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Rally Defends Union's Right to Close Bay Area Ports

by Jonathan Nack April 26, 2011

OAKLAND, CA – Supporters of International Longshore & Warehouse Union, Local 10 (S. F. Bay Area) rallied in downtown San Francisco on Monday, April 25, 2011. At issue was defending the union's right to close the ports of Oakland, San Francisco, and other ports in the S. F. Bay Area.

ILWU Local 10 closed the ports of San Francisco and Oakland for twenty-four hours on April 4, 2011, as part of a national day of action called in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin and Ohio, where the rights of state workers to collective bargaining have come under sharp attack [ ].

The employers association at the ports, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has filed a law suit against Local 10 for the April 4 port closures. The PMA's suit seeks to prevent such future solidarity closures by the union.

Thousands of rallies and marches took place across the U. S. on April 4, as part of the We Are One call to action initiated by the AFL-CIO and In California, almost every county's Central Labor Council endorsed the day of action and many events took place up and down the state. Many thousands rallied in San Francisco and Oakland. The April 4 date was picked in part to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of all the actions taken by unions across the country, it was only Local 10 which chose to shut down the means of production. The decision was made by a vote of the union's membership.

"In answer to the AFL-CIO's call for 'no business as usual', ILWU Local 10 members engaged in rank-and-file resistance to the anti-worker offensive symbolized by events in Wisconsin,” said Clarence Thomas, Executive Board Member of ILWU Local 10. “We responded to the attacks on collective bargaining and on public workers in the state of Wisconsin by volunteering not to go to work on April 4.  For 24 hours, no shipping moved through the ports of San Francisco and Oakland, California," described Thomas.

“The Port of Oakland, and the Port of San Francisco are the biggest economic engines in the Bay Area. Many billions of dollars of cargo pass through those ports each year. The Port of Oakland is the fourth largest port in the country. The closure of these ports was a powerful statement by the union,” explained Thomas.

Not only did Local 10 close the ports on April 4, but it encouraged it's members to participate in a direct action against a Wells Fargo bank branch in downtown Oakland, which was organized by the teachers union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA). [ ]

Thomas was one of the MCs at the April 25 rally, which took place in front of 555 Market Street, S. F., where the PMA has its headquarters. Another was Trent Willis, a former President of Local 10. Many other union leaders, though not many high ranking union officials, spoke at the rally. One who did was Tim Paulson, Executive Director of the S. F. Central Labor Council, which endorsed the rally [ ].

While the PMA law suit challenges the legality of ILWU Local 10 closing of the ports over non-contract issues, such as the April 4 shut-down, speakers at the rally didn't even address that issue. It appeared irrelevant to both those whom spoke and those whom attended the rally.

Local 10 has a long history of solidarity work stoppages:

Last October, it closed the ports in to call for Justice for Oscar Grant, who was killed by a BART police officer [ ].

Last June, Local 10 honored a community picket against an Israeli ship at the Port of Oakland [ ].

On May 1, 2008, International Workers Day, Local 10 closed the ports for twelve hours and led a march in San Francisco against the war in Iraq [ ].

On May 20, 2007, Local 10 honored a picket line at the Port of Oakland set up by teachers and community members calling to for an end to military shipments supporting the wars and port funding for schools and social services [ ].

No less of a world leader than Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, cited the great importance of Local 10's boycott of South African ships in the 1980s in helping to bring down Apartheid there [ ].

Local 10 made Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. an honorary member of the ILWU shortly before the legendary civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to support striking sanitation workers [ ]

A full list of Local 10's solidarity actions and their importance to social movements would require much more space.

One of the reasons the ILWU is such a powerful union is that it represents almost all workers at ports, including both blue-collar and white-collar workers.

Speaker after speaker at the April 25 rally praised Local 10 as, “...the conscience of the U. S. labor movement,” “...the most militant and progressive union in the country,” “...a moral compass,” “...the heart and soul of the labor movement,” and said that they stood behind Local 10. Millie Cleveland ,of the OEA went further, “we don't want to stand behind Local 10, we want to stand beside them.”

Many speakers called for a general strike of all labor to confront the cutbacks, layoffs, and loss of collective bargaining rights, workers are faced with. Quite a number criticized high ranking labor officials for holding the labor movement back from striking and other militant actions.

Oliver Lanti, of the Industrial Workers of the World, Bay Area, General Membership Branch, gave a report on the protest movement and Capitol occupation in Wisconsin to protest the anti-union legislation there.

Xan San Joi, of Code Pink, called for strike action to begin on May 1, 2011. Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan will be leading a march from San Francisco to Sacramento that day, to call for a just budget for California [ ]. They plan to arrive in Sacramento on May 9 to set up a tent city at the Capitol.

Rally organizers estimated hundreds attended the April 25 rally, and one report put the number at around 400, but it didn't seem quite so large as that to this reporter.