The Arsenal of Marxism


Defend Our Union From Attacks—Outside And Inside!

By Jack Heyman

Since 2002, the ILWU has faced major challenges: in the 2002 contract negotiations the government, citing “national security,” threatened to use troops to occupy the ports if there were any job actions. Then PMA (Pacific Maritime Association) locked us out and shutdown all West Coast ports for 10 days. This was followed by Bush invoking Taft-Hartley against longshoremen, forcing us back to work under conditions favorable to PMA. We got shackled for the first time with a six-year concessionary contract. Why? ILWU International Officers, paralyzed by fear, caved in. The Big Strike in ’34 fought the waterfront bosses and their government. Now ILWU labor-faking union tops have changed course. They’re trying to direct us up the gangway on board PMAs Love Boat. Here’s a list of their historic betrayals:

• The first time in ILWUs history, two consecutive six-year concessionary contracts.

• Pushing TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) cards and phony “port security.” ILWU always fought screening.

• Not aggressively fighting racist attacks outside and inside our union.

• Not mobilizing against Middle East wars as directed by Caucus May Day motion.

• Not vigorously defending immigrant workers’ rights under attack by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

• The Dispatcher didn’t post contract vote or tell the truth of ’08 May
Day action.

At the last Caucus there was a good bit of “false bravado” from the “good ole boys” how we kicked PMAs butt. The fact is this was the second Contract Caucus in a row that didn’t back the Negotiating Committee with a strike authorization vote. Such a vote gives notice to the employers that if they don’t negotiate in good faith, the rank and file could take actions on the dock. But union officials are so afraid of the word “action” or “strike” that the standard support motion was never even made. That’s the fearful mindset that stuck us with two consecutive six-year concessionary contracts. The 2008 Caucus was the first in the history of the ILWU to vote unanimously to recommend ratification of a contract. Most importantly, it was passed without the membership having time to read, digest and discuss the proposed contract before the vote. How else can you explain ILWU longshoremen being shackled with two back-to-back six-year concessionary contracts? These are signs that the ILWU International is heading in the wrong direction.

Local 10 votes big against the contract and against anti-union attacks

Local 10, in the best tradition of our union, had a big “no” vote (49 percent) because we were the only local where members read literature calling to reject the tentative contract and prepare for membership action. Union democracy is about hearing all sides BEFORE you vote. Safety, loss of benefits for some members’ dependents and pensioners, a six-year contract below the cost-of-living, weakened grievance machinery—these are all reasons to have voted “no” on the contract. Since the ’02 contract, speed-up on the waterfront has meant 18 deaths. Even before the ink was dry on this last contract Brother Delmont Blakeney was killed on an Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) job. And we’ll see more injuries and deaths because of the employers’ relentless drive for profit and production first!

But Local 10 is not immune from attacks from outside and inside. Last year two members disgruntled because the union Constitution prevents members not in good standing from running for office brought their beef to President Bush’s anti-Labor Department. Imagine appealing to Bush, who stole the 2004 election and was appointed, not elected, in 2000 by a corrupt U.S. Supreme Court. The Feds took over and ran our elections. This year a few Local 10 officials are abandoning long-held union principles. Our legacy of being one of the most democratic unions is being tested by an opportunist Chief Dispatcher and a bad interpretation of the Constitution by the president. For the first time in Local 10’s history and in violation of our Constitution, a dispatcher, a salaried elected official, is running for more than two consecutive terms. The Local 10 membership voted unanimously to stop this violation at the October union meeting. The Chief Dispatcher said he’d accept the decision of the membership, the highest body in our union. The next day he changed his mind. The president interpreted the Constitution to say dispatchers are NOT salaried elected officials and we could face a lawsuit! Whenever did we surrender to the threat of a lawsuit? Since the Big Strike in ’34 when we won the union hiring hall and elected our dispatchers, we’ve rotated them to keep out favoritism, nepotism, discrimination and other forms of corruption. The oldtimers who built this union and wrote in our Constitution in capital letters (Art. 6 Sect. 5) “ANY SALARIED ELECTIVE OFFICER WHO HAS SERVED TWO FULL CONSECUTIVE TERMS OF ONE YEAR SHALL NOT BE ELIGIBLE AGAIN TO HOLD OFFICE IN THIS LOCAL......(for) ONE YEAR.”

May Day ’08: Local 10 laid the groundwork, McEllrath took the credit and ran

International President Bob McEllrath boasted that we got this contract by showing unity in our powerful May Day action that shutdown all West Coast ports to demand an end to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Local 10 initiated the resolution. The inspiring Caucus debate led by Vietnam veterans, compelled McEllrath who never supported ILWU antiwar actions before, to grudgingly accept it. But, McEllrath opposed our May Day rallies and marches. In the midst of contract negotiations with PMA, if we didn’t implement the Caucus action with coastwise unity, we’d have no negotiations. None of the titled officers spoke at our rallies in San Francisco, Seattle or Portland. None have spoken at any antiwar rally since we passed the first antiwar resolution at the 2003 ILWU Convention in San Francisco. These officers didn’t even participate in that antiwar debate led by Local 10. Now they take credit for ILWUs historic action, while distorting its meaning. ILWUs newspaper, The Dispatcher, and press releases portrayed our shutdown as a “patriotic” display of “standing up for America” and “supporting our troops.” These old slogans support imperialist wars whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or another Middle East country. The ’08 Caucus resolution calls for an end to the wars and immediate withdrawal of troops and criticizes the Democratic Party for continuing to fund the war. Our resolutions are in line with ILWUs history of opposing imperialist wars. These new International officers are reversing while pretending to stay the course.

ILWUs history: opposing imperialist wars and government anti-union “Port Security”

The booklet, The ILWU Story—Six Decades of Militant Unionism documents how the ILWU, in 1946 at the beginning of the red-baiting McCarthy period, opposed U.S. troops in China (later in Korea) and in 1950 protested against the waterfront screening of maritime workers. It emphasizes ILWUs position by allocating a full-page photo to a union protest against screening. Not today. These International officers echo ex-PMA head Miniace’s cry in 2001, “We’re the first line of defense” in the “war on terror.” A year later PMA locked us out with government approval! ILWUs vocal advocate of maritime security, Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet, previously was PMAs Columbia River Labor Relations man. Not only is the International pushing the TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Card) card for screening longshore workers, they even refuse to defend members caught in the TWIC web of “port security” that targets port workers. Not one International officer has spoken at Local 10’s rallies in defense of two union brothers who were attacked last year by police in the Port of Sacramento, though a Caucus resolution to mobilize support was passed. Their message is clear: When it comes to “port security”, you’re on your own. What ever happened to ILWUs slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all”?

“The Ten Guiding Principles of the ILWU” was hammered out at the 1953 Convention in San Francisco to fortify and navigate our union’s ship through rocky straits during the repressive McCarthy period when the militant wing of the labor movement, the CIO, was being attacked by the waterfront employers, the government and even AFL unions. Now ILWU officials have abandoned these principles of labor unity, solidarity, democracy and integrated, egalitarian unionism. They changed course to support government screening, “patriotic” wars and elitist craft unionism in collaboration with maritime employers.

Local 10’s “port security” rep at our last union meeting said that if we don’t get TWIC cards and are denied access to terminals “someone else will take your job.” But TWIC is just one example of how the union bureaucracy, top to bottom, acts as a transmission belt for the employer class. How many times when you call a union official to the job for a contract violation do they go to the company superintendent FIRST? And then tell you, “The company can do that.” How many times do we pass motions at meetings, after discussions and a democratic vote and then they’re never carried out? This election campaign is a wake up call. We’re losing too much—jobs, union democracy, conditions. Get ILWU back on track with job actions and class struggle. That’s the way to victory!

Bridges used to say “The rank and file does what it has to do and it is up to the lawyers to get us out of it. That’s what we pay them for.” In other words, the laws in this country are against unions. When workers take an action, it’ll be called “illegal.” We may be sued. That’s when you call the lawyers. If you call them first, they’ll usually say the law won’t allow it and we’ll never do any action. Nowadays, ILWU officers have it backwards. They never do anything without checking with lawyers first. They fondly refer to the union’s lead attorney as the “Third Coast Committeeman.” This is exactly how the conservative business unions like the East Coast ILA (International Longshoremen’s Association) operate, always with the attorneys at their side.

Read it and weep: the tragic story of the ILWU’s Dispatcher newspaper

One of the most public signs of the degeneration of the ILWU is its newspaper, The Dispatcher. Last year, Steve Stallone, ILWUs longtime Director of Communications, and editor of the paper was fired, ...err politically purged. Why? Because he dared to tell Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams that an article he wrote on a trip to Israel didn’t reflect ILWU’s position, which also recognizes the Palestinian right of self-determination. Did the article have a clear pro-Zionist slant because Adams’ trip was paid for by the Israeli government? If so, the article contained no such disclaimer. Since the Stallone purge, two other Dispatcher journalists have quit. No wonder the paper’s quality has gone South.

Local 10 gave The Dispatcher staff a plaque for their intrepid coverage of the Liverpool dockers’ strike and ILWUs solidarity actions. Over the recent years The Dispatcher has won recognition for its quality labor reportage. Now, it has become a propaganda tool for Titled Officers. The Dispatcher buries coverage of a key struggle against the bipartisan “war on terror”—Local 10’s rallies against a racist a “port security” attack on two black members. And ILWUs principled defense of innocent death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal for nearly 20 years has been censored from the Dispatcher pages. Why no hard-hitting criticism of ICEs Gestapo-like raids on immigrant workers? Are union tops afraid to embarrass their “friends” in D.C.? The fight against racism and phony “port security” are indelible hallmarks of ILWUs history. If ILWU is to remain a militant union, these struggles must remain in the forefront not the backburner.

The Dispatcher trumpets support for troops in Iraq rather than the Caucus resolution’s demand for “an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East.” Unmentioned is Bush and Obama’s plan is to send troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. There is no criticism of the Democratic Party’s funding of the war, which was a key reason for the historic May Day shutdown of all West Coast ports. Not surprisingly, The Dispatcher has not published that Caucus resolution. Nor has the local-by-local breakdown of the ’08 Contract vote been posted. Are they afraid to tell the truth? One major local, San Francisco, almost voted it down.

Real change means organizing independent workers political power

As the economic crisis worsens one of the most important struggles will be in the realm of politics. The election of Obama was a watershed in American politics. For a black man to be elected president in a country indelibly marked by the slavery of blacks, genocide of Indians and oppression of immigrant workers is a significant political shift. But that does not mean that racism and class oppression have been eliminated. The U.S. is the most reactionary of the big industrial countries precisely because of the legacy of slavery and its influence, North and South. It is no accident that the South is the home of anti-union “right to work” laws, “Jim Crow” segregation, poll taxes and lynching. In the North blacks were excluded from unions and forced into squalid ghettos and unequal schools. For nearly the last half century the conservative South has provided every Democratic president— Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. While the Republicans have given us the reactionaries Nixon, Reagan and Bush. These presidents, executives of the ruling class, have all protected U.S. business interests—abroad with “free trade agreements” and imperialist wars—at home with anti-labor laws and police repression against workers when they strike. In a capitalist country, workers, especially oppressed people of color, are the first to lose their homes, their jobs and get the highest rate of imprisonment. The monopoly of political power by the twin parties of capital mean that workers will be the underclass whichever party has the reins of government. Even under Obama workers—black and white, Latino and Asian—will need to mobilize to fight for our class interests: for jobs, to stop home foreclosures, for universal health care and public education for all. We’ve got to build an independent party of the working class based on the trade unions to lead this struggle.

Jack Heyman was elected as Caucus and Convention Delegate in the recent local elections on December 10, 2008. Union bureaucrats are set to rerun the elections. Last year the Feds took over the elections.