ILWU to celebrate Juneteenth with a shutdown

Seattle port bosses fired the International Longshore and Warehouse (ILWU) Local 52 workers on the June 2 night shift and again on the morning shift, says Gabriel Prawl, a longshore worker and a leading member of the Million Worker March Movement as well as the President of the Seattle A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The firings are the latest outrage taken by West Coast port terminal operators against over 22,000 longshore workers at 29 ports fighting to get a decent union contract. Prawl says, “It’s time for the rank and file to speak up and make their voices heard.”

In San Francisco, militant ILWU Local 10 rank and filers voluntarily stopped picking up jobs during dispatch on June 2, 3, and 4. CNBC reported that port shutdowns were expected to spread up and down the West Coast as workers protest over negotiations in contract talks with port management.

ILWU members have been working without a contract for a year. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) represents over 70 multinational ocean carriers and maritime companies with whom the ILWU negotiates a contract.

Many ILWU locals are following the call by Locals 10 and 52 to shut down all West Coast ports on June 19 — Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when news about the emancipation from slavery finally reached the last workers in Texas. Prawl added, “It is a day for workers to protest conditions rising out of slavery that are currently getting worse — homelessness, child labor, hunger. … The ILWU needs to celebrate Juneteenth with a shutdown to show the PMA that they are a strong and angry workforce.”

Port bosses made historic profits

There is plenty to be angry about. According to a June 2 ILWU press release, “PMA member carriers and terminal operators made historic profits of $510 billion during the pandemic. In some cases, profits jumped nearly 1000%. Even as shipping volumes return to normal in 2023, PMA members have continued to post revenues that far exceed pre-pandemic times by billions of dollars.

“ILWU workers risked and lost their lives during the pandemic to ensure grocery store shelves were stocked, PPE was made available, essential medical supplies were reaching our hospitals.” Record volumes of goods were moved, enabling the shipping industries’ astronomical revenues. “Despite this fact, from pre-pandemic levels through 2022, the percentage of ILWU wages and benefits continued to drop compared to PMA rising revenues.”

According to ILWU International President Willie Adams, “West Coast dockworkers kept the economy going during the pandemic and lost their lives doing so. We aren’t going to settle for an economic package that doesn’t recognize the heroic efforts and personal sacrifices of the ILWU workforce that lifted the shipping industry to record profits.”

ILWU Local 13 reported: “Despite the enormous profit and record-breaking cargo volumes that the labor force moved through Southern California ports, ocean carriers, and terminal operators have thumbed their noses at the workforce’s basic requests, intimating that the health risks and loss of lives these working people endured during the pandemic did not matter to them and they were expendable in the name of profits.

Local 10 in front lines during pandemic

Clarence Thomas, a retired third-generation member of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco, said he had been involved in lockouts and witnessed the port bosses’ ruthless disregard for the longshore workers.

Thomas said, “Local 10, with predominantly African American membership, was in the front lines fighting for safe working conditions and protective gear during the pandemic. The Princess cruise ship whose passengers were infected with COVID docked in the Port of Oakland and the crew was stranded on the ship. Local 10 took action not only to protect themselves and their families. They organized a response to protect all the communities in the Bay area.”

Thomas continued, “It is remarkable to see young workers far removed from the Civil Rights Movement and heroic battles on the waterfront led by longshore leaders like Harry Bridges and Henry Schmidt, those who led the 1934 General Strike in San Francisco, young workers who understand that legacy. Longshore workers’ power rests in their job at the point of production. If they don’t unload the ships, the bosses can’t make a profit.

The commitment of the union to protect the workers’ families is evidenced by Thomas’ mother, Charlene Thomas, who is 94 years old, and Sadie Williams, 99 years old, the spouse of Cleophas Williams, the first Black president of Local 10. Both of them enjoy all of the benefits won by the ILWU.

Gabriel Prawl says, “Longshore workers on the whole coast have been working above and beyond the requirements of their jobs thereby violating their own safety rules to keep the supply chain moving.

“Now, with the cost of living rising sharply, the PMA is balking at contract negotiations. Prices for basic items like food and gas are cutting into the workers’ pay determined by the union contract. To make themselves heard, ILWU members are beginning to follow their safety protocols designated for dangerous jobs, ‘working by the book.’”

Working safely antagonizes the carriers and terminal operators. It’s safer, slower and lowers profits.

Commenting on the pro-boss June 1 Supreme Court ruling against the Teamsters in their fight with a Seattle concrete firm, Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters 174, Prawl quoted the single dissenting Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who wrote: “Workers are not indentured servants, bound to continue laboring until any planned work stoppage would be as painless as possible for their master. They are employees whose collective and peaceful decision to withhold their labor is protected by the NLRA even if economic injury results.”

Prawl said, “It is the rank-and-file who needs to fight to defend their labor rights. Just imagine what would happen if workers around the world stopped work for just one day.”

First step: Stop all work on Juneteenth! 


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