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Longshore Workers Solidarity with Striking Kaiser Steel Workers

Tacoma, Washington July 11th, 2000

Brother and Sister Steelworkers,

As rank-and-file members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union in the Port of Tacoma, we send greetings of solidarity and brotherhood. We hope this letter finds you and your families in good health and high spirits.

Our letter's purpose is to inform rank-and-file Kaiser Steelworkers of some recent developments here in Tacoma of which you may not be aware, and which we hope will strengthen and encourage you in your resolve to continue your fight to win a decent contract. (Please note that we are addressing you as rank-and-file brothers and sisters to rank-and-file brothers and sisters, and not in any official capacity on behalf of our local union.)

You're probably aware of the solidarity that the Tacoma Longshoremen have extended to your union since the beginning of the Kaiser strike and lockout. We are committed to seeing this support through to the end.

You probably know that on June 10th a USWA picket line was established at Pier 7 in the Port of Tacoma, against the bulk freighter "Cupid Feather", which contained alumina ore bound for Kaiser's Tacoma, Mead and Trentwood plants. Tacoma Longshoremen honored your line under the health and safety provisions of our contract.

On June 15th, five days after the picket at Pier 7 started, Kaiser announced that it was laying off 400 scabs at the Tacoma and Mead plants, "due to increased energy costs." While, clearly, high electricity prices were probably a factor, we all know that the shortage of ore that resulted from your action on the docks must have also contributed to this abrupt decision on the part of Kaiser managers.

After about a week of USWA picketing, Kaiser was able to obtain a court order to move USWA pickets to a location on the dock which, the longshore arbitrator ruled, no longer constituted a legitimate health and safety risk to longshore workers dispatched to unload the bauxite. As a result of this ruling, your picket line ceased to be effective, and the discharging of ore was forced to resume. The "Cupid Feather" sailed several days later.

Since that time, although Steelworkers have been maintaining a round-the-clock presence at Pier 7, there has been no effective picketing, and the ore discharging operation has continued unimpeded.

On June 27th, both our unions won tremendous victories, both in court and in arbitration. On that date, Judge Marshall of the Washington State Superior Court for Pierce County overruled the previous court order that relocated your picket line, and ruled that ANY POTENTIAL PICKETING OF THE ORE, ONCE IT COMES OFF THE SHIP AND KAISER ALUMINUM TAKES POSSESSION OF IT, would constitute a PRIMARY PICKET LINE.

Then, either on that same date or the day after, the longshore area arbitrator ruled that a picket line of the type authorized under the new court order would be a "LEGITIMATE AND BONA FIDE PICKET LINE" under the longshore contract.

Section 11.5 of the Pacific Coast Longshore Contract Document states: "Refusal to cross a legitimate and bona fide picket line ... shall not be deemed a violation of this Agreement. Such a picket line is one established and maintained by a union, acting independently of the ILWU longshore locals, about the premises of an employer with whom it is engaged in a bona fide dispute over wages, hours or working conditions of employees, a majority of whom it represents as the collective bargaining agency...."

In other words, the judge's decision means that, if you put up a picket line around the crane that is used to discharge the alumina ore at Pier 7, you Steelworkers will be [engaged in] legally protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act ... and there isn't a damn thing Kaiser can do about it ... GUARANTEED!

And the arbitrator's ruling means that, if you put up the picket line allowed and protected by the court's order, we Longshoremen will be within our contract rights in honoring it, and also protected under the law ... GUARANTEED!

Brothers and sisters, this puts ALL THE POWER IN YOUR HANDS: THE POWER TO WIN THE STRIKE ON YOUR OWN TERMS, THE POWER TO FINALLY WHIP CHARLES HURWITZ, THE POWER TO TAKE BACK THE GAINS YOU'VE STEADILY LOST SINCE THE 1980s, THE POWER TO IMPOSE THE SETTLEMENT YOU WANT---A CONTRACT YOU CAN BRAG ABOUT---ON KAISER ALUMINUM!

However, on the very same day that the longshore arbitrator made his ruling on your potential picket line, it was announced that a tentative settlement had been reached between Kaiser and the USWA.

Now you are being asked to vote on what every Steelworker we've talked to tells us is a substandard contract, WITHOUT EVEN PUTTING THE NEW, LEGALLY-PROTECTED PICKET LINE AT PIER 7 INTO ACTION!

The tentative agreement you're being asked to accept, furthermore, is one which will submit significant outstanding issues to BINDING ARBITRATION!

In other words, YOUR LEADERSHIP IS ASKING YOU, AT A TIME WHEN ALL THE POWER IS IN YOUR HANDS, for the first time since the beginning of the strike, TO PUT THE POWER TO DECIDE YOUR ULTIMATE FATE INTO SOMEBODY ELSE'S HANDS! For some reason, they want you to put the decisive power into the hands of an outside third party that you don't even know.

Brothers and sisters, IT WAS THE COMBINATION OF YOUR MILITANT ACTION AND OUR SOLIDARITY THAT BROUGHT YOU THIS FAR. SHUTTING DOWN PRODUCTION AT PIER 7 LED DIRECTLY TO 400 SCABS LOSING THEIR JOBS AND BROUGHT HURWITZ TO HIS KNEES. That's when the bastard decided to negotiate in good faith for the first time in 21 months! You wouldn't have a tentative deal at all now, if it hadn't been for this action.

Though we respect that it is your decision to make and know that you've been through a lot of hardship over the last two years, we feel that to accept this contract offer would be a mistake. Whether you have been told this by your leadership or not, THE PICKET LINE ON PIER 7 COULD EASILY---AND LEGALLY---SHUT DOWN KAISER'S OPERATIONS.

WHY SHOULD YOU SETTLE FOR WHAT SO MANY OF YOUR FELLOW WORKERS BELIEVE IS A SUBSTANDARD CONTRACT WHEN YOU'RE HOLDING ALL THE ACES?

You may be asking yourself: Why are ILWU members in Tacoma so interested in our contract vote? We'll tell you why: Simply put, we view your struggle as one of the most significant labor struggles in recent American history. It is the largest and longest lockout in U.S. labor history, and it is against a boss who is as evil as any of the 19th Century robber barons. A victory for you---a victory based on rank-and-file militancy and direct industrial action at the point of production---will be a victory for us and for all labor. Your total and uncompromised victory will pave the way for a revitalization of the whole American and international labor movement. It will demonstrate, far and wide, what your militancy and our solidarity can accomplish.

NOW'S THE TIME FOR US TO WORK TOGETHER AND FINISH THIS JOB RIGHT. Together we can put a stop, once and for all, to Hurwitz's union-busting rampage, and send out a clear warning to other employers that labor is ready to fight and win.

AND, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, WE GIVE YOU THIS PROMISE: IF YOU SET UP YOUR PICKET AGAIN AT PIER 7, IT WILL BE HONORED. WE WILL NOT CROSS.

We appeal to you all: Hold your heads high, and fight and win like men and women. Return to your plants like the conquering heroes you are, not like arbitrated dogs with your tails in between your legs. Let's get together and give the labor movement a victory in needs and deserves---this chance may be a long time to come again.

A INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL

In solidarity, Rank & File Longshoremen of ILWU Local 23 Port of Tacoma


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