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ILWU's Commitment to Labor Solidarity

Date:        05/29  7:38 PM
 From:        Jack Heyman, jhook@jps.net
 Letters to the Editor 
Journal of Commerce                                                       
  
                                                                          
  
           May 30, 2000
               What's at stake is ILWU's commitment to labor solidarity 
    The Journal of Commerce has consistently represented the shipowners' 
and stevedoring companies' viewpoint -- against the maritime unions. This 
time, in your editorial "A Winning Approach" (May 15, Page 7), the old company
themes of "responsibility" and "productivity" have been given an air of
bipartisanship by cajoling a couple of newly elected union officials from
Los Angeles into joining your chorus.

     Apparently, the JOC is pushing the bogus argument that if longshore
workers in Los Angeles/Long Beach, the nation's largest port complex, 
reject "wildcat strikes over social-justice issues," then they will be rewarded
with increased growth. Hogwash! There is no quid pro quo in this false
equation. Los Angeles has continued to grow and probably will continue to
grow because of its immense market; its geographic proximity to Asian 
ports; its rail and fast road links; and its vast waterfront and nearby acreage 
for container facilities. 

    However, what is instructive here is the JOC's aggressive
anti-International Longshore and Warehouse Union stance in prodding
employers to exploit "this new attitude" and then challenging these ILWU
locals that "changing more than 60 years of adversarial tension will not 
be easy." The new "PMA-cooperative" Los Angeles leadership is praised while
Oakland longshore workers are crucified for daring to take action to 
achieve working conditions already practiced in other West Coast ports. This is
nothing less than a fight for the heart and soul of the ILWU. 

    The ILWU's rich and proud 66-year history, going back to the 1934 West
Coast maritime strike, is one of using its power to forge a unity of
maritime unions in the struggle against the shipowners. The ILWU's power 
has been used to demonstrate international labor solidarity not only with
oppressed workers under the gun of the military dictatorships in Chile and
El Salvador and apartheid South Africa, but also with the Farmworkers 
Union in California and more recently with the Liverpool, England, dockworkers,
World Trade Organization protesters in Seattle and black death-row 
prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. 

    Perhaps one of the more controversial stands was last year's coast
shutdown for Jamal, a political prisoner framed for his scathing exposes 
of Philadelphia police brutality, corruption and racism. It was, after all, 
the police murder of six workers in the 1934 strike that outraged the public 
and galvanized support behind the striking workers and led to their victory. 
Yet police brutality, corruption and racism exist today in Los Angeles, as is
evident in the Ramparts police station scandal. 

    Trade unions have a right and a moral responsibility to express
themselves on the critical issues of our times. To remain silent would be
criminally complicit, which is why the Bill of Rights must not be
surrendered at the container terminal gate. The ILWU's principled record,
for the most part, stands out because those who built the union had a
working-class perspective which recognized that racism, police brutality,
war and unemployment do affect the ability of labor to organize. Had labor
unions used their power to stop the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam,
millions of lives would have been saved. 

    The big-business-controlled U.S. government recognizes the power of 
the labor movement. That's why laws like Taft-Hartley have been imposed which
shackle a trade union's right to organize by banning communists from 
holding union office and outlawing sympathy strikes. Fortunately, the ILWU was 
able to beat the anti-communist restriction at the Supreme Court and circumvent
the ban on solidarity actions. 

    The shameless hypocrisy of the press, when it comes to labor actions,
stands exposed for all to see. When the struggle of the reactionary Polish
trade union Solidarnosc moved from strictly economic demands to the more
overtly political general strike to topple the Stalinist government, the
U.S. press heaped accolades on that union. But when the ILWU and other
unions want to protest the exploitative, capitalist policies of the WTO, 
the news media, including the JOC, seem to be saying, "Not in my back 
container yard!" 

    What is at stake here is the ILWU's historic commitment to labor
solidarity encapsulated in the 100-year-old syndicalist slogan, "An injury
to one is an injury to all." This slogan was born out of a struggle 
against the narrow-minded, elitist craft or business unionism, what might be 
called "yuppie unionism" today. These labor aristocrats listened to the bosses'
appeals to the "spirit of cooperation" and echoed it to the workers,
disarming them. Craft unions lost out because they couldn't defend workers
against the inevitable employer attacks in a changing industrial world.
Industrial unions like the ILWU survived because they were better able to
organize a broader working-class unity.  
    Similarly, the rank and file longshore workers in Los Angeles will 
stick to the ILWU's tried and true principles as they did so valiantly in the
solidarity action in support of the Australian wharfies. It's simply a
question of survival in today's increasingly globalized economy. Finally,
because of its militant history, the ILWU has often attracted
college-educated youth, some of whom have graduated Stanford and Cal.
However, unlike the LA officials mentioned in your editorial, working-class 
modesty didn't necessitate them parading around their college credentials.
 
JACK HEYMAN 
Oakland, Calif. 


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