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May 03, 2008

ILWU Strikes to End War

Thursday, on May 1st, the rank & file of the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) reminded us of what happens when Unions take leadership on big issues.  The ILWU's 25,000 members voted in January to take the action and walked out at 29 ports up and down the West Coast yesterday despite an arbiter's orders to report to work and despite some subsequent opposition from their own leadership.   They struck for the cause of ending the Iraq War.

From its May Day press release, the ILWU said:

We're standing up for America, we're supporting the troops, and we're telling politicians that it's time to end the Iraq war now!


Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren't loyal or accountable to any country.  For them it's all about making money. But longshore workers are different. We're loyal to America, and we won't stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed by a war that's bankrupting us to the tune of 3 trillion dollars. It's time to stand up, and we're doing our part today.

From an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Jack Heyman, an official with the ILWU says:

Well, yeah. We were really proud here on the West Coast, as far as the longshore union, the ILWU, making this stand, because it's part of our legacy, really, of standing up on principled issues. And this, I think, is the first strike ever-well, I would call it a stop work, work stoppage, whatever you want-workers withholding their labor in demand-and demanding an end to the war and immediate withdrawal of the troops. 

The protest was mild by some standards.  In many ports, there were no speeches, signs, or noisy protests.  Labor folks joined other anti-war protesters in Seattle and San Francisco but not too many other ports.  The strike only lasted one shift and impacted very little commerce.   

Heyman noted that the Union appealed for solidarity actions.  Some college teachers at a New York community college did some teach-ins with students and a few other Labor organizations took a few moments of silence BUT the port workers in Iraq struck in solidarity.  How amazing is that?

The ILWU struck despite the fact that they have a contract expiring in two months and they will have to negotiate with the Pacific Maritime Association, which filed a complaint about the work stoppage. 

They showed nice leadership.  An LA Times article has a quote from Nelson Lichtenstein, a UC Santa Barbara history professor, about the ILWU:

This union looks at itself as the vanguard of the working class on the West Coast, and I think there was a sense that they needed to participate in this event.

So, let's follow along with the ILWU next time.  Maybe more unions, more progressive organizations and churches could do another, quiet, thoughtful protest.   It's time to make it clear that we as a nation are against this war.

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 3, 2008 at 09:17 AM in National and International Politics, Taking Action | Permalink


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