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International Longshore and Warehouse Union
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ILWU Library and Archives

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 11:43

The ILWU Library and Archives website is a digital collection of the some the materials in the ILWU library. The website allows you to browse through digital version of the ILWU Dispatcher newspaper,  Voice of the Federation, and the Waterfont Worker.

Visit the ILWU Library and Archives website here. 

Categories: Unions

Donald Watson May 3, 1929 – March 25, 2015

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 10:07

Don Watson (left) with UFW leader Cesar Chavez.

Don Watson was a quiet and determined ILWU activist who spent his life gently but effectively leading progressive organizing efforts in the union he loved. Watson died peacefully at his home in Oakland, CA on March 25. “He was content in the knowledge that he had a long and good life, had touched the lives of many people, and had contributed to making the world a better place,” said his wife Jane Colman.

Early years

A childhood in New York City during the Great Depression allowed him to witness struggles by labor organizers, including those by his father, Morris Watson, a respected writer for the Associated Press who organized newspaper workers and helped found the American Newspaper Guild before being fired. Watson’s termination became a high-profile test-case that helped establish the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act.

Like millions of Americans during the Depression, Morris Watson was attracted to left-wing political movements, and met Harry Bridges in 1942, who persuaded the family to relocate to San Francisco where Morris became founding editor of the new ILWU Dispatcher newspaper.
At sea with left-wing politics

As a teenager, Don recalled hearing Harry Bridges tell stories about his exciting times on the high seas, which encouraged Watson to join the merchant marine when he was still in high school. He traveled the world and met many trade unionists, including some who belonged to the Communist Party, whom he found to be especially impressive.
They encouraged him to join their ranks and get involved in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union in 1948. That was a tumultuous year, with his union joining ILWU members in a waterfront strike challenged by the Taft- Hartley Act which had had just been enacted to limit union power. Also that year, third-party candidate Henry Wallace ran against Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey, in an effort backed passionately by Don Watson, other Communist Party members and some liberals that received only a handful of votes on election day.
Political repression

The late 1940’s and early 50’s were hard times for Watson and other leftwing activists, with the U.S. government waging a Cold War with the Soviet Union, fighting the Chinese in Korea, while anti-Communist hysteria became a national preoccupation. Watson was eventually barred from working at sea because of his political views, a process known as “screening” that was administered

by the U.S. Coast Guard. The practice was eventually ruled unconstitutional, but back then he and his supporters did their best to resist by organizing daily protests at the Coast Guard headquarters. Watson was drafted to fight in the Korean War but the Army first ordered him to admit that his father had been a member of the Communist Party – which Don refused to do – resulting in a questionable discharge

that was finally classified as “Honorable” years later.
At home in the ILWU

While still a members of the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCS), Watson supported an ILWU organizing effort in 1955 to help his fellow MCS members find a safe haven in the Longshore union. That effort was blocked by government officials who were fearful and hostile toward left-wing members and leaders at both the MSC and ILWU.

Watson and many other U.S. seafarers soon found themselves “screened out” of work by the Coast Guard. Watson found temporary work as a rivet-catcher in a metal shop. It was during this period of upheaval that Watson was treated kindly by an Assistant Dispatcher at Local 34 who got him a permit card that allowed him to work on the docks. Within a year he became a member of the Marine Clerks Union – the same year that he quit the Communist Party after learning of mass killings in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin’s brutal regime that crushed democratic dissent inside the USSR and surrounding nations, including Hungary.

Retaining his left-wing values of social justice and worker rights, Watson operated with a persistent but low-key approach that won respect from his co-workers. He was elected to serve on the Local 34 Executive Board for 24 years and served as Chairman for 19.
Political action

Having experienced harsh treatment from reactionary politicians during the 1950’s, Watson understood the importance of supporting progressive political leaders. He became active in the ILWU’s Northern California District Council and served as the ILWU’s lobbyist in Sacramento. He joined the Young Democrats and the California Democratic Council – voice of the Democratic= Party’s liberal wing that supported civil and labor rights. In 1962 he was elected Vice Chair of the ILWU’s West Bay Legislative Committee. Within Local 34, he joined a group of reform activists who backed Jim Herman to replace a leader who resisted admitting African Americans and left-wing seamen to the Local, according to Watson.

Farm worker organizing

In the 1960’s, Watson began volunteering to help the United Farm Workers union (UFW), and encouraged the ILWU to support the UFW in every way possible, including actions on the docks and conducting research to help UFW lawyers in Salinas. With help from Herb Mills and Whitey Kelm of Local 10, he created a “$5-a-month club” to generate donations for the UFW. Watson also organized annual holiday drives, and during the 1970’s organized a monthly labor caravan that travelled from the

Bay Area to the UFW headquarters in Delano. By this time, Watson was volunteering most of his time to help the UFW and working only 800 hours a year on the waterfront.
UFW solidarity repaid

When longshore workers and clerks went on strike in 1971 for 134 days, Bay Area ILWU leaders chose Don Watson to serve as Secretary of the Joint Longshore Strike Assistance Committee. Watson was able to secure help from the United Farmworkers Union which organized massive food caravans to help striking longshore families the Bay Area.

Documenting labor history

Beginning in 1975, Watson began documenting the history of agricultural workers in California, going back to the 1930’s. In 1980 he co-founded the Bay Area Labor History Workshop to get feedback and support for himself and others who were documenting labor history without formal academic training. He ended up writing many papers and made presentations at meetings of historians, including the Southwest Labor History Association. He also supported the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University and served on their Advisory Board. During his final years, Watson struggled to collect his own papers and write his own personal history, making frequent trips to the ILWU International offices in San Francisco where he spent time in the Library, Archives and Communications Department.

Fortunately, Watson’s experiences and views were captured in detail thanks to an oral interview he conducted with historian Harvey Schwartz that was published in the 2009 book, Solidarity Stories. In that interview, Watson said he was thankful for the excellent health and pension benefits enjoyed by Longshore workers and Marine Clerks – but noted other workers haven’t been so lucky:

“We’re all facing ongoing privatization, deregulation, huge tax cuts for the wealthy along with growing state and national deficits – all of which hurts working people,” said Watson, who remained committed to reaching out to non-union workers and helping them organize – because he believed it would benefit both the “unorganized” and ILWU members alike.

During the mid-1990’s, Watson became interested in a San Francisco labor history project that aimed to honor waterfront workers by preserving a vintage crane on the City’s waterfront. Watson served Secretary for many years on the Copra Crane Labor Landmark Association (CCLLA), an effort now being overseen by the Port of San Francisco.

Fighting NAFTA

As a pensioner, Watson remained active in his union through the Bay Area Pensioners club and continued to be active in community politics, including a feisty campaign that pushed for labor and environmental standards in the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico (NAFTA). In that struggle against powerful corporate interests backing NAFTA, Watson joined with labor and community activists who challenged local politicians, including Congress member Nancy Pelosi, who ended up voting for the controversial corporate trade pact.

Running and romance

In the late 1970’s, Watson resumed an interest in long-distance running that started on his high school track team. He joined several Bay Area running clubs, including the Berkeley Running Club after moving to Oakland in 1982, where he met his wife Jane Colman, with whom he shared the love of running. They ran many races together, including 5 kilometers, half-marathons and the Pikes Peak Ascent. He told ILWU Librarian Robin Walker that one of his greatest experiences involved visiting South Africa for the Comrades Marathon. After he stopped running in 2005, Watson remained active by walking in races, taking photographs and encouraging the runners. A serious bout with scoliosis left him hunched over with limited mobility, but he never complained and remained active until his final days.

Watson leaves behind his wife Jane Colman, sisters Priscilla Laws and Wendy Watson, stepchildren Caitlin and Roland McGrath, nieces, nephews and many friends who will miss his sweet smile and gentle manner. A celebration of his life will be held at 1pm on Saturday, May 23 at the Local 34 Hall in San Francisco. Donations in Don Watson’s memory can be made to the Labor Archives and Research Center, J. Paul Leonard Library, Room 460, San Francisco State University, 1630 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132.

Categories: Unions

ILWU leaders join protest in Perth against Chevron projects

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 10:48

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath joined a protest against Chevron on May 12 in Perth, Australia.

Docker union leaders from around the world – including ILWU officers – met in Perth, Australia for a strategy meeting in May that included a protest against Chevron for failing to respect workers’ rights in Western Australia.

“Chevron is based in California, but communities back home and around the world are having the same kinds of problems from this company,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath, who spoke at a rally in front of the New Zealand Embassy in Perth. McEllrath joined Vice-Presidents Ray Familathe and Wesley Furtado, and Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams who attended the protest organized by the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).  The protest took place on May 12 during a meeting of the ITF Dockers Section in Perth.
Problems down-under

Chevron is deeply involved with natural gas projects in both Australia and New Zealand. Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members say they’ve been treated unfairly at Chevron’s massive “Gorgon” project, located off the country’s northwest shore. Chevron intends to collect gas from offshore wells then liquefy the product on Barrow’s Island for export using giant LNG tankers. The effort was first estimated to cost $37 billion but exploded to $54 billion because of cost overruns. Instead of cooperating with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Chevron has refused to respect longstanding union contract standards
and filed a $20 million lawsuit against MUA members over a health and safety dispute.

In New Zealand, Chevron and a partner company were recently awarded lucrative offshore exploration permits. Concerns among members from the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) are running high that Chevron may try to use similar tactics against them.

National Secretary Joe Fleetwood said New Zealand maritime workers are not welcoming Chevron, based on the company’s track record in Australia. He presented a letter to New Zealand consulate officials on May 12 that explained worker concerns about Chevron.

“We support responsible drilling with high safety standards, but we don’t support companies that have an antiworker agenda and bad environmental record.”

Problems in the U.S.

At Chevron’s massive U.S. refinery complex in Richmond, CA, the company hasgained notoriety for endangering workers, surrounding residents and the environment. A huge explosion and fire engulfed the refinery in August of 2012, nearly killing 10 refinery workers and sending over 10,000 residents to local hospitals with concerns about respiratory problems. Federal and state investigators found Chevron was at fault for the explosion because the company had been cutting corners on safety. After Richmond City Council members expressed similar concerns and asked the company to pay their fair share of local taxes, Chevron launched a $3 million political campaign to replace independent City Councilmembers with the company’s hand-picked candidates. The takeover attempt failed after voters rejected all of Chevron’s candidates.

On May 27, Bay Area ILWU members protested on the morning of Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting at company’s corporate headquarters in San Ramon, CA. ITF President Paddy Crumlin,
who also heads the Maritime Union of Australia, conveyed his thanks to ILWU members for their solidarity – and displeasure at Chevron for failing to reach terms with Australian workers;
a struggle he vowed to continue.

“We will keep seeking a settlement with Chevron – while we continue organizing workers at home and abroad to mount a fight – if that’s what the company wants.”

Categories: Unions

Longshore members overwhelming ratify new contract by 82%

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 10:08

Longshore workers voted overwhelmingly to ratify the tentative contract agreement reached in February with the Pacific Maritime Association.

Members voted by 82 % to approve the new 5-year pact that will expire in 2019. The vote totals were 7,673 “YES” and 1699 “NO.”

Voting results were certified on May 22 by the Coast Balloting Committee, which is chosen by Coast Longshore Caucus delegates.
“The negotiations for this contract were some of the longest and most difficult in our recent history,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. “Membership unity and hard work by the Negotiating Committe made the outcome possible.”

The new agreement provides approximately 20,000 good-paying jobs for workers living in 29 West Coast port communities. The contract maintains excellent health benefits, improved wages, pensions
and job safety protections. It also limits outsourcing of jobs and provides an improved system for
resolving job disputes.

Categories: Unions

West Coast Longshore workers overwhelmingly vote to approve new 5-year waterfront contract by 82%

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 13:30

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – West Coast Longshore workers have overwhelmingly voted to ratify a tentative contract agreement reached in February with employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) voted 82% in favor of approving the new 5-year agreement that will expire on July 1, 2019. The previous contract was ratified in 2008 with a vote of 75% in favor.

Voting results were certified today by the ILWU’s Coast Balloting Committee, which was chosen by Coast Longshore Caucus delegates elected from each of the 29 West Coast ports.

“The negotiations for this contract were some of the longest and most difficult in our recent history,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. “Membership unity and hard work by the Negotiating Committee made this fair outcome possible.”

The new agreement provides approximately 20,000 good-paying jobs in 29 West Coast port communities.  The contract will maintain excellent health benefits, improve wages, pensions and job safety protections; limit outsourcing of jobs and provide an improved system for resolving job disputes.

Categories: Unions

Local 10 leads protest against police brutality

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 11:21

Solidarity from the Southland: (Left to right): Local 63 Secretary/Business Agent Richard Finlay, Local 13 member Adelita Finlay and Local 10 President Melvin Mackay.

On May 1, 200 ILWU members from Locals 10, 34, 61, 6 and the Inlandboatmen’s Union joined with hundreds of community members to march from the Port of Oakland to Oakland’s City Hall. Their purpose was to protest violent and racist actions by abusive police officers.

The protest was sparked by a series of high profile killings of unarmed Black men by police in cities across the country, some of which were caught on video. Estimates on the size of the march ranged from 800 to 2,000. Local 10’s membership and Executive

Board initiated the action by voting to move their regular “stopwork” union meeting from Thursday evening to the following Friday morning on May 1. The contract requires such changes to be approved by PMA employers, which they agreed to do.
The show of solidarity was prompted by the shocking murder of Walter Scott, an unarmed African American man who was shot eight times in the back by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina. Dramatic video of the event went viral and sparked conversations and consciousness- raising across the country.

Walter Scott had several relatives who were members of the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) Local 1422, based in Charleston, South Carolina. Local 10’s decision to march and protest were praised by leaders of ILA 1422 and officials from the South Carolina AFL-CIO.

Local 10 Executive Board member Stacey Rodgers helped initiate the protest, explaining that “Local 10 members had been talking about the murder of Walter Scott, and about other people getting shot by the police. I felt that we needed to do something.”

Some Local 10 members have been directly affected by police violence, with two relatives killed by law enforcement in recent years. Jeremiah Moore was killed by Vallejo police who responded to a domestic disturbance call at his home in 2012. One of the police officers involved had already killed two suspects in less than 6 months, was named as a defendant in two “excessive force” lawsuits – yet received a promotion by the Department who cleared him of any wrongdoing, along with the County District Attorney.

Richard “Pedie” Perez was killed by a Richmond, CA police officer who stopped the 24-year-old man in 2014 for allegedly being intoxicated and resisting arrest. Both cases are the subjects of lawsuits that dispute police accounts of the shootings.
ILWU Local 10 President Melvin Mackay said the march was peaceful, orderly and praised members for initiating the action and showing their concern. Mackay handled over a dozen inquiries from the news media, most calling to ask why workers organized the action and whether circumstances justified protesting instead of working the day shift on May 1.

“I told them that longshore workers have a long tradition of protesting injustice in the community, and that recent events deserve a strong response from all Americans.”

On the day of the event, Local 10 President Melvin Mackay said, “We aren’t out here saying all cops are bad. We respect the hard job that they have. But at the same time we are here to say that police misconduct and the improper use of deadly force by the police cannot go unpunished. The public shouldn’t be afraid of the people who are supposed to protect them.”

Categories: Unions

James R. Herman memorial sculpture unveiled at San Francisco’s Pier 27

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 11:33

Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos

Hundreds of union members, elected officials and supporters gathered at San Francisco’s Pier 27 on March 26 to celebrate the unveiling of an interactive, multimedia sculpture honoring the legacy of former ILWU International President Jimmy Herman.

Speakers at the event included former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, Delancey Street Foundation President, Dr. Mimi Silbert, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath, ILWU International Secretary Treasurer and San Francisco Port Commissioner Willie Adams and Local 34 President Sean Farley.

The sculpture is a wall-mounted, interactive audio-visual installation measuring 10-feet high by 15-feet long. The sculpture resembles the waves of the bay. It contains touch screen display that will allow visitors to scroll through biographical information about Herman and to learn about the issues causes that defined Jimmy’s life and career. The sculpture also includes a directional sound system that will allow visitors to hear highlights from Herman’s speeches. It was crafted by the New York based art collective, Floating Point.

The Pier 27 cruise terminal is named in honor of Jimmy Herman and is the only cruise ship terminal in the world named after a labor leader. The cruise terminal is 91,000 square feet in a two-story building with views to the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. The terminal is will be able to accommodate ships with up to 4,000 passengers. Hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers each year are
expected to pass through the terminal every year.

ILWU members along with other members of the local community including former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi formed the James R. Herman Memorial Committee to raise money for the creation of the sculpture and its maintenance for the next 20 years.
Sean Farley, ILWU Local 34 President and Chair of the James R. Herman Memorial Committee, said
that the purpose of the sculpture is to commemorate Jimmy Herman’s contribution
to the labor movement and to the San Francisco waterfront.

“We wanted to reflect what Jimmy was about—his history, his legacy, his commitment to social justice movements and his contributions as a Port Commissioner—all the facets of who he was in his life. We also had to take into account what Pier 27 is—a world-class cruise terminal facility. We wanted a tribute that is commensurate with that facility and we think we’ve done that.”

Categories: Unions

Mothers Deserve Better Than Diamonds From Rio Tinto

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 09:49

From the United Steel Workers press release: 

This Mother’s Day, an international coalition of unions is calling on the world’s largest jewelry retailer to clean up its supplier of diamonds. We are urging Signet to demand that multinational mining and metals company Rio Tinto improve its practices so that they respect workers’ rights, indigenous peoples and the environment.

With global sales of US $6 billion annually, Signet’s Kay, Jared and Zales jewelry shops are in every U.S. state, Peoples and Mappins stores are throughout Canada, and H. Samuel and Ernest Jones shops are visible on U.K. high streets.

The unions USW, ILWU and Unifor are organizing demonstrations in the lead-up to Mother’s Day at Signet stores in the U.S. and Canada, which is celebrated on 10 May. This follows recent demonstrations at Signet stores in the U.K. by unions and civil society organizations from a dozen countries.

The coalition is calling on Signet to abide by its own Responsible Sourcing Policy. This policy declares the company “committed to the responsible sourcing of our products and the respect of human rights, and we expect the same from our suppliers around the world.”

But Rio Tinto is a notorious violator of labour rights, communities and the environment, as has recently been documented in a report, Rio Tinto: The way it really works.

Report: Rio Tinto: The way it really works:
  • Thirty-nine workers killed on the job since 2013 at the Grasberg copper and gold mine, Indonesia, where Rio Tinto has a joint venture
  • Planning to develop a copper mine on land considered sacred to Native Americans despite their opposition
  • Over 2,300 grievances unresolved by management at Rio Tinto iron ore operation in Labrador, Canada
  • Destruction of indigenous sacred sites and vital natural water supply by Rio Tinto in Mongolia

Although the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) has certified Rio Tinto, unfortunately the RJC is highly flawed. It is neither independent – it is governed by industry, excluding labour, civil society and impacted communities. Nor is it transparent – it is impossible for the public to determine whether an RJC-certified company complies with RJC’s own certification requirements, let alone international human rights and environmental standards.

“We’ve raised on multiple occasions concerns with Signet about its supplier Rio Tinto’s practices that are bad for workers, communities and the environment. So far Signet has remained mostly silent while Rio Tinto has responded with threats. We’ll continue to raise our concerns until Rio Tinto changes its practices and behaves like the responsible company it claims to be,” says IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Jyrki Raina.

IndustriALL – Mom Deserves Better than Diamonds from Rio Tinto Campaign
Categories: Unions

ILWU Longshore Caucus delegates vote to recommend tentative agreement to membership for ratification vote

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 11:59

SAN FRANCISCO – ILWU Coast Longshore Caucus delegates voted Friday to recommend approval of the tentative agreement reached on February 20, 2015, between the union and employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

The tentative agreement was approved on February 20 by the ILWU’s 16-member elected Negotiating Committee and 8-member Safety Sub-Committee.  The proposed 5-year contract covers 20,000 dockworkers at 29 west coast ports.

All 90 delegates to the Coast Longshore Caucus spent this week reviewing the proposed agreement line- by-line, before voting by 78% to recommend the proposal on Friday.

“This agreement required ten months of negotiations – the longest in recent history,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, “but we secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, families and communities from San Diego to Bellingham. Longshore men and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”

Copies of the agreement will be mailed to longshore union members, who will then have a chance to discuss the proposal at local union meetings.  A secret ballot membership ratification vote will be the final step in the process. A final tally will be conducted on May 22.

# # # #

Download a copy of the press release here. (PDF)

Categories: Unions

ILWU General Convention

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 14:40


Below are links to download information about the 36th Annual ILWU General Convention that will be held June 8-12 in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Detailed list of planned activities
Condensed Activity list


Categories: Unions

The “Old Left” and the Union: Don Watson of Ship Clerks Local 34

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 12:31

From the  ILWU Oral History Project, Volume IX, Part III

  Introduction by Harvey Schwartz

Don Watson (left) with UFW leader Cesar Chavez.

This is the third article in a series featuring ILWU veterans of the “Old Left” who were once active in the American Communist Party (CP). While historians have argued for years about whether Harry Bridges was ever a Communist, not many writers have seriously explored the contributions of ILWU members who actually were in the CP. The present series addresses this oversight.

Don Watson, the focus of this month’s oral history, was a CP member between 1948 and 1956. One would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated adherent to the cause of labor. Watson retired from ship clerks Local 34 in 1993 after years of activist work for the ILWU and other unions, including the Marine Cooks and Stewards (MCS) in the early 1950s and the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s and 1970s. Today he is still helping the ILWU by assisting with the union’s lobbying program at the California state capitol.

Watson chaired the Local 34 executive board for 19 of the 24 years he served on that body. He told me he usually became chair or secretary of any labor committee he joined. Given his integrity and resolve, it is easy to understand why. In 1996 he helped set up the Copra Crane Labor Landmark Association (CCLLA) in San Francisco to preserve an outmoded waterfront device as a monument to the city’s work heritage. True to form, Watson has been the CCLLA secretary-treasurer ever since.

Don Watson has also long been an officer of the Southwest Labor Studies Association. Fittingly, this month he was given that organization’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Labor Movement for his outstanding record of combining union activism with the promotion of working class history.

I interviewed Watson in 1994 and 2004 for the Labor Archives and Research Center (LARC) at San Francisco State University. Thanks to LARC Director Susan Sherwood for releasing that oral history for use here.


          Edited by Harvey Schwartz, Curator, ILWU Oral History Collection

My father, Morris Watson, was a newspaper man. In the 1920s he worked for the Omaha World Herald and the Denver Post. I was born in 1929 in Evanston, Illinois. My father had a newspaper job there with the Associated Press (AP). Soon after I was born the AP sent my father to New York, where I grew up. In New York my father was considered one of the AP’s best reporters. He covered major stories for the AP like the 1932 kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh’s son.

In 1933 my father read an article by the famous columnist Haywood Broun, who said he wanted to organize a newspaper reporters union. My father heeded Broun’s call and became one of the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) founders. He was also an ANG International vice-president.

During 1933 my father became the lead ANG organizer at the AP’s New York office. In retaliation the AP put him on the “lobster shift” in the middle of the night. They fired him in 1935. So the ANG filed an unfair labor practice charge under the new National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This became one of a group of cases that went to the Supreme Court and resulted in the NLRA being declared constitutional in 1937.

My father also became involved in the New Deal’s Federal Theater Project. He directed “The Living Newspaper,” a theater group that dramatized headlines as plays. This was quite an enterprise in the mid-1930s. Late in the decade my father became active in New York’s left-wing American Labor Party. Consequently I got interested in politics and it became part of my development.

In 1942 Harry Bridges visited New York. He persuaded my father to move out to San Francisco that fall to become the founding editor of the new ILWU newspaper, The Dispatcher. I was 13 years old and Bridges was fascinating. He had this supercharged, forceful personality, was very political and liked to talk about going to sea.

I went to sea myself in the summer of 1946, the year before I graduated from high school in San Francisco. World War II had just ended and the whole world was moving on ships. The first trip I made was on a troop transport, the Marine Jumper. I was a “utility man”—a pot washer and potato peeler. That first trip I sailed as a permit man. I joined the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards (MCS), CIO in 1948. The AFL and the CIO were still separate rival organizations then.

I really got involved in political activity around ’48. I met people in the MCS who were Communists. I’d read the famous Communist William Z. Foster’s big book on labor, including the 1919 steel strike he’d been in. I thought Communists were good trade unionists and felt that I’d like to work along with them.

In 1948 Henry Wallace ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Wallace campaigned for peace with Russia and got enthusiastic support from the Left. I handed out Progressive Party leaflets, went to meetings, signed people up on petitions and did anything needed to help Wallace.

The MCS officially endorsed Wallace, but late in the campaign I noticed all these MCS members wearing Truman buttons. That didn’t seem good. On election day Harry Truman, the Democratic president, upset Thomas Dewey, the favored Republican. Unfortunately for the Left, Wallace did poorly.

I was also involved with the MCS Pre-Strike Committee in 1948. The MCS was allied with the ILWU and struck along with the longshoremen that year. President Truman slapped on an 80-day injunction to stop the strike under the new Taft-Hartley Act. I went to sea on the General Gordon during the injunction. When I got back, the strike was on. I sold the CP newspaper, The People’s World, at all the picket lines that dotted the San Francisco waterfront.

In 1950 I was at sea on the President Cleveland when the Korean War broke out. This right-wing guy named Randall called a special stewards meeting. He attacked the MCS leaders because they questioned the war, as did Bridges. I got up at the meeting and defended the MCS officers by saying they had done a lot for the people and we should listen to them.

I made two trips to the Pacific on the President Cleveland. The second time I was “screened” off the ship when the Cleveland returned to San Francisco. Screening was part of the government’s McCarthy era program of denying employment to leftist seamen and even politically moderate maritime union activists. The program was administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

While I was disappointed, I knew that the Coast Guard had extended its screening to the Far East, but not to the area between San Francisco and Hawaii. So I got a job on the Lurline run to the Islands. After the third trip about 15 of us were screened at once. We came down the gangplank and had our pictures taken.

The Coast Guard held hearings on Sansome Street in San Francisco to review screenings. I gathered six to eight stewards to come to my hearing. Some of them vouched for me. But the Coast Guard hearing officer just went through the motions.

I got involved with the Committee Against Waterfront Screening. Even though I was young, about 21, I was elected secretary. The committee chair was Albert James, a Black longshore leader from ILWU Local 10. We held our meetings at the MCS hall in San Francisco. People from the ILWU and other maritime unions came.

I did the day-to-day work for the committee. I’ve found through the years that whenever I got on a committee I usually became chair or secretary very rapidly. Generally this happened because nobody else wanted to do the work with as much devotion as me.

The big activity we had was a daily picket line at the Coast Guard headquarters. Every day I supplied the leaflet. One I wrote in early 1951 says, “Screening since July 1950 has denied thousands of maritime workers on both coasts the right to work.” Sometimes I’d have a whole leaflet on some individual case. I also wrote about various ships cracking in two to show that the Coast Guard was spending more time screening seamen than working for safety.

We kept up our daily picketing for months. Some of the screened seamen got longshore work. The dispatchers at ILWU Local 10 would call the MCS hall when they had extra jobs. For a while we even got dispatched out of the ILWU Local 2 ship scalers hall.

In 1951 I was drafted into the Army. I was sent to Fort Ord, California, for basic training. They had these “Information and Education” sessions, really political talks. This one guy described what he called the Communist conspiracy. He had a chart of this Communist octopus that was going after our country and Harry Bridges was a major portion of his talk. And I’m just sitting there.

I didn’t discuss politics and I did all the marches and all the basic training. But that October I got a letter from the Department of Defense that contained what they called “derogatory information” about me and my parents. One charge said, “Your father is a Communist who has been active in Communist affairs since 1935.” They gave me 30 days to make a rebuttal in writing.

I went with my father to the attorneys for the ILWU and we did make a response. Part of it said, “If it is the policy of the U.S. Army to set sons against their parents, I do not intend to follow that policy.” Finally I was given a questionable “General Discharge under Honorable Conditions,” although I had done every assignment the Army gave me. Some years later, after a class-action suit, they sent me a revised “Honorable Discharge” and told me to destroy the other form.

After the Army I came back to the Bay Area and started doing the same things I was doing before I went in. Over the next two years I worked for the Independent Ironworks in Oakland, but as soon as the day was over I’d go down to the MCS hall to see what was happening. I still went to meetings and volunteered to help the seamen.

In 1950 the MCS had been expelled from the CIO for its left politics. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) called a bargaining election in 1954, but removed the MCS from the ballot because the top MCS officers didn’t comply with the non-Communist affidavits then called for under the Taft-Hartley Act. To support their officers the members voted “no union.”

A new NLRB election was called the next year and this time the ILWU stepped in to appear on the ballot. The stewards voted ILWU. However, the NLRB allowed other West Coast unlicensed seamen to vote in the same election, burying the ILWU vote. During the campaign Bob Robertson, the ILWU vice-president, asked me to help with a stewards’ edition of The Dispatcher. I put a lot of effort into it, but all was lost due to the politics of the time.

In 1955 I decided I would like to be an ILWU ship clerk. I didn’t have a strong upper body, so clerking seemed better than longshoring for me. Emmett Gilmartin, the clerks’ assistant dispatcher, gave me a permit card. This saved me because the dispatcher, Jim Roche, did not like screened seamen. But Roche was on vacation. When he returned Roche dispatched me anyway, although I was not his favorite.

There were many types of clerk jobs in the mid-1950s. Every ship had a different amount and kind of cargo. Today most of the work involves containers. But the time I’m talking about was even before the extensive use of palletized loads and lift trucks, which became the dominant features on the waterfront in the 1960s.

In unloading 1955-style the clerk told the longshoremen where to put the cargo. A ship’s crane would unload sling loads of cargo from the hatch to the dock where they would be placed on a series of four-wheel trucks. These four-wheelers were attached to a vehicle called a “bull.” The bull driver would haul the four-wheelers inside the dock where longshoremen would grab cases and put them where the clerk instructed.

At times there would be a cornucopia of goods for us to sort. We used to have piles of boxes all over Pier 29 of various sizes and types. The dock would end up looking like a Woolworth store. We had to build aisles or put small lots of cargo back-to-back or put large lots in piles. You had to figure out how much space was needed and where to put things. If you did it wrong, everybody would come down on you.

A major part of the job was receiving and delivery of cargo on and off trucks and rail cars. A clerk supervisor at the front of the dock would assign an arriving Teamster to drive to a section where he loaded or unloaded. When a clerk received cargo he counted it carefully. Then he would chalk mark the pile, including his count and the name of the loading ship.

In 1955 Jim Roche was the power in Local 34. He was the clerks’ dispatcher who did not like screened seamen. Roche didn’t like Black people either and wouldn’t dispatch them. He was a baseball fan. He was known for bringing in White ex-ballplayers and dispatching them to jobs.

An opposition faction arose around Jim Herman when Roche got sick about 1960. This was when Herman emerged into leadership. He was very articulate, lined up a following and got elected local vice-president and then president. He made some dramatic changes, like seeing that a good amount of Blacks came into the local. I was in a lunch group that supported Herman in the early 1960s.

About this time I got active politically in the California Democratic Council (CDC). I’d left the Communist Party in 1956 after Khrushchev’s famous speech criticizing Stalin was followed by the Russian invasion of Hungary. That told me the Party was not going to change. I felt relieved by my decision, which actually came when the CP wanted to advance me toward leadership. Instead I joined the Young Democrats and then the CDC. In both organizations we backed the election to public office of up and coming candidates like Phil and John Burton and Willie Brown.

Around ’62 the ILWU set up its own political group, the West Bay Legislative Committee. Bill Chester was the chair. I was elected vice-chair because they wanted a clerk in the post. In the late 1960s I ran for election to the Local 34 executive board. I made it on the second try and served for 24 years, including 19 as chair.

Jim Herman and I were both from the MCS and had fought the screening program. We also both actively supported the farm worker union movement in the 1960s and that became the basis of our relationship. In the mid-1960s Whitey Kelm and Herb Mills of Local 10 started a five-dollar-a-month club in support of the farm workers organizing drive. I’d met Dolores Huerta, the vice-president of the United Farm Workers (UFW), and had been impressed. I joined the club. It lapsed and I started it up again. Herman was very helpful and the local gave me sort of an official status.

Starting in 1967 or ’68 Local 34 had yearly Christmas collections for the UFW. As the head of this effort I’d go around to every pier on the waterfront and collect money from the clerks and longshoremen. The overwhelming majority gave. This continued into the mid-1970s. We also had a monthly labor caravan that brought food and money to the UFW headquarters in Delano, California.

I was so involved with the UFW that I became kind of an honorary farm worker. During the 1970 lettuce strike in Salinas I walked the UFW picket lines. In the early 1970s I started putting in only 800 hours a year on the waterfront. I spent most of my time helping the farm workers. I was very close to the UFW’s San Francisco boycott house and volunteered many hours there. Often I would care for Dolores Huerta’s children while she led UFW demonstrations or spoke publicly.

During the 1971 coast longshore strike Herman called for a Local 10/Local 34 Joint Longshore Strike Assistance Committee (JLSAC). He said, “I want Watson to be the secretary.” That was it. Everybody agreed and I became the secretary. While the strike was on I went to a UFW rally in Sacramento. I asked Marshall Ganz and Jim Drake, two farm worker leaders, if there was a little something they could do for our strikers. They said, “I think so.”

The next thing I knew they put together this huge caravan, which was really a payback. This long grape truck came to the San Francisco waterfront from the Central Valley. There were several trucks from Salinas. They had all this produce. Maybe 150 farm workers arrived too. They visited the Local 34 hall and then went down to Local 10. It became a giant event.

This more than anything else made my waterfront reputation.  I was the secretary of the JLSAC, and all of a sudden this help came, and it was on such a vast scale. It took hours just to unload those trucks. While I got the credit within the ILWU, the farm workers really outdid themselves. I was amazed.

Around 1975 I started doing a lot of volunteer research for the UFW legal office in Salinas. This returned me to an interest in labor history. I did research papers on fruit tramp shed workers from the 1930s to 1970 and on lettuce mechanization. I interviewed farm workers, union activists and growers and made presentations to meetings of the Southwest Labor Studies Association.

My interest in farm worker history led me to co-found the Bay Area Labor History Workshop (BALHW) in 1980 with a scholar and UFW volunteer named Margo McBane. I had little academic training and was working in isolation without much feedback. If you don’t have that, you need some kind of a forum for discussion. If you want something and there’s no organization, you go ahead and organize it yourself. That’s what I did, and the BALHW is still going strong today.

In 1978 I became the Local 34 delegate to the ILWU’s regional political arm, the Northern California District Council (NCDC).  Four years later NCDC President LeRoy King asked me to take on the job of NCDC secretary-treasurer and this broadened to include legislative lobbying at the state capitol in Sacramento. I remained with these duties until I retired in 1993.

Although I’m thankful that ILWU longshore members and retirees have good medical and pension plans, others are not so lucky. We are all facing ongoing privatization, deregulation and tax cuts, along with growing state and national deficits, all of which hurt working people. That’s why I’ve decided to continue to offer my lobbying skills to help the ILWU program in Sacramento.

Categories: Unions

Recycling workers celebrate two years of success

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 12:06

Pledging support: ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe pledged to continue supporting the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling.

Hundreds of Alameda County recycling workers filled the Local 6 union hall on March 1 to celebrate two years of hard work that yielded dramatic improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions –and opened the door to helping new workers organize and join the ILWU.

Like the historic “Alameda County Recycling Workers Convention” held in the same location two years ago, the room was filled again with family members, community supporters and political allies who came to celebrate the string of remarkable organizing victories by workers at the largest recycling operators in Alameda County.

Recycling worker Alejandra León co-chaired the event with fellow recycling worker Pedro Sanchez. Both did an excellent job and conducted most of the event in Spanish – the language preferred by a majority of recycling workers – but simultaneous professional translation services were offered with headphones to everyone attending.


Monsignor Antonio Valdivia provided an inspirational blessing to begin the event. He started by recalling that his own father had been a longtime member of Local 6, and used to bring home copies of the ILWU’s Dispatcher newspaper, which little Antonio would read out loud for his father who was unable to read. Monsignor Valdivia concluded by speaking to all the children in the room, asking them to respect how hard their parents are working at difficult jobs in order to provide bread for their families.

Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Fred Pecker added his welcome, thanking workers and special guests. He recounted the many accomplishments made during the past two years, explaining, “you’ve done so much good work to make life better for hundreds of workers employed in this industry – but many more recyclers are still suffering, and we’re now in a better position to help them.

Superhero support

A surprise visit was paid by the superhero, “Recycle Woman,” who appeared at the event in brightly-colored tights and a cape, played by Jessica Robinson. After greeting the audience, she led the children into a back room where she shared games that taught “zero waste” recycling skills for the children to use at home and school.
Solidarity from Brazil & Colombia

Environmental organizer Christie Keith of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) brought a message of solidarity and support from recycling workers in Colombia, Brazil and other members of the Latin America Recyclers Network. She noted that all recycling workers share a common bond for the important environmental work that they perform – and the struggle for justice required to gain recognition and respect.  GAIA organizer Monica Wilson, who serves on the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling Steering Committee, also attended.

ILWU officials

ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe and Secretary- Treasurer Willie Adams were both on hand to lend support and encouragement. Familathe, who oversees the union’s organizing efforts, said the

International union has supported the recycler organizing project for years because it has been a good way to help workers in a partnership with Local 6. He offered his continued support and encouraged workers to maintain their organizing efforts.

Alejandra León thanked Willie Adams for appearing two years ago at the first Recyclers Convention, where he predicted: “This campaign that we’re taking on, won’t be won by speeches – it will be won by working with allies, partners and a strong commitment.”

León thanked him for supporting the project and said his words two years ago had been “prophetic.” Adams spoke briefly, thanking workers for keeping faith in themselves and their union.

Key role by workers

The heart of the event was led by workers who shared short stories about the struggles they have endured during the past two years, fighting for better wages and benefits.

“Two years ago, we came here to make a plan for improving our recycling jobs. We set a goal for better pay that some people – including some officials from the Teamster and Machinists union – told us was ‘too much, too soon.’ But we didn’t back down, and today are celebrating the many victories that came from everyone’s hard work,” said León, as she and Pedro Sanchez began introducing workers who briefly shared their stories. Josefa Solano from BLT in Fremont explained how they became the first group of recycling workers to win raises and benefits that meet the new standard. Dinora Jordan from Waste Management told of a long, difficult but ultimately successful struggle by workers against one of the largest waste companies in the world.

Jose Gomez from ACI explained how workers overcame minimum wages, no benefits, no union and disrespect for immigrant workers to join Local 6. He reported that co-workers are now negotiating an ILWU contract that meets the “Alameda County Recycling Worker Standard” calling for “sorters” to earn $20.94 by 2019 along with affordable family health benefits.

Community support

“We couldn’t do all this by ourselves,” said Pedro Sanchez, who said the room was full of “compañeros” who supported the “causa” of improving conditions for recyclers. A group of special guests was then recognized and thanked – each receiving the gift of a commemorative framed poster signed by recycling workers.

Legal action

Attorney Emily Maglio from the Leonard Carder law firm was recognized for helping ACI workers prevail in a class-action lawsuit that was recently settled for $1.1 million and will provide many workers with significant back-pay awards. Workers Ignacia Garcia, Maria Granados Flores and Griselda Mora were named on the lawsuit were recognized and thanked for their courage.

Political leadership

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer was congratulated for hearing the concerns of recycling workers who have appeared before the City Council several times to provide updates and seek support for improvements at ACI, which provides recycling services for Alameda residents.

Recycler Ruben Ramos introduced Fremont City Councilmember Vinnie Bacon and thanked him for taking leadership to protect the environment and promote worker justice. Fremont was the first city in Alameda County to help workers reach the new pay and benefit standard. Oakland City Council member Dan Kalb was congratulated for supporting the fight to improve recycling services for Oakland residents and help workers win better working conditions.

Local leadership

Recycling and waste expert Ruth Abbe was honored for her service to the campaign, including her continuing role on the Steering Committee of the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling.Abbe also plays a leadership role in the Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee and has been providing workers with invaluable advice. Other environmental support for the campaign has been offered by the Center for Environmental Health.

Community organizer Brooke Anderson, affiliated with the Movement Generation network, ran to the podium to accept her award for supporting the recycling worker campaign. She has organized workshops to train workers about the economics of the recycling industry, and serves on the Steering Committee of the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling. Other community support has been provided by Oakland’s East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE). Recycler Mirella Jauragui congratulated staff from the University of California’s Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) for providing excellent health and safety training sessions to hundreds of recycling workers. LOHP staffers Suzanne Teran, Dinorah Barton-Antonio and Valeria Velasquez were recognized for their important work. Additional workplace safety advocacy and support has been provided by the Worksafe! organization.

Faith community

The final honors were reserved for Pastor Pablo Morataya of the Primera Inglesia Prebisteriana Hispana in Oakland. A key ally in the campaign to help workers, Pastor Morataya hosted the campaign’s first major community outreach event in November, 2013, where political leaders from Oakland agreed to pledge their support for improving conditions for recycling workers. He has also been a strong advocate for immigrant workers at ACI who were threatened with discrimination and firings.

Other important support for ACI workers from the faith community has been provided by Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Other faith community leadership for the recycler’s campaign has been provided by Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, Kristi Laughlin and Servant B.K. Woodson of the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy (FAME).

The afternoon event concluded with music – featuring the beautiful voices of Pedro Sanchez and Gustavo Nuñez, who also played keyboard. Family members of Rosa Delia Pérez provided the “DJ” service and more music. A buffet dinner was provided for all family members and guests.

Organizing continues

ACI worker José Delgadillo probably summed up the feelings of many in the room, when he said: “All of us who work at ACI have seen how much Local 6 and the ILWU have done to help us. We can now see that a better life is possible – not just for us, but for other recyclers who can win if we help them.”

Categories: Unions

Frank Billeci, former Local 34 President passes

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 15:21

Former ILWU Local 34 President Frank Billeci died on February 1 at the age of 79. Frank was a member of Local 34 for 42 years and served his local in several positions starting in 1969 when he was elected to the Local 34 Investigating Committee.

In 1971 he was elected to the Local 34 Labor Relations Committee and in 1973 was a delegate to the Longshore Caucus and Convention. He also served on the International Executive Board and the ILWU Container Freight Station Committee. In1977, Frank was elected Vice President of Local 34 and after six months, he assumed the office of Local 34 President when Jimmy Herman was elected ILWU International President.

He served as Local 34 President until 1989 when he took a break from elected office to return to the docks and work on projects with the International. He was again elected Local 34 President in 1994 and served in that position until his retirement in 1999.

After retiring, Frank spent time with his wife and family. He enjoyed following his favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and San Francisco 49ers, camping on the Sacramento River, fishing with his son and being a grandfather.

“Frank’s dedication to his work and the ILWU family was unsurpassed,” said Local 34 Secretary-Treasurer Allen Fung. “He never made himself the spotlight; instead he was always the one to give others the opportunity to shine. If there is one word that can be used to remember Frank, that word would be ‘integrity.’”

Frank is survived by Joan, his wife of 44 years, his daughter Tina, his son, Roger, his sister, Rose, and four grandchildren: Peter, Nathan, Lauren and Caroline.

Categories: Unions

SF approves redevelopment of historic 1930s-era longshoremen’s hall

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 15:07

The Men Along the Shore: Local 10 member Felipe Riley presented
the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
with materials on the history of the ILWU
published by the union.

. The building located at 110 The Embarcadero on the City’s waterfront will become the permanent headquarters of The Commonwealth Club of California. The 112-year old public affairs forum bought the building two-years ago but the project has been delayed by a neighborhood group that opposed the project.

The building was the headquarters for the longshoreman during the City’s historic 1934 waterfront strike and was the site of pitched battles between workers, police and private security forces. Two workers, Nicholas Bordois and Howard Sperry, were shot and killed by police on Bloody Thursday—July 5th, 1934. Their bodies laid in the longshoremen’s hall until their funeral. The deaths of Bordois and Sperry rallied public support for the strikers and eventually sparked a four-day general strike in San Francisco.

The building has been vacant for years. A previous development project, which was ultimately rejected by the Board Supervisors, proposed tearing down the building entirely and replacing it with a high-rise condominium project. The ILWU passed a resolution at its convention in 2009 opposing that project.

The Commonwealth Club reached out to the ILWU from the outset of the new project and wanted to ensure that the building’s history would be appropriately honored. The façade on Steuart Street, where the longshoreman occupied the building, will be restored to its original 1934 appearance.

The building’s history will also be commemorated with a plaque on the outside and a historical exhibit inside. The side of the building facing the Embarcadero, which no longer bears and resemblance to its 1930s character, will be replaced with a modern curtain-wall façade.

Local 10 member Felipe Riley, Bay Area pensioner John Fisher and ILWU historian Harvey Schwartz spoke in favor of the project because of the Commonwealth Club’s commitment to honoring the history of the ILWU and the important role the 1934 waterfront strike played in the City’s history.

The Commonwealth Club will be working with the ILWU to design the marker and exhibit detailing the building’s history that will be seen by thousands of people attending the Club’s events every year.

Categories: Unions

Portland ILWU members march against “Fast Track” and the TPP

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 11:19

United team: Local 8 member Creg Carse, casual Nichole Bosler-Lenhart, members Matt Theisen and Barry Price joined
a Portland protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on March 9th. The latest free trade deal is being promoted by
corporations and their friends in Congress. ILWU convention delegates voted to oppose the TPP in 2012, and members have
participated in many protests since.

ILWU members in Portland joined other union and community activists on March 9 to protest the latest “free trade” agreement, called the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP). Corporate interests are trying to ram the deal through Congress using a process known as “Fast Track” – the same tactic used to streamline passage of the NAFTA with Mexico and subsequent deals with Colombia and Korea.

Fast Track farce

To pass the controversial “free trade” deal, corporate-friendly legislators are proposing the Fast Track maneuver that was originally created during the Nixon-era to expand Presidential powers and weaken Congressional oversight of international agreements. While the U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority over trade legislation, and it makes sense to delegate some power to the President to negotiate new deals, it makes no sense to allow the President to do so in secret, without any accountability for meeting negotiating goals set by Congress.

Under Fast Track, Congress must limit debate to just 90 days and then conduct a simple majority, “yes” or “no” vote without allowing any changes or amendments. Corporate goodies Like NAFTA, the TPP is being sold with claims that it will expand trade, create jobs and include “labor and environmental protections” in order to win votes from Congressional Democrats. But unions say these claims amount to little more than window dressing, and fail to address all of the corporate deals concealed inside the secret pact. These include generous patent and intellectual property protections that generally benefit the 1% at the expense of everyone else, especially the working class.

Keeping secrets

The actual TPP agreement is cloaked in secrecy. Even members of Congress who wish to view the text are required to read it in a secure room, are not allowed to take notes, and cannot bring a staffer with them. The secure room is filled with “experts” from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office – the agency responsible for negotiating and promoting the agreement.

Threat to U.S. laws

The TPP includes provisions for bypassing national sovereignty –allowing U.S. laws to be challenged by corporations who claim our laws amount to unfair trade barriers. This can be used to file claims against environmental protection laws, “Buy American” contract preferences, and public investment programs to promote new energy and transportation industries. Such claims would be reviewed by a three person binding arbitration panel. The ramification is that a multi-national corporation could sue for damages if they believe a U.S. law is cutting into their profit margin.

Money & politics

Corporations hoping to benefit from the TPP have been making campaign donations to Senate and House members in order to influence votes on the trade pact. As with previous “free trade” agreements, this deal has exposed a fault-line in Congress that pits corporate- friendly Republicans and Democrats against progressives and labor allies. Groups outside Congress that oppose Fast Track include National Nurses United, the Sierra Club, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen and the AFL-CIO. Leading proponents include anti-union business lobbies such as the National Retail Federation, Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.

Friends & foes

Last year, 152 House Democrats, including James Clyburn (the third most powerful Democrat in the House) and former California representative George Miller signed letters opposing fast track. Senate minority leader Harry Reid has independently expressed his opposition to Fast Track. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has avoided taking a clear position, in the same way she did before backing NAFTA in 1993, but she recently expressed concerns about Fast Track when speaking to members of the Steelworkers Union.

Pelosi’s second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, also claims to be “undecided” but tipped his hand in late January by declaring that Fast Track could pass despite opposition from many fellow Democrats.

He went on to assert that previous free trade deals have been “good for the country and for workers.” Former Clinton Labor Secretary and NAFTA booster Robert Reich has flipped sides and now opposes Fast Track and the TPP, which he calls a “corporate Trojan horse.” And two famous Nobel Prize-winning economists, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz, recently announced their opposition, as did prominent free trade economist Jeffrey Sachs.

ILWU Opposes TPP

At the 35th International Convention of the ILWU in 2012, delegates passed a resolution opposing the TPP, and this resolution continues to guide ILWU policy.

Horrors in Colombia

The passage of the Colombian Free Trade agreement in 2012 has been devastating for longshoremen in that South American nation. Public docks have been privatized and union workers bypassed. Labor provisions in the free trade agreement were supposed to protect workers’ rights, but have proven ineffective. Assassinations, death threats and anti-worker paramilitaries continue to operate in Colombia with impunity. Port operators have bypassed the union in favor of hiring directly off the street. Workers have been forced to live inside containers on the docks when they aren’t needed to load or unload vessels.

Union members who resist these abuses have been blacklisted and union officials are receiving death threats. Some longshoremen have been forced to sign letters promising that they won’t join the union.

More nightmares?

The proposed TPP provides a “docking mechanism” that allows additional nations to join after the deal is enacted. Vietnam is of particular concern because it is illegal in that country to form an independent union, and persons who do so can be imprisoned. Similar concerns could apply to other nations, including Burma – renamed “Myanmar” by the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1962 to 2011.

What we can do

To help stop Fast Track and the TPP, call your Senators and Representatives by dialing 855-712-8441 and let them know:

• The TPP is bad for America.

• Fast Track authority should be opposed.

• You will not re-elect any politician who sells out workers and our country.

Many members of Congress are already doing the right thing by opposing Fast Track and the TPP, such as U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio. More grassroots pressure can help others make the same choice. An injury to one is an injury to all.

– Matt Theisen, Local 8

Categories: Unions