Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Port Shutdown: Why It Matters

Occupy Seattle has voted to stand with Occupy Oakland's call for action at West Coast ports in a controversial and visible action to send a message to multiple corporations who have acted against port workers:
"We're shutting down these ports because of the union busting and attacks on the working class by the 1%: the firing of Port truckers organizing at SSA terminals in LA; the attempt to rupture ILWU union jurisdiction in Longview, WA by EGT. EGT includes Bunge LTD, a company which reported 2.5 billion dollars in profit last year and has economically devastated poor people in Argentina and Brazil. SSA is responsible for inhumane working conditions and gross exploitation of port truckers and is owned by Goldman Sachs. EGT and Goldman Sachs is Wallstreet on the Waterfront" stated Barucha Peller of the West Coast Port Blockade Assembly of Occupy Oakland.   
Meetings have been occurring weekly since Occupy Seattle's General Assembly vote to support the port shutdown.  Held in West Seattle, the meetings were open to the public and organizers heard community concerns about the action in order to conduct the action in an efficient and community-friendly manner.  Continuing outreach has been staged at the Port of Seattle in order to talk to workers as they end their shifts about the impending shutdown.

Reportedly, Port workers who must remain anonymous due to their contracts, have attended the meetings in West Seattle and voiced their support for the move.

The Stranger's online blog, the Slog, posted today that the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has now stated that they do not support this action:
“Local 19 and the ILWU as a whole has taken a position against shutting down the ports on Dec. 12," Williams told me. "Obviously we support the Occupy movement as a whole and the causes they’re fighting for. But as far as shutting down the Port of Seattle, we’re not in favor of that. There’s a lot of jobs—union jobs and other jobs as well—associated with shutting down commerce, and we can’t support that.”
Far from concerned about the statement, organizers I spoke with were confident that this action was appropriate.  Longshoremen have been secretly meeting with Occupy Seattle on a regular basis and do support shutdown, and it's not hard to see why.  One only needs to look to the recent conflict between local unions and multinational conglomerate EGT in Longview to understand why a strong statement needs to be made to companies that represent the 1%'s interests to the detriment of union workers.

Why use a shutdown to get our point across?  At its most basic concept, we're sending a message by fucking with the 1%'s money.  Frankly, the impact to workers (who already support the action) is minimal.  They're still going to get paid.

On a broader scope, however, we only need to look as far as the iconic Letter from Birmingham Jail, written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to see why shutting down the Port of Seattle for a day will benefit union workers:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
In the end, ILWU's statement that they do not support port shutdown is an effort on the part of the union to cover their proverbial asses.  It would be a breach of contract to support our action, so they cannot speak positively for it.  They have no option.

Luckily, we do have options, and we're going to use them.  One of those is shutdown, and on the 12th of December we will be doing just that.

See you at the Port!


  1. i hope for your sake that what you say contradicts the things i hear from people inside the ILWU in seattle. unless a few workers from the local in oakland count as the voice of the seattle local. it helps a lot if you bother to contact the parties involved in a particular struggle and see if they want your help. but it is feasible that the democratic processes of all the occupy movements may be slightly less organized than than those of the ILWU. they've been doing this for eight decades.

  2. i might add that the ILWU is known for having an internal process that does not lend itself to a tiered bureaucratic process. the so-called "bureaucrats" mentioned just a few posts below yours on SLOG are all dockworkers with the exception of the president. they've only mentioned twice now (nationwide!) to let them handle their own struggle. but maybe the co-option of their struggle makes sense to someone out there.

  3. To the first two commenters: please read the press release, it challenges your assumptions. There are workers in Seattle who support this as well: http://occupyseattle.org/blog/2011-12-07/press-release-dec-12-port-shutdown-action. In fact, we have been reaching out constantly to rank and file members of Local 19, as well as truck drivers. We planned the action to start late in the day so that truckers would not loose too much of their already low pay, but some of the truckers we talked to said we were being too conservative and they wished we had planned to shut it down all day.

    Also, consider this: "“The ports are Wall Street on the waterfront – without them running, Wall Street makes no profits. If they cut our livelihoods, we will cut their profits,” said Maria Guillen, an Occupy Seattle Organizer. “By building for this, Occupy Seattle will show that we also are part of the workers' struggle. The Decolonize/Occupy movement is a union for everyone, especially that 89% of the workforce who are not unionized, including immigrant laborers, such as Seattle’s own port truckers making poverty wages and suffering racial discrimination, as well as working women of color who still make significantly less than their male counterparts. Our picket lines are picket lines organized
    by working class people, in solidarity with fellow workers.”

    Occupy Seattle has no desire to coopt or lead the ILWU. We also do not want to be coopted or lead by the ILWU. All we want is what their motto says: "an injury to one is an injury to all." We are part of the labor movement, and so are ILWU members. We are not doing this because we think the ILWU can't handle their own struggle. We are doing this because we are workers too, many of us much worse off than ILWU members, and we have had enough. We know that if the ILWU is busted then we will be next, they will drive our standard of living down even lower, just like they've done to the port truckers. We need an organizational form that can unite the entire working class, included but not limited to the existing unions. The ILWU's internal structure might be more democratic than other unions, which is good. But we still need to organize the entire working class together to fight back against these coordinated attacks by the 1%. That's what the Occupy movement is trying to do. We are rank and file union members, and we are also the 89% of the 99% - the nonunionized, and for us, Occupy is our union. We hope ILWU members respect it as such. We do not need their leaders' permission to organize ourselves and to picket, because as the ILWU's history of honoring other workers' picket lines proudly shows, an injury to one is an injury to all.