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SF ILWU Local 10 Meeting Debates War

by Jack Heyman ILWU Local 10 Executive Board

At the ILWU Local 10 membership meeting on Sept. 20th in San Francisco, we had an extensive discussion on Bush's declared "war on terrorism", Congress' rubber stamp approval and how it will affect longshore unions. At the end of the discussion, Local 10 voted overwhelmingly to send a letter to Congresswoman Barbara Lee commending her for her courageous sole vote against the war. In a sense, it was a workers' referendum on the undefined, unlimited "war against terrorism".

It began with a report on port security and those measures being considered on Capitol Hill in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. PMA, other employer associations and anti-union politicians in Washington have been trying for years to impose restrictive rules on longshore workers, beginning with requiring sweeping background checks and review of arrest records before being allowed to work on the docks. The union hiring hall be damned! In the past they've billed it as part of "drug war". It's been a difficult political fight for unions but to date we've been able to beat back these anti-labor bills. Now, in the bipartisan fever pitch of the "war against terrorism" there is a renewed effort to impose these totalitarian measures, like a ghoul rising from the tomb.

It couldn't happen at a worse time with the most critical contract negotiations in years just around the bend. PMA has been making noise about going after our hiring hall, the backbone of our union's strength, and eliminating jobs and jurisdiction through electronic technology. Waterfront employers have been trying for years to shackle us with the Rail Labor Act, which would effectively deny our right to strike. Without that basic trade union right, labor has NO negotiating leverage, NO real collective bargaining. The employers know that. Have no doubt that they will opportunistically-- given the present hysterical atmosphere of "national security and the fight against terrorism"-- try to take away our fundamental trade union rights. Instead of defending the Charleston 5, we'll be waging a struggle to defend the rights of all American longshoremen. Cooler heads must prevail.

Who is a "national security risk"? That is a question that was used unsuccessfully by employers and the government to divide the ILWU. They tried to deport ILWU President Harry Bridges four times, but to no avail because the ILWU rank and file stood solidly against that redbaiting witchhunt. Former ILWU President Jimmy Herman, when he was a ship clerk, was banned from working on the Army dock because he was considered a "security risk". He had headed up the Committee Against Waterfront Screening during the repressive, anti-communist McCarthy period in order to defend longshoremen's and seamen's right to employment in the maritime industry. If you opposed the war in Vietnam or criticized the "war for oil" in Iraq are you a "security risk" and banned from the docks? We must not allow our union members to be victimized under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Another question raised during the discussion was what could so motivate these suicidal attacks. The answer: The U.S. government's blind support of bloody Israeli policies which have humiliatingly forced Palestinians into squalid refugee camps, while denying their right to sovereignty and resulting in the deaths of thousands. And the point was made that while the deaths of 5,000 innocent civilians in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center is totally unjustifiable, 5,000 children die every day in Iraq because of the U.S. blockade.

So, who will be the targets of a U.S. war against terrorism besides Osama bin Laden, the terrorist monster whose Al Qaeda network was trained and financed by the CIA in the war against Soviet troops who were supporting a secular government in Afghanistan. Will the PLO be included in the Bush's "terrorist hit list", as is demanded by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, the slaughterer of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla? That will surely unite the entire Arab and Muslim world against the U.S. Will the IRA nationalists be on the terrorist list? That would be opposed by Irish-Americans. How about the Basque separatists in Spain? The FARC guerrillas in Colombia fighting an entrenched oligarchy? And let's not forget who defines a "terrorist"? In the 1776 War of Independence the British considered the American guerrilla fighters terrorists.

Don't let the "war against terrorism" being fanned by maritime employers and the bogus Bush administration be used to deny our civil liberties, civil rights and trade union rights.

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