Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Longshore Union Faces the Grain Monopolies


The Oregonian has reported grain talks between the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers’ Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) are heating up.  An “epic showdown” is looming because workers in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver won’t accept major concessions.

The contract expired September 30 when the grain giants had threatened to lock out longshoremen and hire scabs. A port shutdown was averted only because the employers failed to file required legal paperwork in time, forcing an extension until Oct. 24.  Now negotiations are set to resume Oct. 29, for the first time with a federal mediator. Simultaneously, in another proceeding the ILWU is being hit with Obama’s National Labor Relations Board suing the union in federal court for violating a judges’ order, the ostensible crime:  defending the union’s container terminal contract. The Oregonian editorial (Oct. 2, 2012) charges the union with “temper tantrums” for defending contract rights.

The International Business Times (Sept. 4, 2012) reports “Big Grain Companies Reap Profits As Global Food Prices Soar and Poor Go Hungry”. The world’s four largest grain companies–Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus– known as the “ABCDs” who collectively control 75 to 90 % of global grain trade are raking in billions during a worldwide food crisis. (Bunge owns EGT ‘s Longview terminal with partners.)

In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, grain monopolies are boasting record profits, yet they’re demanding major concessions from the longshoremen who do the dangerous work of loading ships. So, who’s the real culprit?

A year ago, members of ILWU protested EGT’s attempt to break their union and impose concessions. Scores were jailed for blocking grain trains including President McEllrath who was following the will of the membership. Coastwide protests occurred on his jailing Oct. 5.

In February, state police and an armed Coast Guard cutter were deployed to escort a grain ship through picket lines at EGT and stop mass protests by ILWU members, labor supporters and Occupy activists caravanning from Portland, the Bay Area and Puget Sound. Under the threat of overwhelming police and military forces, including the Obama administration, union officials succumbed. The ranks succeeded in defending their union jurisdiction but a hugely concessionary contract was imposed without a union membership vote, brokered by Washington’s Democrat Governor Gregoire.

So now, the other profit-bloated grain companies want the huge EGT concessions that the union ranks fought against. Following ILWU’s democratic tradition, a dozen members and retirees with nearly 300 combined years on the waterfront signed a leaflet which opposed the contract. (EGT-Longview Longshore Contract – Worst Ever!) Their experience of organizing dock protests goes back to the 1978 refusal of Oakland longshoremen to load bombs for the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile.

The militant 1934 West Coast maritime strike, like other strikes across the country, built the trade union movement which raised standards for all working people—including those not in unions– on wages, safe working conditions and social benefits. Unions fought for and won social security, unemployment insurance and medicare. Now the ILWU is on the front line defending all labor.

Last year when Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker was attacking public workers, ILWU Local 10 protested by shutting down Bay Area ports. On May Day 2008, ILWU closed West Coast ports to demand an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And in 1984, longshoremen, protesting apartheid, organized a boycott in San Francisco of a ship from South Africa.

Were these “temper tantrums”? Are these the actions of “greedy workers”? Nelson Mandela commended the ILWU for sparking the U.S. anti-apartheid movement. For these solidarity actions, longshore workers were docked pay, but that did not deter them from implementing their time-honored slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Now in Portland and other Northwest ports, the ILWU is faced with an employer-imposed contract or lockout backed by a massive police and Coast Guard mobilization. And in Vancouver, Washington the strikebreaking agency Gettier is already stationed at United Grain. This is the same outfit in 2010 that was successfully used to load scab borax in the Mojave Desert in California during a lockout of ILWU miners by the global Rio Tinto mining conglomerate.

Will intimidation by profiteering grain exporters and their government backers prevail now, or will union solidarity and ILWU unity against EGT concessions win out?

The stakes are high for all working people.

Jack Heyman, a retired longshoreman from Oakland, chairs the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee and writes about labor and politics.


Jack Heyman, a retired longshoreman, is a member of the Labor Action to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation wasted $32.2 million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians