Attack on Antiwar Protesters, ILWU

Oakland Police Open Fire on the Docks

Open Season on the Home Front?

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 801, 11 April 2003.

The following statement was issued on April 7 by the Partisan Defense Committee, a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League.

Early this morning at the Port of Oakland, riot-equipped police wearing gas masks opened fire with wooden bullets, pellet-filled “sting bags” and concussion grenades on picketers protesting the “war merchants at the Oakland docks.” Motorcycle cops gunned their engines, speeding to within feet of the picket lines, and protesters were beaten and dragged to the ground. Among the many injured in this wanton and gratuitous police attack were several longshoremen, including a crane operator whose hand was badly mangled by police fire, threatening his very ability to work. Dozens were arrested, including International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 business agent Jack Heyman.

Trent Willis, another Local 10 business agent, declared: “They shot my guys. We’re not going to work today.” That’s exactly what should have happened throughout the port. With their bloody assault on antiwar protesters and ILWU members at the Oakland docks, the cops took aim and fired at the stronghold of labor power on the West Coast. The Partisan Defense Committee calls for answering this assault by mobilizing mass, militant protest centered on the social power of labor! Drop all the charges!

The police attack was entirely premeditated. Two days ago, at an antiwar protest in Oakland officially sanctioned and dominated by local Democratic Party politicians, the cops were barely in evidence. But when a protest was taken to the docks, which are crucial to the U.S. imperialist war machine, the armed fist of the capitalist state was brought down in a hail of wooden bullets and concussion grenades, an attack fully endorsed by a spokesman for Oakland’s “liberal” mayor Jerry Brown. The ILWU itself has been in the cross hairs of the federal government since last summer’s contract battle, when the Bush administration threatened to call out troops to break any longshore strike as a threat to “national security.”

The direct link between the war against Iraq and the war on labor in the U.S. was brought home with a vengeance in Oakland today. The cop attack on the protesters began at the American President Lines terminal and resumed when picketers were forced down to the Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) terminal, where a ship was docked and longshoremen were standing by. The SSA, which last year led the shipping bosses’ union-busting drive against the ILWU, has now been awarded a contract by the Bush administration to operate the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

As U.S. tanks roll over Baghdad, the rulers of the American empire are further emboldened to roll over any manifestation of dissent at home. More than 2,000 protesters who took to the streets in the Bay Area when the cruise missiles were launched against Iraq were rounded up and thrown behind bars. Now the protesters at the docks are given the kind of treatment regularly meted out to the black population of the Bay Area by the cops, like the notorious thugs in blue, the Riders.

Wielding the criminal attack on the World Trade Center to advance their own ambitions for total world domination, the U.S. imperialists’ “war on terror” took first aim at immigrants of Near Eastern and South Asian descent. Then they declared that anyone the imperial president deems to be an “enemy combatant” can be stripped of all constitutional rights and effectively disappeared.

This can and must be fought! Last February 9, ILWU Local 10 was the core of a united-front protest initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee and Bay Area Labor Black League in defense of immigrant rights and in opposition to the police-state USA-Patriot Act and Maritime Security Act (MSA). The cop attack on ILWU members and antiwar protesters is the type of “security” the MSA was designed to enforce, keeping the ports working for capitalist profit and the imperialist military machine. Labor’s enormous social power must be brought to bear now to stop the government’s attack on the very right to protest the bloody colonial war and occupation of Iraq.

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Letters demanding that all charges against the antiwar protesters be dropped should be faxed to: Mayor Jerry Brown, (510) 238-4731, and Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff, (510) 271-5157.

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