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
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
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 ...
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
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
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