Protest Police Attack on Port Workers in Rotterdam!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 811, 10 October 2003.

We print below a translation of a 7 October statement issued by the Committee for Social Defense (KfsV), the legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany, section of the International Communist League.

On September 29, police commandos brutally attacked a demonstration of more than 8,000 port workers from the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden and Romania, who were protesting in Rotterdam against the planned European Union (EU)-wide introduction of the anti-union Port Package. Dockers from all the European countries joined together against their common enemy: the international shipping companies and the capitalist EU. The militant protests against the Port Package potentially pose a defense against the attacks on the social gains of the working class which are taking place throughout Europe, like the SPD [Social Democratic Party]-Green government’s Agenda 2010 in Germany.

This police attack was the bosses’ bloody response to this powerful international action by the dock workers unions. In fact, the site planned for the final rally was a police trap: the Wilhelmina Pier is surrounded by water on three sides, and the only exit was sealed off by the police as soon as most of the Rotterdam workers had left the rally. The workers from other countries and their buses were encircled. Mounted police then stormed the workers’ lines over and over again, swinging their clubs and beating the workers bloody. Workers who tried to escape were attacked from behind; the police always aimed at their heads. Several workers were left lying unconscious on the ground. At least three —one worker from Hamburg, one from Bremerhaven and one from France—required hospital treatment. Although there are no exact figures, according to the ETF (European Transport Union Federation) 26 port workers, mainly from France and Belgium, were arrested and some of them were injured. Two days later, at least one French worker was still in jail. An injury to one is an injury to all!

The Committee for Social Defense calls on trade unions and all organizations of the workers movement and the international left to send protest statements to the Interior Ministry of the Netherlands! Organize union protest meetings demanding the immediate release of all the port workers and that all the charges against demonstrators be dropped! Protest the bloody police attack on the demonstrators against the Port Package!

It is extremely ominous that the capitalists dare to have their police frontally attack a demonstration of workers from across Europe in a strategic industry. Here was a display of social power. Not only Rotterdam, the largest harbor in Europe, was shut down on this day. Antwerp, right around the corner from Rotterdam, was also struck, and on the Belgian-French coast down as far as Rouen, harbors were closed. From the start, police, including mounted police, were at the assembly point, and there were repeated provocations. The Belgian workers, dressed in bright orange and the best-organized of all the contingents, thought correctly that the police had no business being in the demo and defended themselves. The bosses and their newspapers are now particularly going after the militant Belgian port workers, whom they are smearing as violent. They want to play off the German against the Belgian against the French workers, so that tomorrow, if the bosses can’t get their ship unloaded in Antwerp because the workers there are striking against the Port Package, they can divert the ship to Hamburg or Rotterdam!

Even a half year after the protests against the Port Package at the beginning of March in Brussels, the bosses are still mad with rage over those militant international workers’ protests. The attack in Rotterdam was also an act of revenge for the port workers’ sacrilege in trying to storm the EU headquarters in Brussels. Down with the nationalist campaign against our Belgian class brothers!

A representative of the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) received thunderous applause at the demonstration when he reported about the struggle of the longshore workers against the lockout and the Bush government. In April this year at the Oakland port, ILWU members and antiwar demonstrators were the target of a brutal police attack, where demonstrators and dock workers who were standing nearby were sprayed with wooden bullets and concussion grenades. In early January 2000, hundreds of police attacked picket lines of the International Longshoremen’s Association in Charleston, South Carolina, in an attempt to smash the union. Afterwards five unionists, the Charleston Five, faced—but beat back—criminal charges for defending their union.

The police attacks in Oakland, Charleston and Rotterdam are in line with the bloody attacks on the anti-globalization protests—first in Göteborg in 2001, where police first shot youth and unionists in the back and the courts then sent the protesters to jail, and then later that year in Genoa, where the leftist youth Carlos Giuliani was assassinated outright on the street and hundreds of demonstrators were severely injured. As we warned then, this was a bloody message from the capitalists of Europe as to how they will deal with anyone who in some way resists their racist, anti-union Fortress Europe and their imperialist world order. And that’s been brutally confirmed—this police terror is ultimately aimed against the unions, which stand in the way of the unlimited greed of the bosses for more and more profit. The attack showed very clearly what the role and task of the police are as the core of the capitalist state: they are the armed fist of the class enemy against the workers movement. They have absolutely no business in the workers movement: Cops out of the unions!

This attack is intended to strangle any union resistance to the Port Package, which consists of a series of new EU regulations to make possible, among other things, “self-handling.” The largely unorganized, much more poorly paid seamen—and no longer the longshore workers—are to deal with the loading and unloading of ships in the harbors. Apart from that, the “liberalization measures” will help to further increase the profits of the harbor bosses by making it easier for companies paying low wages to compete with those that still have to pay union rates, thus lowering the wages of all port workers. A speaker from Liverpool reported that there are at most a handful of organized dock workers left there after the union got smashed by the bosses’ attacks. In the British Isles, these regulations are already in force and the pace of work has led to one of the highest accident rates of all the European ports.

A speaker from the Romanian seamen explained at the final rally in Rotterdam: “Harbor workers and seamen stand together. We won’t allow them to play us off against each other.” This was greeted with applause. The slogan put forward by the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) leadership, “Harbor work for harbor workers,” spurns the harbor workers’ logical allies, seamen and transport workers. It is very important to sharply oppose any attempt to turn the foreign-flag seamen into scapegoats, as has occurred over and over again at protests against the Port Package. The same thing applies to campaigns against “Asian living standards.” Such a protectionist program divides the workers along national lines. It is in the direct interest of the port workers to fight for everyone who loads and unloads ships to get the highest possible union wage, regardless of which country he comes from or who he works for. Equal pay for equal work!

To prevent harbor workers and seamen from being played off against each other, the harbor workers must fight for union wages for the seamen, who generally have less power and are unorganized, wretchedly paid and exposed to bad working conditions. The annual one-week ITF boycott of low-wage ships achieves important improvements for some seamen, but it must be extended and joined with the Port Package protests, instead of separating them from the Port Package protests, as the ITF tops do. The port workers must defend the seamen in a struggle for union wages and union rights! For a united struggle to organize dockers, seamen, transport workers, day laborers and others working the harbor into industrial unions! For internationalist class struggle! Down with the racist, anti-union Fortress Europe! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!

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Please fax protest statements with the demand for the release of all workers and the dropping of all charges to the Interior Ministry of the Netherlands, fax: 011-31-70-363-91-53.

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