Workers Vanguard No. 936
8 May 2009
Labor Misleaders Push National Security Patriotism
War on Terror Crackdown on the Docks
Down With TWIC and the Maritime Transportation Security Act!
OAKLAND—The government’s “war on terror” has hit hundreds of thousands of workers at ports from coast to coast with the national implementation of the Transportation Workers Identity Credential (TWIC), completed on April 14. A biometric ID card that was described by the New York Times (14 May 2006) as “an identity card equivalent of a maximum security prison,” a TWIC card is now mandatory to work on the docks. To qualify, all port workers had to submit to extensive criminal background and immigration checks. According to the Journal of Commerce (20 April), as of April 9 close to 38,000 port workers had been turned down. While some 18,000 succeeded in the appeals process, which can take months, another 10,000 reportedly gave up. For the thousands of overwhelmingly immigrant port truckers, as well as the black and Latino port workers targeted under the racist “war on drugs,” to even apply for a TWIC card runs the risk of possible deportation or being pursued as some kind of “fugitive from justice.”
A March 30 statement by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) reports that hundreds of longshoremen who have been denied a TWIC card are currently out of a job with no access to unemployment insurance, with their appeals caught up in the Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze of the Transport Security Administration (TSA). An unknown number of longshore and other port workers are permanently gone, branded as a “threat to national security” for offenses ranging from drug possession with intent to distribute to fraud to being an “illegal” immigrant. Yet the response of the ILWU International was to call for “improving the TWIC program and port security” by providing more “staffing and resources to properly administer the TWIC program” in order to expedite the process. This is like calling for more “staffing and resources” to enforce the pass laws in apartheid South Africa!
When the Bush administration, with the fervent support of the Democrats, first enacted the USA Patriot Act and the Maritime Transportation Security Act as part of the so-called “war on terror,” the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense and the Partisan Defense Committee issued a call for a labor-centered, united-front protest. ILWU Local 10 was one of the early endorsers of this protest and black longshoremen were at the core of the 300-strong demonstration in Oakland on 9 February 2002, which declared: “Anti-Terrorist Laws Target Immigrants, Blacks, Labor—No to the USA-Patriot Act and the Maritime Security Act! Down With the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt!” The LBL/PDC call for the protest urged:
“We call on the powerful multiracial unions in the Bay Area to mobilize against the government’s war on America’s integrated working class, on black people and on immigrants. Every bombing raid and missile attack on Afghanistan came together with new deadly assaults on the democratic rights of all of us.... But what America’s racist rulers can get away with will be determined by class struggle. We must fight now to defend our rights and jobs, and the rights and jobs of our immigrant brothers and sisters. A united demonstration of the power of our class, together with youth, black and immigrant organizations, can spike the bosses’ racist ‘national unity’ campaign.”
—“Down With the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt!” WV No. 773 (25 January 2002)
This protest was an exemplary action that, on a small scale, illustrated the class-struggle, internationalist program that is vital if the unions are going to be mobilized in a genuine fight in defense of themselves, immigrants, black people and all those in the government’s cross hairs. Advancing the class consciousness and solidarity of the multiracial working class must begin with workers’ understanding of their common interests as a class in opposition to those of the political parties and state agencies of the capitalist class enemy. This stands in complete counterposition to the program of the union misleaders, who shackle the working class to its exploiters, particularly through support for the Democratic Party, and who openly embrace the “national security” interests of the U.S. imperialist rulers as their own.
TWIC: Enforcing Labor Discipline on the Docks
In a “2008 Presidential Questionnaire” directed to Barack Obama and other Democrats, the ILWU tops pledged the union’s service in the “war on terror,” declaring that the “ILWU workforce should be utilized as the first line of defense against maritime terrorist activities, and recognized as a natural ally by law enforcement.” It is not the job of the workers to enforce the laws, “security” or otherwise, of the capitalist state—laws that are ultimately aimed at the working class! The whole purpose of TWIC is government-enforced labor discipline against the unions. The day after the TWIC program was implemented at the Oakland port, armed Coast Guard officials went on the docks to demand that longshore workers show them their TWIC cards. Given that these longshoremen already had to show their TWIC cards to security guards (who outrageously are members of the ILWU) to even enter the terminal, this was simply a show of force aimed at demonstrating the military muscle that will be mobilized to police the workforce on the docks.
During the ILWU’s 2002 contract battle, the head of Homeland Security phoned the union’s International president to warn that a strike would be treated as a threat to “national security,” while the Bush administration trained military personnel to work the cranes on the ports. With the implementation of TWIC, it’s not just threats but official policy, and one enforced by the Democratic Obama administration.
TWIC is another strikebreaking weapon in the bosses’ arsenal, as any involvement in a “transportation security incident”—which includes “transportation system disruption or economic disruption in a specific area”—is grounds for being permanently disqualified from working on the docks. The ILWU bureaucracy congratulated itself for ensuring that a “work stoppage, or other nonviolent employee-related action” not be included in this category. The hard-fought and bloody battles against strikebreaking cops that laid the basis for founding the ILWU give the lie to the bureaucrats’ myth of “nonviolent” struggle. In a year that marks the 75th anniversary of the 1934 San Francisco longshore strike that won the union hiring hall, wresting control of who works out of the hands of the employers’ corrupt “shape-up” agents, it is now the forces of the capitalist state that are determining who can and cannot work on the docks.
“War on Terror”: Racism and Union-Busting
This is not the first time that the government has used “national security” to purge the ILWU and other unions. In 1950, just weeks after the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. government instituted a port security program to drive Communists, Trotskyists, socialists and other labor militants out of the unions. By the end of 1956, Coast Guard screening had denied security clearances to 3,783 waterfront and maritime workers; 243 of them were members of ILWU Local 10, and two-thirds of those were black.
The “war against terrorism” is a political construct whose purpose domestically has been to massively increase the police powers and repressive apparatus of the capitalist state. And under the provisions of TWIC, the purge of the unions is fed by another such “war”—the racist “war on drugs.” Any worker who has been convicted within the last seven years, or released from prison in the last five years, for offenses such as possession of drugs with intent to distribute, identity fraud, robbery and unlawful possession of firearms are denied cards and therefore their livelihoods. In a country whose prisons are overflowing with young black and Latino men, most of them rounded up for drug offenses, the target of these “security” proscriptions is all too obvious. It doesn’t matter if you “served your time,” you remain branded an outlaw and are now a supposed threat to “national security,” in a society where the unemployment rate for ex-convicts is a staggering 75 percent. In 2006, some 70 mostly black Chicago rail workers were fired under Homeland Security regulations barring ex-felons from working such jobs.
Members of the International Longshore Association in Charleston, South Carolina, told WV that TWIC has even been used at that port to go after “deadbeat dads,” “welfare cheats” and other supposed miscreants. We call for the decriminalization of drugs and the full restoration of all citizenship rights to ex-convicts.
An early example of the enforcement of “port security” was seen in the brutal police attack on two black longshoremen, Jason Ruffin and Aaron Harrison of ILWU Local 10, in August 2007. Returning to work at the Sacramento port after a lunch break, Ruffin and Harrison were stopped by security guards who demanded to search their car, citing maritime security regulations. When the two ILWU members called the Local 10 business agent for advice, the guards called in the cops. Dragged from their car, assaulted, maced and handcuffed, Harrison and Ruffin were thrown in jail on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest. A trial of the two longshoremen this January resulted in a hung jury but the state is continuing its vindictive prosecution, retrying these ILWU members whose only “crime” was trying to return to work and asking their union for help in doing so! Drop the charges against Harrison and Ruffin!
Under TWIC, any undocumented worker whose job requires access to the ports, which includes many of the port truckers, will be thrown out of work and face possible deportation. America’s capitalist rulers are practiced hands at fomenting racial and ethnic hostilities to divide the working class and build up the repressive powers of the capitalist state. The fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and for black rights is key to the elementary defense of the unions against the government’s “war on terror” dragnet on the docks. Instead, the union misleaders have criminally joined the racist rulers’ “national security” crusade against foreign-born workers.
ILWU Tops Enlist in the Racist “War on Terror”
The ILWU International bureaucrats’ March 30 statement, “Comments for Improving the TWIC Program and Port Security,” expresses concern that the “delays and backlogs being suffered by port workers are creating strong, negative opinions against TWIC.” To restore faith in the “war on terror,” these sellouts argue that ILWU members who have “unfairly” been ensnared in the TWIC application process should be provided an escort onto the docks while they await their cards. The statement goes on to declare:
“It is unjust and un-American to administer the TWIC program in a way that denies port employees, whose applications have already been approved, access to their jobs because inadequate government staffing and funding prevent timely delivery of their TWIC card.... Denial of escort to American longshoremen becomes grossly offensive and unconscionable when so many others, including truck drivers and ship’s crews, mostly foreign nationals, regularly receive escorting privileges.”
This grotesque red-white-and-blue chauvinism is an attack not only on the immigrant, non-union port truckers but also on the very existence of the ILWU itself, reinforcing its increasing isolation as the last bastion of union power on the West Coast ports. Rather than fighting to organize the truckers, the longshore and Teamsters union bureaucrats have long pointed to them as the real “security threat.”
Left-talking ILWU Local 10 bureaucrat Jack Heyman is providing a (barely) left gloss for this “America first” patriotism, just as he did during the port shutdown against the occupation of Iraq last May Day, which the ILWU tops made into a show of their loyalty to U.S. imperialism and support for Barack Obama. This year, Heyman was one of the initiators of a call for another May Day work stoppage. An April 24 leaflet by the “Port Workers May Day Organizing Committee” called to “defend our members who are unfairly denied work” and to protest “the unfair implementation of TWIC cards for port workers.” What about those who have been “fairly” denied work and those, e.g., “un-American” undocumented workers and others, branded as “security threats”?
The answer can be found in Heyman’s article, “Civil Liberties and Labor Rights of Port Workers Are Being Thrown Overboard” (Daily Breeze, 11 April). Complaining that “in some ports, truckers are allowed access with an escort but longshoremen are not,” Heyman goes on to take aim at “foreign” as opposed to “American” seamen, writing: “Seamen on foreign flag vessels that constitute 95 percent of ocean-borne shipping don’t need TWIC cards, but seamen on American-registered vessels do”! Himself an integral part of the union bureaucracy, Heyman’s usual role is to provide a veneer of left-sounding “militancy.” But his carping about the port truckers and foreign seamen is simply a blatant echo of the ILWU International’s chauvinism.
Heyman’s article concludes: “These Keystone Kops’ scenarios show the absurdity of this program and why it should be scuttled.” Opposition to TWIC is not a question of its bumbling or capricious implementation, it is a fundamental issue of defense of the unions, immigrants, black people and all those lined up in the sights of the government’s “anti-terror” laws. What Heyman points to as an example of opposition to TWIC is a petition circulated in the Portland ILWU local that urges “the United States Government to protect its citizens’ rights and end the Transportation Worker Identification Card.” Both in hanging immigrants out to dry and in embracing the U.S. government as the instrument for protecting longshoremen against that government’s own laws, this is simply the mirror image of the bureaucracy’s patriotic salute of “national security.”
For the ILWU and other longshore unions to wage a real fight against TWIC and the racist, union-busting “war on terror” laws, the obvious starting point must be opposition to the very state that is enforcing these laws. It means championing full citizenship rights for all immigrants and fighting to organize foreign-born workers, many of whom bring lessons of militant class struggle from their own countries. In a country built on the subjugation of black people, where racist reaction has long served to ratchet up the exploitation of the working class as a whole, the fight for black freedom is directly linked to the fight to break the chains of capitalist wage slavery and the state forces and laws that maintain it. But to wage that kind of struggle, the unions must be led by a different kind of leadership, one rooted in a program of class struggle, as opposed to the present misleaders whose policies of class collaboration increasingly subordinate the unions to the capitalist state.
For a Workers Party to Fight for a Workers Government!
It would have been a powerful statement if the ILWU had shut down the ports on May Day in opposition to TWIC and in defense of immigrant rights. But that was not even what Heyman was building. In any event, his call for a port shutdown never got off the ground...because the Pacific Maritime Association wouldn’t give its permission. Available jobs were dispatched from the Local 10 hall and the American President Lines and Transbay port terminals were worked. Only a handful of longshoremen came out to the protest in defense of immigrant rights (a cause that Heyman outrageously affronts with his appeal for the “fair” implementation of TWIC and complaints about port truckers and foreign seamen).
On May Day, Heyman was handing out a new leaflet dated May 1. Signed by himself and another ILWU Local 10 member, it proclaims that the April 24 leaflet put out by the Port Workers May Day Organizing Committee “didn’t properly put forward the tasks we face.” Heyman’s May 1 “Oops!” went on to explain that “it is necessary to emphasize how we’ve opposed the phony patriotic notion that ‘we’re the first line of defense’ pushed by the maritime bosses, their government and even some [!] union officials. They try to set U.S. and ‘foreign’ workers against each other but we have actively defended international seamen in American ports and dockworkers in other countries.” “Phony patriotic notion”?! There is nothing phony about it, and it’s in line with Heyman’s own rants against “foreign” seamen in the Daily Breeze. Heyman’s May 1 leaflet is a piece of fancy footwork coming from a man who knows a thing or two about deception. In the leaflet, Heyman claims that Local 10 will be marching “behind a banner calling ‘For Workers Solidarity to Stop Government Repression’ against immigrants and port workers.” Conveniently omitted is the fact that one of the main slogans on the banner reads, “Stop the Unfair Use of TWIC Cards for Port Workers!”
Hoping for another photo op to promote Heyman’s credentials as a class-struggle militant, Internationalist Group (IG) leader Jan Norden flew in for the “port shutdown.” Last year, the IG was in the forefront of enthusing for the May Day port shutdown, which was against the occupation of Iraq (but not Afghanistan, the preferred war of the Democrats). That shutdown pointed the way to the kind of working-class action that is needed against the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But the pro-capitalist politics of the ILWU leadership undermined this action. At the 2008 San Francisco May Day rally, which was politically dominated by speakers from the Democratic and Green parties, a statement was read out from International president Bob McEllrath heralding longshore workers as “loyal to America” as opposed to “foreign corporations that control global shipping.” The statement declared, “We’re standing up for America, we’re supporting the troops.” Such vile “America first” chauvinism was a pledge of allegiance to the bloody U.S. occupiers against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.
For his part, Heyman put forward a soft-core version of the same politics as his counterparts in the ILWU bureaucracy. As we wrote in “ILWU Shuts West Coast Ports on May Day” (WV No. 914, 9 May 2008):
“While an April leaflet by Heyman denounced ‘phony appeals to patriotism,’ he has made clear his own appeal to patriotism. At an April 29 press conference sponsored by the Oakland Education Association, Heyman declared: ‘We want the troops home. That’s what our members said at a meeting we had back in February and it was our Vietnam vets who brought the point home, very close to their hearts. And they said enough is enough, people are dying over there for nothing. It’s not a war about democracy, it’s for oil and empire’.”
The IG covered for Heyman, who in turn covered for the rest of the ILWU bureaucracy, who were busy saluting the flag. In the Internationalist (May 2008), the IG trumpeted that the port action “raises the challenge ahead: to go from resistance to a struggle for power” (emphasis in original). As we wrote in response in the WV No. 914 article: “To struggle for power assumes that you oppose the existing power! As Trotskyists (i.e., genuine Marxists), our purpose is to arm the proletariat with the consciousness and leadership necessary for combat with the forces of the capitalist class. This means taking on the class-collaborationist politics of the trade-union bureaucracy (as well as the politics of those who falsely claim to offer a revolutionary alternative).”
The worldview of the labor tops, including left-talkers like Heyman, is defined by what is “practical” or possible under capitalism. Ours is a different purpose: to build a workers party to give a conscious class-struggle leadership to struggles against U.S. imperialism and its bloody depredations against the peoples of the world and the working class and oppressed at home. Grounded in a program of revolutionary internationalism, such a party will fight not only for the immediate interests of the working class but for its liberation, and the emancipation of all of humanity, from the very real terror of capitalist class rule, by bringing to power the socialist rule of the multiracial proletariat.