Forum examines rank & file longshore struggle

Forum examines rank & le longshore struggle

Clarence Thomas holds up the booklet “United,” a compilation of articles on the ILWU struggle from Workers World newspaper.
WW photo: Judy Greenspan

San Francisco — The solidarity of the Occupy movement with the struggle of workers was highlighted on July 29 in San Francisco at a forum entitled, “Lessons from the ILWU Battle Against EGT in Longview and the Struggle Ahead.” Featuring rank-and-file leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity Committee, the meeting focused on the struggle of longshore workers against union busting by Export Grain Terminal, EGT.

Over the past year, the very survival of ILWU Local 21 in Longview, Wash., was targeted by EGT, which had been working hard to break the union contract. EGT built a multimillion dollar grain terminal there and had been running it with scab labor.

On Sept. 7-8, 2011, thousands of longshore workers blocked a grain train trying to enter EGT. Last Jan. 23, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire brokered an agreement between EGT, the Port of Longview and the ILWU on hiring issues, in fear of the impending battle to blockade a scab grain ship.

Mike Fuqua, a rank-and-file leader of Local 21, spoke about the struggle against EGT. “We put everything into this struggle. We were working around the clock and doing all sorts of actions.” Fuqua noted that it was the attack on his union that propelled him into the struggle for workers’ rights. “I wasn’t an activist before this fight started.”

Robbie Donohoe and Terri Kay from Occupy Oakland talked about the group’s organizing in support of the ILWU. After shutting down downtown Oakland, more than 30,000 demonstrators, declaring a general strike and marched on the Port of Oakland on Nov. 2, shutting it down, with support from ILWU rank-and-file members. They declared solidarity with the ILWU struggle in Longview.

Occupy organized a West Coast port shutdown on Dec. 12, shutting down the ports of Oakland, Portland, Longview and Seattle, with significant disruptions at other ports, in solidarity with ILWU Local 21 and the port truckers in Los Angeles. Occupy also played a major role in planning the caravan to blockade the loading of the scab ship in Longview.

Clarence Thomas, a longtime ILWU rank-and-file leader and activist, talked about the lessons learned from the EGT struggle. He said that the ILWU needs “rank-and-file leadership, not top-down.” Thomas characterized the port shutdowns as “rank-and-file resistance against international commerce. … It’s not an easy thing to shut down the fifth-busiest port in the country.”

Thomas remarked that even though the Longview workers were saddled with a sellout contract, they know that their power rests with the workers and not with the union leadership. He noted that EGT and its affiliates had no idea what the workers could accomplish. Thomas referred people to the booklet, “United!” a compilation of articles from Workers World newspaper about the ILWU struggle.

Other panelists were ILWU retiree Howard Keylor, who was one of the Local 10 organizers of the ILWU 1984 anti-apartheid action, and Jack Heyman, ILWU Local 10 retiree and chair of the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, who focused on the business unionist leadership of the ILWU.

Kyle Mackey, secretary/treasurer of the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council and member of ILWU Local 21, made a short statement from the floor, publicly thanking Occupy Oakland for their support and solidarity. “We have to find new ways to fight the capitalists,” Mackey said.

The July 29 event was sponsored by the TWSC, a rank-and-file organization composed mostly of ILWU members who organized solidarity actions for Local 21 in Longview. View the entire forum at this link:

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