Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The ILWU’s May Day Strike

On Thursday, May 1, the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) staged a one-day (one shift, actually) walkout as a protest against the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The shutdown affected ports up and down the West Coast, from San Pedro, California, to Seattle, Washington.

Although the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association) had warned the ILWU leadership that an “unauthorized” strike such as this was illegal, and that any rank-and-file dockworker who participated could be punished with a fine, suspension or even termination, the one-shift shutdown went off as planned and was deemed a resounding success.  Thousands of workers defied management and failed to show up for the morning shift, resulting in port traffic coming to a standstill.

Despite the threats, no one really expects the port authorities to take any disciplinary action against ILWU members.  In fact, if any union member is even wrist-slapped, it will be genuine shock.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is that, “illegal” or not, the 8-hour shutdown didn’t do any serious damage to the operation.  There are, according to the PMA, 10,000 cargo containers loaded or unloaded during a typical day-shift, up and down the West Coast; and while that seems like a lot, with the afternoon shift reporting for work, as scheduled, and the loading and unloading of cargo resuming, the shortages can be made up in a hurry.

The second reason is a bit trickier.  Simply put, the Longshoremen are the most powerful, cohesive and, in truth, respected labor union in the United States.  You don’t take them on unless the stakes are incredibly high, or you absolutely have no choice.  The boys at the Maritime Association will be prudent; they will not insist on showing who’s boss.

The ILWU has always been recognized as hard-working and well-compensated.  Indeed, by union standards, the West Coast longshoremen have one of the sweetest deals in blue-collar America.  Whenever they go on strike over a contract dispute (which doesn’t happen often), they remain unified and committed, and are not to be messed with.  These people take their strikes very seriously.  That’s why you never hear of any scab activity during an ILWU dispute.

Nobody crosses an ILWU picket line, not unless he wants to pick his teeth up off the floor or find his car on fire.  Admittedly, some will call this “intimidation”; the Longshoremen prefer to think of it as “solidarity.”  And, unlike other unions, when there’s a strike or a lockout, you don’t see management bringing in replacement workers.  That doesn’t happen on the docks.  The PMA simply won’t take on that kind of trouble.

One huge advantage the ILWU has over other unions (particularly those affiliated with manufacturing industries), is that their jobs are totally locked in.  Not only can the ports not be moved, they can’t be circumvented.  By contrast, factories are portable; factories get moved every day (to the Sun Belt, the Deep South, Mexico, Malaysia or elsewhere).  As a consequence, manufacturing unions remain extremely vulnerable to management pressure.  Not so the Longshoremen.  And out of this iron-clad job security comes a sense of worker solidarity and prestige unmatched by any union in America.

But the larger story here is that an American labor union actually staged an anti-war protest.  That’s big news.  After all, even though they led the charge when it came to women’s rights, the abolition of child labor and the establishment of a living wage, labor unions aren’t exactly renowned for holding anti-war demonstrations.  In fact, the opposite has often been the case.

During the Vietnam war, for example, there were several public demonstrations by union members against the anti-war protesters.  The Teamsters, steel and construction workers, trade guilds, etc. . . . .these guys were, for the most part, unabashed, flag-waving patriots who viewed the radical peace movement as a form of “treason.”  And we can’t forget that those same Teamies, with Jackie Presser as president, endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980.

To be fair, however, it should be noted that the ILWU has a unique history, one that fits well with an anti-war, anti-imperialist ideology.  The former president and spiritual leader of the Longshoremen was the legendary Harry Bridges, whom the U.S. government attempted, unsuccessfully, to deport (he was Australian), on the grounds that he was a Communist and a subversive.  Bridges is still revered in West Coast labor circles.

In any event, the ILWU deserves enormous credit.  It’s astonishing and wildly encouraging that a West Coast labor union would show more guts and determination than the U.S. Congress, in publicly defying a Republican administration.

Well done, my brothers.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail