Workers Vanguard No. 984

5 August 2011


Stop Operating Engineers Local 701 Scabbing!

ILWU Battles Union Busters

Longview, WA

JULY 29—The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Longview, Washington, is locked in battle with a union-busting international consortium intent on breaching the ILWU’s hold on loading and unloading ships on the West Coast. EGT Development—a joint venture between St. Louis-based Bunge North America, the Itochu Corporation (an import-export conglomerate based in Japan) and the South Korean shipping company Pan Ocean STX—is in the process of opening a new, $200 million export grain terminal in Longview, the first such facility built in the U.S. in over two decades. It wants to keep out the ILWU, which works grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest.

The 200-man ILWU Longview Local 21 has stepped up to the fight. On July 11, about 100 longshoremen and their supporters tore down a chain-link fence and occupied EGT grounds, demanding that the company honor its lease with the Port of Longview, which stipulates that it must hire Local 21 members. Some 90 protesters were arrested and later charged with trespassing. But that didn’t keep 600 more from around the region from blocking the railroad tracks in the dead of night on July 13-14 to stop a 107-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train carrying grain to the plant, now in its testing phase. The train was diverted to Vancouver, Washington, and BNSF suspended train service to the Longview terminal.

On July 22, a militant ILWU picket forced EGT itself to temporarily suspend operations. A major show of force by cops, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers three days later allowed the company to reopen the facility, with police escorting in 15-20 scabs. Seven unionists were arrested on the picket line, including one on felony charges. The cops have since forced the ILWU to limit the number of pickets at the EGT gate to 16, moving all other protesters to a site over a half mile away from the terminal. With some 100 ILWU members and supporters facing charges, Cowlitz County authorities are continuing their investigation and may charge others. Labor must demand: Drop the charges against the Longview unionists! Victory to the ILWU!

The Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, wrote to the Cowlitz County prosecutor protesting the arrests. The PDC noted in a letter of solidarity to Local 21: “Your fight has rightly won the support of trade unions throughout the region and of ILWU locals up and down the West Coast. The police attacks on your protests are a threat to unionized workers on the docks and throughout the U.S.” In addition to longshoremen from across the region, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Pulp and Paper Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other construction unions have participated in ILWU actions in Longview, which is located on the Columbia River. In early June, over 1,200 rallied in front of EGT Development’s headquarters in Portland, some 50 miles upriver from Longview.

The overwhelming support indicates the high stakes at play. Grain export is big business in the Pacific Northwest. More than 47 percent of U.S. wheat exports use the Columbia-Snake River gateway. With demand for grain expected to skyrocket in Asia, grain export terminals in most ports in the region are expanding. All these facilities operate with ILWU labor under the Northwest Grainhandler’s Agreement. If the ILWU loses in Longview, the defeat would establish a non-union beachhead for the profit-hungry international conglomerates.

“This is much bigger than Longview,” said Tacoma-based ILWU Local 23 president Scott Mason (Labor Notes, July 21). “It’s about organized labor and not having a Wisconsin.” In Wisconsin, tens of thousands of unionists and their supporters flooded the streets of the state capital earlier this year to fight a massive anti-labor assault on public workers by the Republican-led state government. But the union misleaders diverted this militancy into boosting the fortunes of the Democratic Party through a campaign to recall Republican officeholders.

It’s about time that the ILWU exercises its power, which lies in its ability to shut down the ports and interrupt the flow of cargo up and down the coast. But so far, the ILWU International has shown no sign of mobilizing coastwide in defense of its embattled Longview local, even as the union’s future is posed. To win this showdown, Local 21 must continue to look to their allies in the labor movement and not bank on the “good graces” of the port bosses, the Democratic Party politicians, who represent the class enemy, or the courts, which routinely issue anti-strike injunctions. Solidarity from the rail workers in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE) could be crucial to stopping the shipment of scab grain.

Backstabbing Treachery of IUOE Local 701

Despicably, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 701 is openly crossing the ILWU’s picket lines. This scabbing began after EGT Development announced on July 17 that it had signed a five-year deal with General Construction Company from Federal Way, Washington, to operate its Longview facility. IUOE Local 701, whose members work for General Construction, agreed to take 25 to 35 of the plant’s projected 50 jobs. The local had already been excluded from the Longview/Kelso Building & Construction Trades Council for refusing to sign a “letter of solidarity” committing them to abide by union jurisdictional lines and honor picket lines. Its scabbing at the grain terminal has been condemned by the Executive Board of the Oregon state AFL-CIO.

EGT Development is retailing the lie that Local 701’s scabbing is a union jurisdictional dispute. But the conglomerate has run a union-busting operation in Longview since they broke ground on the facility in 2009. The company hired a Minnesota-based general contractor that in turn hired subcontractors employing largely non-union labor. In January, gearing up to open the new terminal in time for the fall harvest, EGT Development sued the Port of Longview, arguing that they were not bound by the Port’s agreement with the ILWU. EGT lawyers boast that they will save $1 million in operating costs by refusing to hire ILWU members.

EGT was in negotiations with the ILWU until talks broke down earlier this year over the issue of overtime pay for 12-hour shifts. The ILWU’s longshore contract with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) limits work to ten hours, with overtime paid after eight. The union’s dispatch system, intended to share available work equitably, allows workers to vary their jobs day-to-day. This is a real safety issue, as monotonous and dangerous work on bulk and break-bulk cargo is the bread and butter of the small ILWU locals in the region. The ILWU must stand firm: No substandard contracts! The work at Longview must be covered by the standard Grainhandler’s Agreement!

In using another union as a tool for its union-busting, EGT is following a playbook already tested by East Coast shipping bosses. In 1993, the labor-hating Holt family hired Teamsters to replace the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) at the Holts’ Gloucester City terminal on the Delaware River near Philadelphia. After the AFL-CIO ruled that the Teamsters had no jurisdiction, the Gloucester local morphed into an out-and-out company union. Last year, Del Monte Co., notorious for union-busting worldwide, tore up its contract with the ILA (despite the union’s offer of massive concessions) and moved its operation to the Gloucester terminal under the jurisdiction of the company’s “Independent Dock Workers Local 1.”

In response, last September ILA members shut down docks in Philly and the New York/New Jersey area in a two-day protest. The New York Shipping Association then slapped the ILA with a lawsuit demanding over $5 million in “damages” for the port shutdown (see “ILA Under Attack Over Strike to Save Jobs,” WV No. 971, 7 January). Likewise in Charleston, South Carolina, Ports America and the SSA stevedoring firm are suing ILA Local 1422 after longshoremen walked off the job in May to protest the use of non-union labor on the docks. The ILWU’s Local 10 in the Bay Area and its president Richard Mead are facing a similar lawsuit from the PMA, which is demanding compensation for losses incurred when Local 10 members overwhelmingly stayed away from work on April 4 to support Wisconsin workers. This was the only labor action on that supposed “national day of action” (see “All Labor Must Defend ILWU Local 10!” WV No. 979, 29 April). The ILWU’s Dispatcher has yet to even mention the suit against Local 10.

EGT Development’s federal court suit against the Port of Longview won’t be heard until next year. But in the meantime, the Port has asked a judge to order EGT to honor its lease and hire Local 21 labor. The ILWU has made itself a party to the suit on the side of the Port. Workers should be under no illusion that the courts are on labor’s side. The judicial system is an integral part of the repressive apparatus of a state that exists only to defend the interests of the ruling class—the tiny minority that owns industry and lives off the toil of working people. Just as the cops have arrested Longview ILWUers seeking to defend their livelihoods, so too will the courts enforce capitalist “law and order” against labor. It is through victory on the picket line that the ILWU will prevail.

The Poison of Protectionism

Obscuring the irreconcilable class divide between labor and its exploiters and their state is at the heart of the trade-union bureaucrats’ class-collaborationist policies. To this end, they portray Longview as one united “community,” up against gigantic multinational corporations that give away “local” jobs to people from elsewhere while the small port town struggles with an unemployment rate of 12-14 percent.

Protesters at ILWU actions have carried signs reading, “Employ Local Workers for Local Jobs.” But the operating engineers who are scabbing on Local 21 are local workers, and unionized ones at that! In announcing its scab deal, EGT boasted: “We’re willing to hire union labor, and we got what we think is a good agreement with General Construction. Local, family-wage jobs is a really good news story.”

The port bosses already try to play one longshore local against another in the competition for work. This is the road to ruin for the multiracial ILWU, whose solidarity hinges on its coastwide membership. “Local workers for local jobs” is but an echo of the protectionist poison of “American jobs for American workers” with which the labor misleaders undermine class struggle, preaching the lie that workers in the U.S. have common interests with American-based corporations and the U.S. imperialist state that defends capitalist interests.

But anyone who follows the red-white-and-blue jingoists at the top of the AFL-CIO into thinking they will get a better deal from an “American” or “local” company should take a hard look at Wal-Mart, General Motors or…General Construction. Corporations, be they U.S.-based entities or international conglomerates, are in business only to make a profit for their shareholders from the sweat and blood of those they employ. The true allies of workers here are not the “local” bosses, but fellow workers across the continent and around the world.

The poison of protectionism pits U.S. workers against their class brothers and sisters around the world, thereby helping to fuel the anti-immigrant bigotry that has been a key factor in undermining union power. The longshore unions on both coasts have become isolated bastions of organized labor amid a sea of unorganized and largely immigrant port truckers as well as non-union intermodal yard workers and inland warehouse workers. The situation cries out for a massive campaign to organize these unorganized workers into solid industrial unions, including a national union of all port workers. To wage such a struggle, the unions must champion the rights of all foreign-born workers employed in the ports. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!

A new leadership of the labor movement, imbued with the program of working-class independence from the bourgeois state, can only be forged in the crucible of such class struggle. That leadership will be the militant advocate of a workers party that fights for a workers government, built in intransigent opposition to all the parties of the capitalist class. It will arm workers with the understanding that their historic interests lie in freeing humanity from the anarchy and misery of an economic system based on production for profit instead of human need.