Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down the ports of Oakland and San Francisco Feb. 16 to demand that journalist and innocent political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal be exonerated and set free.
Local 10 workers began the day with a “stop-work meeting” at their union hall, then marched along the San Francisco Embarcadero to an inspiring rally at Harry Bridges Plaza. Bridges was the founder of the ILWU in 1937.
They contend that the at least 200 “newly discovered” boxes of evidence — including a hand-written letter from the prosecution’s star witness demanding payment for his false but incriminating testimony at trial — will prove Mumia’s innocence. The boxes, found hidden in the DA’s office, also showed evidence of attempts to exclude Black people from the jury.
At the rally, Clarence Thomas, a third-generation longshore worker and former Local 10 officer, said that during the Black uprising of the 1960s, “we all had our consciousness raised by the movement: Malcolm X, the struggles of Martin Luther King, the Deacons for Defense, Stokely Carmichael, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale.”
Thomas himself joined the Black Panther Party at the time.
“Mumia has personally thanked the ILWU for the actions we have taken, including in 1999 when we shut down all 29 ports on the West Coast to stop his execution,” Thomas said.
South Africa connection
In 1984 ILWU dockers refused to unload South African cargo at Pier 80 in San Francisco for 10 days to protest South Africa’s apartheid regime. Nelson Mandela recognized the important role of the ILWU in helping their freedom struggle, when he spoke at the Oakland Coliseum in 1990, soon after his release from prison.
Thomas pointed out that his union sent 14 ILWU members to South Africa this past January “to build the campaign for Mumia’s freedom. What kind of union does something like that?”
“Today,” said Thomas, “our union did not go to work in the ports of Oakland and San Francisco to demand Mumia’s freedom. No cargo moved. Trucking and railroad schedules got disrupted.
“Can you imagine if the Teamsters, the railroad workers, the airline pilots, if all the transportation unions had also taken off today? Mumia would be out of prison.”
While they were in South Africa, longshore worker David Newton, nephew of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton, and ILWU retiree Jack Heyman met with Irvin Jim, General-Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). They agreed to use the period from Feb. 16 to March 16 to mobilize for Mumia. NUMSA is the largest single union in South Africa and one of the largest in Africa.
Other international protests for Mumia were scheduled for Sao Paulo, Brazil; Pretoria, South Africa; Tokyo; and several cities in Europe.
The Oakland Education Association, with its 3,000 teachers, sent a letter to Judge Lucretia Clemons urging Mumia’s release from prison. Mumia himself sent a letter thanking his labor supporters with these words: “When workers unite, the Earth trembles and the heavens shake.”