FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Class Struggle on the Waterfront

With less than a month’s time with which to plan, Occupy Portland set out early Monday morning to shutdown the Port of Portland.  Braving the morning’s freezing fog, protesters began arriving at Kelly Point Park around 6 a.m. for a final staging before breaking into two groups to march on the port.  A group of 300 or so protesters were directed to head to Terminal 6, the port’s busiest terminal, while another 200 or so headed to Terminal 5.

Heading to Terminal 5, I encountered riot police having already established a line upon arrival.  Undeterred, protesters had also already begun their community picket, with some stationed at the initial entrance to the terminal, while others gathered a few hundred yards down the road at the terminal gate.  Spirits were high, as picketers circled in the dusk to chants of “The Port of Portland!  Shut it down!  The whole West Coast!  Shut it down! The whole damn system.  Shut it down!”

By 7:30 a.m., the police abandoned their line.  A few confrontations between picketers and truckers followed in the intervening hours, with those seeking access blocked.  Reports from Terminal 6 indicated that ILWU workers there were being allowed access to the port, as had been planned, although many had instead chosen to join the picket.

By 10 a.m., confirmation came that the Terminals 5 and 6 had been shutdown.  Many protesters, exhausted from the early wake-up and bitter temperatures, soon dispersed, but a solid core remained to stand vigil at the shuttered terminal gates.  Food was brought to the picketers throughout the day from community supporters, including at least one ILWU family member.

Intermittent confrontations also continued through the day between picketers and truckers, as some picketers sought to expand the blockade to a material depot located adjacent to Terminal 5.  Most confrontations were resolved in a matter of minutes, although others took longer as consensus was sought on whether to allow passage on a near case-by-case basis.  In the end, the port terminal remained blockaded, while all other traffic was allowed to continue.

Around 4 p.m. protesters began to reassemble for a planned picket of the evening shift change.  Soon after, confirmation arrived that the port had already cancelled all evening work at both Terminal 5 and 6.  The decision was then made to move on Terminal 4.  Occupiers quickly formed a mass caravan along the three-mile route leading to Terminal 4.  All those without rides were taken to the terminal, as they had been throughout the day, by one of two shuttles secured for the day’s action.

Within an hour of establishing a picket at Terminal 4, word came that the terminal had been shutdown, its ILWU workforce sent home with four hours pay.  Seeking to capitalize on the momentum, 400 or so protester began a march on the adjoining Schnitzer Steel terminal, owned by a private company employing both ILWU and non-union workers.  Pickets were established at both Schnitzer terminal entrances and the wait commenced for an arbitrator to arrive and rule whether the pickets created unsafe working conditions, thus requiring the ILWU workers to be sent home.

After holding the picket line for nearly two hours, it was clear that the information regarding the arbitrator was inaccurate, as one had yet to arrive.  All the while, reports continued to come from rank and file ILWU workers inside the plant indicating that they stood by the action occurring outside.  In the process of deciding what to do next, three ILWU Local 8 officials arrived to try to convince the picketers to go home, as they claimed the picket threatened the job security of the ILWU workers at the notoriously anti-union facility.  As one ILWU Local 8 official pleaded with the Occupy picketers, “We support you.  We support what you are doing and what you have done today.  But, we just don’t want you here at Schnitzer.”

As the debate dragged on over whether to maintain the picket and wait for an arbitrator, or pack-up, the numbers steadily began to dwindle.  Eventually, it became clear that even if consensus were to be reached to maintain the picket there would simply be insufficient numbers.  Thus, the picketers disbanded and victory was hastily declared with having shutdown three port terminals on the day.  A day of action starting in the wee hours of the morning had finally drawn to a close at 10 p.m.

In all, the Occupy Portland-led shutdown of three port terminals ultimately blocked nearly 400 longshoremen from working on Monday, and extracted an unknown financial toll on the port’s operators and corporate clients.  It effectively brought the spirit of Occupy to the waterfront.  But Occupy Portland’s show of force was not as overwhelming as the results perhaps indicate.  Without a doubt, the day’s success was substantially aided by the police response.  After a police crackdown the previous weekend only led to a defiant protest meandering through the downtown core on a Saturday night, the police decided to lower their profile for the Monday ports action.  After their initial show of force in the morning, the police keep their distance.  This allowed the 500 or so protesters to better maximize their numbers, for without having to worry about outmaneuvering the cops all focus could remain on maintaining pickets.

The port shutdown was also not flawless in its execution, leaving lessons abound for future actions.  Picketers at Terminal 5, for one, repeatedly obstructed non-port workers and remained convinced much of the day of the existence of a phantom back entrance into the terminal.  This confusion over the port’s physical layout and the day’s intended targets at times created a degree of irrationality and chaos.  But such disorder ought not to be of great surprise, given the action’s ambitious aim and limited organizing time.

Thus despite the day’s problems, it was indeed a great success.  Occupy Portland set out with the intent to shutdown Terminals 5 and 6, and ended up not only shuttering the both, but also a night shift at a third terminal.  And despite the claims made prior that the action did not have the support of the ILWU rank and file, its success was ultimately due to the fact that the union longshoremen chose not to cross the community picket line.  And so even though the whole West coast was not shut down on Monday, and though the system of capital remains entrenched, so, too, does Occupy, with Occupy Portland maintaining a prominent role in the movement.

Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com.

 

More articles by:

Ben Schreiner is the author of A People’s Dictionary to the ‘Exceptional Nation’.  He may be reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com or via his blog.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail