2005 Longshore Caucus Report
by ILWU Local 10 Caucus Delegate Jack Heyman #8780
I'M WRITING MY Caucus delegate's report since I won't be at the June
membership meeting when Caucus reports will be given. I'll be
attending my daughter's graduation at UCLA, thanks in part to the ILWU
scholarships awarded her.
The Longshore Caucus was held in April for the first time in plush Palm
Springs, in the desert of Southern California, supposedly because of a
possible strike by hotel workers in San Francisco. Tacoma Local 23
submitted a resolution, which passed unanimously, to stop that
practise and return to holding Caucuses in San Francisco except during
Convention years when it is rotated to major ILWU ports.
In another first, the main document, Coast Committee Report contained
no mention of the International Officers' and Coast Committee's "New
Direction" or partnership with PMA, which throws over the side the
militant union principles which built the ILWU and made it strong.
Maybe they realized that "partnership" is not going over so well with
longshore workers who struggled through the bitter '02 contract fight
against the employers' lock out and Taft-Hartley shackle, as they
gutted our jurisdiction and imposed a 6 year concessionary agreement. A
partner's got your back. PMA's got a knife in your back.
Some of the big concerns were over the contract and contract
enforcement by union officers. Local 10 submitted a resolution on the
Skill III grievance. Some employers are not paying the agreed-upon hour
overtime for early starts for 9.43 equipment operators. In a referral
from Local 13, Coast Arbitrator John Kagel, unfairly ruled that the
grievance was submitted in an "untimely" fashion without even dealing
with the merits of the case. Local 10's resolution to pursue justice
for Skill III operators passed.
The question of the third Coast Committeeman came up. Some delegates
criticized the Coast Committe for a lack of communication and
accountability to members making Coast referrals or appeals to the
Coast Arbitrator. Others felt that they may be "overburdened" with
referrals, conferences and overseas trips. Still others wanted a third
Coast Committeeman to ensure proper representation. There were
questions of which area the "third man" would come from and of the
funding. So in their wisdom it was referred to the Coast Committee to
Key to the survival of any union is organizing and the ILWU's Longshore
Division is no different. We need to organize satellite yards,
intermodal yards and container freight stations in near dock
facilities. Organizing Director Peter Olney gave an informative report.
He pointed out that ILWU solidarity has helped win other workers'
struggles, like the Charleston 5. Now it's time, he says, "to call in
our chips", with workers internationally to organize a new "March
Inland" like our Warehouse Division's organizing drive at Diamond
Walnut in Sacramento.
In the richest country in the world, it was reported that 81 million
Americans are without full health care coverage. Health care is a
right. ILWU with the AFL-CIO should be fighting for national health
care for all. As health care costs are skyrocketing, PMA will be
looking to cut our health care benefits and increase co-pay for us. It
has already happened to other unions. Our benefits, earned by our
labor?pensions, health and welfare-- are some of the best plans, but
they are not secure. When the courts can rule that United Airlines
doesn't have to honor the defined pension benefit of the machinists
union labor agreement, then every union pension is at risk of being
stolen by employers and the court. Labor unity of action?in the
streets and on the job-- can defend union benefits.
Port security, one of the most instructive reports, revealed that
Horizon Shipping (Maersk) CEO Chuck Raymond boasted about using port
security to go after unions. The Port Security report stated that
Democrats are "shifting their support towards the Republican agenda".
Yet, our officers continue to uncritically support the Democrat Party
and to collaborate with government "port security" agencies against
maritime workers. It's clear that workers need their own party, a
workers party, to represent their interests and to stop government
repression. Both Democrats and Republican politicians see "port
security" as a hammer to replace the hiring hall, the basis of union
power, with a company-controlled telephone dispatch. Job actions,
strikes, pickets and other protests in ports will be made illegal. They
plan intrusive background checks to screen workers from the waterfront.
It's the employers' dream and the unions' nightmare.
The paralysis of the Coast Committee and International Officers,
petrified by the "national security" bogeyman since 9/11, is obvious.
Under their "leadership" fear dominated the '02 longshore contract
1) For the first time no Caucus or rank-and-file strike authorization
vote to fortify the negotiating committee in bargaining was ever taken.
2) After two months of working under the old, expired contract, the
union refused to extend the contract, but no job actions were
3) The leadership made no appeal for international labor solidarity
4) When PMA moved to impose a 6 year, concessionary contract, ILWU
officials worked overtime to sell it as a "victory", simpy because the
In 2003, when Oakland cops shot longshoremen and antiwar demonstrators
with impunity and no port shutdown was organized to protest this bloody
government atrocity, it gave a green light for the government to
implement TWIC ID cards, surveillance cameras in workers' breakrooms,
the armed militarization of ports and the banning of strikes and
pickets. ILWU has a proud history of opposing government repression of
workers for phony "national security" reasons. Now, the illusory ILWU
policy is to embrace "port security" in order to influence it.
Union action on the docks can stop company/government attacks. That's
our history on the West Coast. ILWU Canadian longshore locals are
threatening strike action if the government imposes intrusive
background checks. The recent spontaneous rank-and-file action by San
Francisco longshore workers in solidarity with our brothers arrested on
a passenger ship picket line in Alaska is another example of union
power. However, solidarity actions should have been coordinated by the
Coast Committee to show the full power of our coastwide union to defend
ILWU jurisdiction and our hiring hall.
Another hot topic was the Public Relations Report. It seems that ever
since the last contract fight, ILWU officials have become obsessed with
PR. One delegate even claimed that PR replaces job action against
employers. Others say that by electing Democrat wannabee Republican
politicians we can beat PMA. But workers' strength lies at the point of
production, on the docks, and in mobilizing the labor movement in mass
solidarity actions in the streets against government and employer
attacks. The ILWU has a good public image, hard-earned over the years
for fighting against racism, war and government oppression and
organizing exemplary labor solidarity actions. We don't need to pay for
high-priced public relations outfits, just cultivate ILWU's image. If
ILWU International and Coast officers, instead of undermining, had
mobilized our membership for the national antiwar march and rally on
March 19th in major West Coast ports, it would have done more for ILWU
than all of the time and money put into PR imaging. Such a mobilization
would've implemented the antiwar position adopted overwhelmingly at
ILWU's 2002 convention, opposition to the war in Iraq and immediate
withdrawal of U.S. troops. When I questioned why they hadn't used this
kind of "PR", the Caucus chairman ruled me out of order to save the
International officers the embarrassment of having to explain why they
have done nothing to implement the ILWU's anti-war position or even
spoken at anti-war labor rallies.
Further indications of the Longshore Division's shift to the right was
the failure of the Caucus to pass the resolution to defend oil-rich and
anti-imperialist Venezuela against a U.S. overthrow. Even the
California AFL-CIO Convention passed a similar resolution. In another
hotly-debated issue, the Caucus voted not to reprimand ILWU President
Spinosa for undermining the Million Worker March, an independent
mobilization of workers, initiated by Local 10 and passed at the 2004
Caucus. In the debate it was revealed that during the Democratic
Convention in Boston, Spinosa met at Senator Edward Kennedy's
Hyannisport home with feuding labor tops, AFL-CIO President John
Sweeney, SEIU President Andrew Stern and Teamsters President James
Hoffa. While they may be hellbent on splitting the AFL-CIO apart for
their own piece of the pie, they all agreed to prevent an independent
workers demonstration before the presidential election lest it
jeopardize the electoral chances of pro-war, pro-Taft-Hartley Kerry.
The working class' fight has become more and more political as
government has openly intervened on behalf of employers: invoking
Taft-Hartley against ILWU; judges willing to junk workers' pensions and
welfare benefits; schemes to privatize social security; legislative
threats to outlaw strikes and unionbusting by Bush of government
workers. The Caucus voted to participate in the April 28 Workers
Memorial Day, a protest in Sacramento against attacks on workers comp.
Given the high rate of industrial injuries and 3 deaths already this
year in ILWU longshore unions, the resolution passed overwhelmingly.
More significantly, there was a 20,000-strong mass workers rally at the
California capitol to protest Governor Schwartzenegger's attack against
union pensions and cuts in schools and hospitals. Leading the
organized labor movement were teachers, nurses and firefighters who are
bearing the brunt of these attacks.
Mobilizing the labor movement is a first step in this struggle. The
ILWU participated in the founding conference of a labor party in
Cleveland, Ohio nearly 10 years ago. The direction for the survival of
unions must be to build a militant workers party to defend workers?
interests in the struggle for a workers government. If we are going to
make headway on the political front, we need to change direction and
get back on track.
June 14, 2005