Action relates to union battle over Longview terminal – though union itself has disowned the planned shutdown
By Adam Gabbatt
9 December 2011 19.41 EST
The Occupy movement will attempt to shut down all the major ports on the west coast of the US in support of a union battle in Longview, Washington, despite the union opposing the action.
Thousands of protesters from various west coast occupations are expected to take part on Monday 12 December. The action is intended to support a long-running International Longshore Workers’ Union (ILWU) fight to prevent a terminal operator using workers from a different union.
However, a row has broken out in advance of the shutdown, with the ILWU asking Occupy protesters to call off the action.
Occupy Oakland, which organised a “general strike” and shut down Oakland’s port in early November, has partnered with occupations including Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tacoma and Seattle in a bid to stop all port activity on America’s west coast.
Protesters will march to port terminals and create picket lines in the same way Occupy Oakland did last month, aware that local ILWU arbitrators are then likely to rule that longshore workers should not cross the lines for safety reasons.
“The West Coast ports will be blockaded on December 12th in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers struggles against EGT and Goldman Sachs,” the west coast port shutdown website says.
EGT Development built and operates a terminal at Longview port in Washington, however the ILWU says the company has reneged on a Port of Longview contract that specified only ILWU labour could be used at the site. On 8 September hundreds of ILWU members stormed the terminal, a day after blocking railroads so grain could not reach Longview.
Despite the apparently common interests, the ILWU has criticised Occupy protesters’ plans, with a senior figure accusing them of being “disrespectful, arrogant and misguided”.
Craig Merrilees, communications director at the ILWU, told the Guardian that the union was “not supporting that at all”.
“[Occupy organisers] have been very disrespectful of the democratic decision-making process in the union and deliberately went around that process to call their own action without consulting workers,” Merrilees said.
“It’s the second time they’ve done it. The first time they had very little support from workers in their so-called general strike [the Occupy Oakland action on 2 November].
“This is being promoted by a group of people who apparently think they can call general strikes and workplace shutdowns without talking to workers and without involving the unions.”
Merrilees’s comments come after the Port of Oakland took out a full-page advertisement in the Oakland Tribune to ask protesters not to shut down the ports, saying it would “hurt working people and our economy”.
Merrilees said no one had contacted the ILWU to consult it over the shutdown, which he said was a “suicidal strategy for the Occupy group, that’s being driven by extremists that are driving away allies and marginalising the movement”.
While the ILWU “supports the goals of the Occupy movement to call attention to the abuse on Wall Street and growing inequality”, Merrilees said, the 12 December shutdown was “alienating the allies and broad support that Occupy needs among the general public”.
He added that “most workers are really concerned about this”.
Protesters involved in planning the 12 December shutdown say they do have the support of rank-and-file union members – if not the ILWU leadership. Jared Lorio, who will take part, said that while the ILWU was not supporting the action, “nothing else could really be expected”.
“Legally they can’t be seen to support it as an organisation, as they are not in contract negotiations at the moment,” Lorio said.
“This action is in support of the longshoremen, not in support of the union itself as an organisation. That is a big distinction, on our part and theirs.”
Lorio said the lack of leadership support did not detract from the 12 December action. “I personally know for a fact that we do have rank-and-file support from longshoremen and the communities affected by the action.
“[The lack of support from the ILWU] sheds light on the fact that our unions have been hamstrung and made ineffective by laws designed to curtail workers organising for their rights to better pay and conditions in this country,” Lorio said.
Stan Woods, an ILWU member who supports the port shutdown, said he was “sorry [union leadership] had taken that stance” but even without their backing it was likely rank-and-file workers would honour picket lines.
Asked about Merrilees’s statement that most workers were concerned about the action, Woods said: “The ones I’ve spoke to aren’t, the ones I’ve spoke to are strongly in support of the Occupy movement.
“I guess we’ll see on December 12th.”
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