and their families.

ILWU leaders Frank Scigliano,
Terry Engler, Clarence Thomas,
Gordie Westrand and Tom Dufresne.
Photo: Mike Eisenger

Terry Engler, president of Vancouver’s Local 400, said this about May Day: “It is unfortunate that there was virtually no reporting of the May Day shutdown in our media, and therefore many of our members have no knowledge of this important action, but our members will have the opportunity to hear from Clarence Thomas at the dinner event. I believe that all union members, especially ILWU members, would benefit from Clarence’s experience, knowledge regarding rank-and-file solidarity and the actions of the ILWU.”

During his talk at the dinner Thomas explained in detail the May Day “No Peace, No War” mobilization. This historic action, initiated by ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco and led by rank-and-filers, called for an immediate end to the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. Thomas stated that this was the first time in the U.S. that workers had withheld their labor to oppose U.S. imperialism. The action took place despite the fact that the union leadership withdrew its request to waterfront employers that they accommodate closing the ports on May 1, 2008.

The May Day action was a rank-and-file-led mobilization in the same tradition as the Million Worker March at the Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 17, 2004.

This past May 26-27, Thomas was a keynote speaker at May Day Eye Witness Forum sponsored by the Canadian Peace Alliance and held at the 2008 Canadian Labour Congress in Toronto. Present at that labor and peace-activist gathering were several ILWU Longshore officers.

The officers of Locals 400 and 500 invited Thomas to speak on the issues he addressed during his speech in Toronto. The topics included the history of ILWU international solidarity as well as the particulars of the coastwide mobilization for the May Day action.

The program began with Thomas presenting Million Worker March T-shirts to Tom Dufresne, the Canadian president of the ILWU Longshore Division; Gordie Westrand, president of ILWU Local 500; Frank Scigliano, president of ILWU Ship and Dock Foremen Local 514; and Terry Engler.

Local 500 presented Brother Thomas with Bluesprint, a comprehensive collection of literature and spoken word of Blacks in British Columbia. He also received the video “Betrayed” from Local 400. This documentary captures the history of the Canadian Seaman’s Union, which brought the eight-hour day, sick leave and pay increases to an industry known for low wages and brutal working conditions.

Brother Thomas was invited to return to speak to labor organizations in Vancouver in April 2009.