Workers Vanguard No. 900
12 October 2007
War on Terror Assault on Black Longshoremen
ILWU Rally: Drop the Bogus Charges Now!
OAKLAND—Some 200 unionists, overwhelmingly members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), rallied on October 4 in defense of two black longshoremen from ILWU Local 10 in the Bay Area, Jason Ruffin and Aaron Harrison. The two had been brutally assaulted and arrested in August by the West Sacramento police under the provisions of the governments bipartisan anti-terrorist port security laws. Members of Local 10, and the ship clerks Local 34, boarded busses at 6 a.m. to get to the protest at the courthouse in Woodland, California, a suburb of Sacramento, the state capital.
They were joined by members of ILWU locals from Sacramento, Stockton and Portland, Oregon, as well as members of the Oakland teachers union, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and the Inlandboatmens Union. At the rally, union members bowed their heads in a minute of silence for longshoreman Reginald Ross, who was killed on the Oakland docks the week before (see article, page 9). There were several speakers, including Ken Riley, president of the International Longshoremens Association Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina, where in January 2000 some 600 cops viciously attacked hundreds of picketing members of the local. The unions actions to defend picketers against scab-herding cops prompted the states attorney general to compare the fight for union rights to terrorism.
On August 23, security guards stopped Harrison and Ruffin at the Stevedoring Services of America terminal in Sacramento as they were returning to work after lunch. The guards demanded to search the car, citing maritime security regulations. These regulations are part of the governments so-called war on terror, which is nothing but a pretext for the U.S. rulers bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and for increasing the powers of their state—the cops, courts, prisons, military and their security guard auxiliaries—at home.
Harrison and Ruffin called their Local 10 Business Agent for advice. That these two black workers appealed to their union for help obviously enraged the security guards, who called in the notoriously racist West Sacramento police. Harrison and Ruffin were dragged out of their car, assaulted, maced, handcuffed and thrown in jail on charges of trespassing and obstructing a police officer.
As the Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, wrote in a September 12 letter of solidarity to the ILWU: This attack in Sacramento on two black ILWU members underscores the reality of the war on terror at home—attacks on immigrants, blacks, minorities, trade unions and the working class as a whole. At the October 4 rally, Rev. Ashiya Odeye, a local activist against police brutality, remarked that the cop attack on Harrison and Ruffin matched the treatment that these racist cowboys have been handing out to black and Latino youth for years in West Sacramento. He concluded, this time they have made the mistake of doing this to members of a union (Daily Democrat, 5 October). That Local 10 mobilized in defense of their victimized union brothers outside their court hearing on October 4 was an important display of union solidarity.
The governments war on terror has long had the ILWU in its cross hairs. During the 2002 contract battle, the head of the Department of Homeland Security warned the ILWU International President that a strike would threaten national security. Black longshoremen from Local 10 were at the core of a 300-strong protest in Oakland on 9 February 2002, initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee and the Labor Black League for Social Defense, demanding No to the USA-Patriot Act and the Maritime Security Act! Down with the anti-immigrant witchhunt!
Yet, outrageously the leadership of the ILWU has supported government maritime security measures. What this has meant was conveyed to Workers Vanguard by a member of the Sacramento ILWU local who said that guards routinely make random searches of longshoremens cars there. We were also told that another member of Local 10 who had been harassed by the security guards and cops while working in Sacramento had his name put on a government terrorist watch list, which he discovered only when he was pulled aside at an airport!
The ILWU leaderships support to national security is premised on the false view that workers and their capitalist exploiters have common interests, a deception that is the basis for chaining the unions to the Democratic Party. Testifying at a 2006 Senate hearing, the ILWUs own director of port security complained that the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act was being honored in the breach and urged the government to correct the immediate, major deficiencies of security that exist today in Americas ports. He claimed that port security equates to workers safety in its most fundamental sense. This is a lie! The purpose of maritime security is to further regiment and police the workers, to shackle the unions power to take on the shipping bosses. The union tops are demanding the enforcement of the very regulations that gave the security guards and cops license to assault and arrest Harrison and Ruffin! Meanwhile in the Bay Area, the security guards on the docks whose job is to police the workforce and enforce the governments anti-union laws are members of the ILWU. Security guards out of the union!
Several speakers at the October 4 rally pointed to the absence of any representative of the ILWU International which, to date, has said not one word in protest against the vicious assault on its own union members. Yet the Internationals support for port security is also echoed by the leadership of Local 10, albeit often with a more progressive veneer.
In an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle (5 March 2006) Jack Heyman, one of the more left-talking members of the Local 10 executive board, opined: Real port security means inspecting all containers offloaded and ending imperialist wars abroad that spawn terrorists, not stifling the free-speech rights of those who work in the ports. Under the cover of the seemingly radical call to end imperialist wars, Heyman lends his support to the war against labor at home in the name of real port security. In so doing, he echoes many capitalist Democratic Party politicians, who have pushed container inspections as a part of their bid to outdo the Republicans on national security.
In addition to demanding better inspection of containers, most ILWU bureaucrats call for more vigorous screening of the largely immigrant, non-union port truckers. This not only is an attack on these workers but undermines the ILWU itself by maintaining a vulnerable, grossly underpaid, non-union workforce on the docks. Instead the union should be fighting to organize these workers and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
The war on terror, which first took aim at immigrants of Muslim descent, is also used to build up a battery of new laws directed at the whole of the working class. In racist America, where the segregation of black people at the bottom of society is central to maintaining the system of capitalist exploitation, it is no surprise that port security and the cops targeted two black longshoremen. But black and immigrant workers are not helpless victims; they have power as a critical part of the multiracial working class.
Addressing the October 4 rally, both Jason Ruffin and Aaron Harrison spoke to their new understanding of the power of the union. But for that power to be realized, the unions must be organized in class struggle against the employers and their state, as opposed to the policies of the procapitalist labor bureaucracy. As the LBL and PDC wrote in the call for the 9 February 2002 protest against the war on terror:
To fight for its interests the working class must stand independent of all agencies and parties of the class enemy. The trade-union misleaders who have shackled labors power to support for the Democrats now offer to help implement security on the docks and elsewhere....
There must be a political struggle within the trade unions, the only significant racially integrated institutions in segregation America, to break from the Democrats and build a class-struggle leadership which will champion the cause of black freedom and the defense of immigrant rights. The working class needs its own party—one that fights for a workers government. Those who labor must rule!
—Down With the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt! WV No.773, 25 January 2002
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Harrison and Ruffins next court appearance will be on October 22 in the Yolo County Superior Court, 213 Third St. in Woodland, CA. Although the charges of trespassing have been dropped, they remain charged with obstructing a police officer. All out in solidarity! Drop the charges!