On January 30, workers at Harbor Dental and Associates in Harbor City, CA voted overwhelmingly to be represented by ILWU Local 26. The new ILWU Local 26 Bargaining Unit consists of dental hygienists, dental assistants and receptionists. They work at the Harbor Dental facility located in a Harbor City.
This facility has been the preferred dental service provider for many Longshore families for decades. They will work with ILWU Local 26 President Luisa Gratz to get a first contract.
On March 1st, hundreds of well-wishers gathered at the Bayview Boat Club on the San Francisco waterfront to offer a final toast to Local 10 pensioner, Reg Theriault, who passed away on February 15 at the age of 89. In addition to being a longshoreman, Theriault was an accomplished author of several books on work and the working class. His most successful book was, How to Tell When You are Tired: A Brief Examination of Work. It was widely praised and won acclaim from labor writer Studs Terkel who called it “a classic.”
Theriault saw work as a basic human condition. His writing gave voice to men and women who perform manual labor. “Most of the people across the face of the earth are doing work, much of it hard work, most of the days of their lives,” wrote Theriault in How to Tell When You are Tired. “By the time most kids are big enough or old enough or educated enough to get their first job, they are already conditioned…to pass beyond liking or disliking work to accepting it as inevitable.”
His other books included, The Unmaking of the American Working Class which was recently translated into Korean and Longshoring on the San Francisco Waterfront. Many books on work and workers have been written by academics. Theriault was a working class intellectual whose perspective was informed by a lifetime of labor. He came from a family of “fruit tramps”—roving, migrant farm workers who sorted and packed fruit for shipment. After a finishing a job, his family might drive hundreds of miles overnight for a job at the next orchard or farm.
Theriault proudly served as a paratrooper during the Second World War and was witness to the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. After the war, he attended Cal for a few years before dropping out and eventually became a longshoreman in 1959. Theriault served as Vice President of Local 10, caucus delegate and member of the negotiating committee.
He lived in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco for over 40 years. In the late 40’s to the mid-1950s he rubbed shoulders with the era’s radical writers, beatniks and free-thinkers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti who gathered at City Lights Bookstore, Speck’s, Gino & Carlo’s and Vesuvio’s where Theriault worked as a bartender. He enjoyed diving for Abalone while camping on the Mendocino coast and learned to snow ski with his children when he was 50.
Through his books and as an officer at Local 10, Theriault spent his life fighting for safer and better working conditions, increased benefits for fellow workers and promoting the dignity and value of labor.
He is survived by his three sons, Thomas, Marcus and Raymond and three grandchildren. He was proud of all of his sons who became union members with strong work ethics.
Thousands of working-class families lined the streets of London’s East End neighborhood on March 24 to honor the passing of Britain’s most militant labor leader of his generation: Bob Crow, who died suddenly at age 52 after a suspected heart attack on March 11. For a dozen years, Crow headed the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), where he led many strikes and made no apologies for being an avowed socialist and fighter for the working class.
Like the ILWU, the RMT and Bob Crow celebrated the power of solidarity at home and abroad. He regularly attended ILWU events, including the 2012 Convention in San Diego. International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe attended the funeral on behalf of the ILWU.
“Bob brought so much passion and intelligence to every fight,” said Familathe. “There haven’t been many like him with his talent and commitment, which is why his loss is so stunning and sad.”
The hour-long procession from the East End to City of London Cemetery was observed by local union members, pensioners and supporters from around the world who clapped as the horse-drawn hearse carrying Crow’s casket passed, moving some to throw roses and shed tears while others sang socialist songs.
Alfonso Bahena, from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, said Mr. Crow’s legacy went far beyond Britain. “Bob Crow spoke at our Congress in Mexico City in 2010 and he was one of the most important people,” said Bahena who represented the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). “He helped make a lot of policy for the railway workers in Brazil and South America.”
Crow’s loyalty extended to other groups in England that found him willing to support their causes, including coal miners, pensioners, and activists at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
As the leader of the RMT, he headed many strikes including a recent walk-out by London Underground workers. His tough stance frequently provoked controversy and drew sharp criticism from politicians who resented Crow’s loyalty among workers.
Crow was a passionate supporter of the Millwall Football Club, a working-class team founded in London’s East End near the docks, with a slogan fitting for Crow as well: “No one likes us – and we don’t care.”
“Some politicians called him the most hated man in Britain,” said one woman waiting for the procession.
“But today it looks like he was the most loved.” A memorial honoring Crow’s life and values is slated for London’s May Day celebration.
Over 220 women from 80 countries gathered in New Delhi, India January 27-28 for a conference organized by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Representing the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) at the conference were IBU Secretary Treasurer Terri Mast, San Francisco Regional Director Marina Secchitano and IBU member Alison Seamans. Mast is also member of the ITF Woman’s Committee and represents the ILWU on the ITF Executive Board. The conference focused on the issues facing women workers around the world. Alison Seamans and Marina Secchitano filed the report below.
The ITF held a two-day Women Transport Workers’ Conference on January 27 and 28 in New Delhi, India. The conference focused on four themes: 1) Organizing women’s transport workers to build strong unions; 2) Building alliances with organizations at the forefront of combating violence against women to strengthen ITF affiliates’ campaigns at the global and regional level; 3) Campaigning for our public services; 4) Women in Leadership, “Leading change” to grow unions. Speakers from around the globe addressed the conference on these themes. Resolutions and conclusions from the conference will be submitted to the upcoming general assembly in August 2014, in Sophia, Bulgaria.
Our Indian brothers and sisters were wonderful hosts, welcoming us all in traditional ways. At dinner the first night we were treated to beautiful and moving performances of traditional Indian dance and music. The opportunity to make personal contact with union sisters from all over the world is invaluable. Solidarity amongst only the people in our immediate area isn’t enough.
Economic concerns are global. Labor must stand together globally if we are to have any strength at all. The threats of outsourcing, privatization, insecure temporary and contracted jobs, employer retaliation for organizing, and the short sighted attempt to “fix” failing economies by decimating the living standards of workers through austerity exist worldwide.
I was both proud and disappointed that the three of us from the IBU were the only US delegates present; it’s important that those of us from more privileged (at least so far) countries come together and stand beside those who are still struggling for any sort of place in the work force.
A strong labor force depends on women’s participation at all levels. Voiceless and disempowered women cannot contribute fully to the strength of a union. We need strong, involved women to maximize our strength. This was highlighted poignantly by a sister from India Airlines who apologized that her union had not been able to focus more on the conference. Her union is in the fight of its life against the employer and government. The women members are “standing shoulder to shoulder with the men fighting for everyone’s survival.”
This is how it needs to be and women need voice, power, and a place in leadership to make that happen. Even in the developed countries, women are underrepresented in union leadership and they speak out less than the men. In other parts of the world, the situation is much worse. An injury to one is an injury to all, and in a global marketplace, powerlessness for some is powerlessness for all.
The opportunity to hear firsthand the stories of women fighting for their rights, for a voice and for an equal place in the workforce and the union was unforgettable, inspiring, shocking, heartrending and brilliant. We heard many stories from courageous women around the world.
The moderator, Diane Holland, Chair of the ITF Women Transport Workers’ Committee, began by explaining that 20 years ago the women of the ITF first won 5 seats on the executive committee in a hard fought battle. Since women are involved in the workplace they must have a voice and thus began the long journey of setting up a network for millions of women around the world.
- One of the first speakers was Indira Jaising, the first woman appointed to the position of Additional Solicitor General of India and a lifetime activist for labor, women’s rights and the homeless and marginalized. She made the following points:
- In 1975, Indian women achieved equal pay for equal work for women, and the constitution was amended to include a guarantee of the fundamental right to form a union.
- In 1992, a woman was raped by 5 men for speaking out against child marriage, and in 1997, the Supreme Court issued the “Vishaka Judgment” identifying that sexual harassment violated a fundamental right to work.
- In December 2012, a brutal gang rape of a 23 year old woman on a bus resulted in her death 15 days later. The entire country rose up in protest demanding action from the government. Four months later, in April 2013, a new law was passed guaranteeing rights for women, and prohibiting sexual harassment, with strong enforcement.
- The violence against women must end. We must build women’s economic power, remove barriers and create safety for women. Consequently unions are adding language to their labor agreements prohibiting sexual harassment on the job. It is of great importance to provide equal education and economic opportunities.
Satich Kumar Singh, Deputy Director, Center for Health and Social Justice, New Delhi stated that studies show that nearly one in every three women will be beaten, harassed or raped in her lifetime.
“Although not all men are perpetrators, most do not speak out against this violence. All men have to speak out and oppose Violence Against Women. It is one of the biggest crimes and human rights violation on earth and the responsibility of ending violence against women cannot be put on women’s shoulders alone.” His motto was that “men of quality do not fear equality.”
We heard about the abuses at Qatar Airways and the complete powerlessness of their workers. Bette Matuga told us the inspiring story of her innovative and successful campaign to fight privatization of the Port of Mombasa, preserving the good jobs that fuel the local economy.
Rebecca Crocker shared the triumphs and continuing challenges of fighting for decent treatment of London Underground cleaners. We heard stories of the India Railways and the fight for safety and decency for the women employees there who face physical attack, lack of basic sanitary facilities, and a high rate of miscarriage due to the physical impacts of the trains, amongst other problems.
We heard from women whose safety is at risk merely for belonging to a labor organization, which must be carefully hidden. We listened to the ongoing struggle for basic worker rights at DHL Turkey, and the drive to organize fisheries in Papua New Guinea. Both were successful in organizing a union with the support of the ITF and we celebrated in their victory.
These and many more stories formed the backdrop for the work of setting goals and direction to recommend to the ITF. For every story we heard there were a dozen more waiting to be told. We came
away with an informed, global perspective on the state of our unions and labor in today’s world.
The business of the convention was to set a direction and recommendations where women in labor are concerned for the ITF, and to identify opportunities for action over the next four years. The conference tackled two major issues facing women. The first is the global economic crisis, and anti-labor responses to it, including the necessity of organizing women transport workers in a market where all workers are increasingly kept in insecure temporary and contracted jobs.
Often, women are especially vulnerable to the effects of austerity measures. They are the lowest paid members of the workforce, disproportionately affected by cost saving measures, and the first affected by lay-offs.
The second issue is that of violence against women. Women face the dual challenge of being targeted for violence (both in and out of the workplace) because of their gender, and being more vulnerable to non-gender based violence in the transportation industry. In many countries, such as India, rape, murder, violence and harassment are used as a tactic to enforce the power of men over women, limit the opportunities available to women, and keep them out of the workplace.
The conference passed resolutions calling on the ITF to recognize, recruit, promote, and continue mapping women in transport jobs and union, participate in educating male colleagues about issues facing women in the workplace, provide opportunities for women via training and information, encourage solidarity from male union members, campaign against gender based violence, and support effective networks of women in transportation.
The ITF seeks to build ongoing alliances with organizations working to combat violence against women, encourage participation in the International Day to Say No to Violence Against Women on November 25, and explore ways to strengthen affiliates’ campaigns.
Austerity cuts to public services affect all women, who are the majority users of public transportation, child care and health care. Unions need to build and support strong campaigns to maintain quality public services. The conference endorsed recommendations to the ITF Congress to continue seeking input from the sectional and regional conferences and to set up a working group to produce recommendations for priority issues and targets for the next four years.
The conference finished with a rally through downtown New Delhi protesting violence against women. We marched through the busy train station and finished up with greetings and ceremonies by our sisters and brothers at the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen and the All India Railwaymen’s Federation.
We were privileged to an intense and moving performance of street theater in protest of a culture of violence against women. Several dozen young men and women performed passionately, sometimes interactively, with an audience drawn close to the performance. So what does this mean for the IBU?
We have opportunities to address these from within our own union. Codifying domestic violence leave into our bargaining agreements was raised, and is something we should look at for both women and men.
Working in an industry where physical demands are high can make pregnancy and child birth more challenging; we can make materials available to give workers more awareness of their rights and options. Social media and our website can be used to promote awareness of the issues facing women in transportation worldwide and how to support gender equality, by posting and following up on the challenges and situations we’ve been informed about at this conference, and reporting on actions we take within our own union. The IBU should recognize International Women’s Day on March 8 in a way that draws involvement from our women members. We should create awareness of women in our non-passenger industries especially. We need to evaluate what issues they face, or would face, and what would be needed to recruit more and insure they have an equal place and equal voice with men in the workplace.
We need to identify areas in our union where women workers are not well represented in leadership or are facing issues in the workplace that we should be helping with. We should support the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) campaign for a standard on gender based violence at work and campaign for US
support of a convention on gender based violence at work. Visit http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/stop_violence_en.pdf for more information on this. Above all we need to foster an awareness that all workers globally are in the same struggle for a decent life. We are stronger if we fight together. This was an incredible opportunity to see the solidarity of our unions and the power of our women leaders in being a part of building an International movement.
The ILWU joined other members of International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) on March 20th who organized a protest and negotiating session at the Honduran Embassy in London.
“We gathered in London for the ITF Dockers Section meeting to discuss important issues facing dockworkers around the world – including the abuse of workers at Puerto Cortés in Honduras,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe who also serves as Second Vice-Chair for the ITF Dockers Section.
A protest was organized to seek justice for Honduran dockworkers who have suffered a host of human and labor rights abuses at Puerto Cortés where global terminal operator ICTSI won a concession in September of 2012 to privately run the former public port. Union leaders have been trying – without success – to negotiate with ICTSI’s Honduran subsidiary to reach a collective bargaining agreement for port workers.
Death threats and murder
Honduran dockworker Victor Crepso, who heads the Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores del Muelle (SGTM), faced repeated death threats and an attempt on his life, forcing Crespo to flee the country for his own protection. After Crespo fled Honduras, his father was murdered on January 27, 2014.
SGTM union members who participated in legitimate and peaceful protests in Honduras and at ICTSI’s terminal at the Port of Portland on March 4, were subsequently hunted down by Honduran police when they returned home. Some union leaders were detained and charged with crimes against the state.
In London, the ITF assembled a high-level official delegation to meet with Honduran Ambassador Romero-Martinez at his London embassy, while ILWU Vice President Familathe and other members of the ITF Dockers’ Section – representing port workers worldwide – demonstrated in front of the building.
“We called on Honduran officials to practice ‘negotiation, not intimidation,’” said Familathe.
Inside the Honduran Embassy, ITF President Paddy Crumlin; ITF Acting General Secretary Steve Cotton; ITF-affiliate SGTM President Victor Crespo; and ITF Maritime Coordinator Tomas Abrahamsson reviewed the recent history of worker abuse at Puerto Cortés.
Agreement to investigate
At the conclusion of the meeting, Ambassador Romero-Martinez promised to seek an investigation into the death threats and other abuse of trade unionists at Puerto Cortés.
Speaking on the embassy steps following the meeting, ITF President Paddy Crumlin announced: “We had a productive, open and frank conversation with the ambassador who agreed there should be an investigation into the abuse of trade union and human rights being reported in Puerto Cortés.
All of us agreed that engagement from all sides is essential if we’re to bring about an end to this situation.”
On Tuesday, March 4, workers from Puerto Cortés in Honduras who are union members belonging to the “Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores del Muelle” (SGTM), established a picket line in front of ICTSI’s Oregon’s operation at Terminal 6 in Portland.
SGTM workers held picket signs that read, “S.G.T.M. LOCKED OUT ICTSI” and stated that they are facing murder, military repression, death threats, and anti-union attacks. ILWU workers honored the picket line in accordance with their collective bargaining agreement.
Philippines-based ICTSI is a global terminal operator that began its first U.S. venture in 2010 by leasing Terminal 6 from the Port of Portland. ICTSI is the parent company for ICTSI Oregon and Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC) in Honduras. On February 1, 2013, ICTSI was awarded a concession agreement in Puerto Cortés for 29 years. ICTSI then established OPC, which imposed a sham labor agreement that was approved by the Honduran Government and ICTSI – but never voted on or approved by a majority of port workers. ICTSI/OPC began hiring workers under the sham labor agreement in December 2013 and, over the course of the next couple months, the company fired large numbers of union supporters. This mass firing of union supporters sparked a protest on February 26, 2014. The Honduran military responded to the protest by invading the port and arresting approximately 129 workers, charging many with “terrorism” and “damaging the national economy.” Dockerworker union leader Victor Crespo had to flee the country after his family members were attacked, killing his father and injuring his mother.
International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) – the rogue Pacific Maritime Association employer operating primarily in Third World ports with one U.S. operation at Terminal 6 in the Port of Portland, OR – reported that company profits shot up 20%
in 2013 over the previous year.
The company said net revenue (profit) rose from $143.2 to $172.4 million in 2013. The company attributed their higher profits to strong revenue growth and better profit
margins at key terminals, including a new operation in Pakistan.
ICTSI is run by Enrique K. Razon, Jr., said to be ranked as the thirdrichest
tycoon in the Philippines with personal wealth estimated by Forbes Magazine at $4.2 billion dollars. Razon acquired his fortune the old-fashioned way – by inheriting the family business.
He serves as Chairman or Director of a dozen companies, and has invested in mining, oil & gas, utilities, real estate, golf courses, resorts and gambling – in addition to container terminals.
In June 2012, in response to the PMA and ILWU’s effort to seek court enforcement of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement against PMA member company ICTSI at its Terminal 6 facility in Portland, Oregon, ICTSI took the extreme and unprecedented step of suing the PMA and ILWU for alleged federal antitrust violations.
On March 24, 2014, a Federal District Court Judge dismissed ICTSI’s scurrilous antitrust claims. In his Opinion and Order, Federal Judge Michael Simon upheld the well-established statutory exemption from antitrust scrutiny of traditional union activities and acknowledged the ILWU’s legitimate interest in engaging in activities normally associated with labor disputes. The Judge also rejected ICTSI’s absurd monopoly claim and recognized the valid work preservation intent of applicable sections of the ILWU-PMA contract.
In addition to dismissing ICTSI’s antitrust claim, the Federal District Court Judge dismissed the Port of Portland’s claim that PMA and the ILWU had intentionally interfered with the Port’s contractual relationship with ICTSI and IBEW Local 48.
In February, the Puget Sound District Council (PSDC) donated $1000 to public radio station KSVR-FM in Washington State’s Skagit Valley where the radio program, “We Do The Work,” is produced. The weekly half-hour show is co-hosted by Pacific Coast Pensioner President Rich Austin.
“Our ILWU District Council understands the importance of supporting community organizations that speak to the needs of America’s working class,” said PSDC President Dan McKisson. “The folks who broadcast “We Do The Work” believe that workers are the heart and soul of our economy and culture – and that all workers deserve dignity, economic security, respect, and a decent family wage. Because our District Council shares that view, we decided to support this valuable community resource,” said McKisson.
During the next several months, KSVR will air hundreds of public announcements provided by the District Council. McKisson says the donation serves two purposes; allowing the ILWU to underwrite progressive radio programming – and getting the ILWU’s message out to the local community about efforts to help fellow workers.
“We hope other District Councils will urge their local public radio stations to carry “We Do The Work” shows each week. These programs are relevant, and speak to issues that are important to the working class.
We rarely hear these kind of ‘pork chop issues’ discussed from a working- class view on commercial stations.”
For more information about the show and how to contact your local station, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
“We Do The Work” is also carried on: WXOJ (Florence, MA) WPRR (Grand Rapids, MI) KOWA (Olympia, WA) KUGS (Bellingham, WA) KKRN (Redding, CA) W237CZ (Hudsonville, MI) WPJC (Pontiac, MI) WXPZ (Clyde Township, MI) KSVU (Upper Skagit River, WA)
When an expected 82 cruise ships arrive in San Francisco next year, most will be tied-up, secured and provisioned by ILWU members at the brand new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal on Pier 27, a $100 million-dollar, 88,000 square foot facility that will soon open for business on the city’s historic Embarcadero waterfront where the 1934 maritime strike helped establish the ILWU.
While passengers use the new terminal to check their luggage, pass through security and confirm ticketing, they’ll also have a unique chance to learn more about the waterfront and ILWU history – thanks to an effort led by ILWU Local leaders, including Local 34 President Sean Farley.
“We’re supporting a special area inside the cruise terminal that will educate the public about Jimmy Herman, the ILWU, labor unions and the working class,” says Farley who is working on the project with Former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, ILWU Historian Harvey Schwartz and ILWU Librarian/Archivist Robin Walker.
“We have a rare chance to reach more than 200,000 visitors each year with a positive message about the ILWU – but the project needs donations for the dream to be realized,” explained Farley.
The response so far has been positive. Contributions have been received from ILWU Locals 500, 92, 63-A, 40, 14, 12 and 5, plus the Inlandboatmen’s Union National Office and IBU Puget Sound Region. Teamsters Local 350 also sent a generous donation.
Support has also come from Auxiliaries 5 and 17, and from the Columbia River Pensioner’s, Longview Pension Group, Vancouver (BC) Pensioners Club, and Vancouver Island Pensioner’s Club. Donations from individuals include: Laurence G. Bailey, Richard and Dagmar Barsch, Frank W. Best, Jon and Jeanette Borst, P. L. Boryer, Thomas and Vickie Christy, Paul and Barbara Donohue, and Delbert and Susan Green.
Donations will be used to finish the memorial inside the new terminal that will honor Jimmy Herman, who succeeded Harry Bridges as ILWU International President and served from 1977 to 1991. Herman also spent 16 years on the San Francisco Port Commission, the public agency that built the new cruise ship terminal and dedicated it in Herman’s honor.
ILWU Local 10 President Melvin Mackay noted, “This is the only cruise terminal in the world dedicated to a labor leader, and Jimmy Herman is one of our own,” Mackay urged members and locals to consider donating to the project. “This is a special opportunity to ensure the ILWU’s legacy and honor an important labor leader” he said. Tax-deductible checks can be made to: “James R. Herman Memorial Committee” c/o Local 34, 4 Berry Street, San Francisco, CA 94107.
Delegates who attended the Coast Longshore Division Caucus in San Francisco last month, provided a warm embrace to Honduran dock union leader Victor Crespo and two co-workers who addressed the Caucus on March 4.
Delegates pledged their solidarity and unanimously voted to convene the two-week Caucus in honor of Crespo’s father, who was killed by anti-union death squads in Honduras on January 27.
Before delegates left town, there was one last piece of unfinished business – a group visit to the Honduran Consulate in San Francisco on Friday, March 7th.
Around noon, a large group of delegates, pensioners and supporters gathered for a short but spirited march along San Francisco’s historic Market Street, where dockworkers and supporters had marched silently eighty years ago to honor the martyrs who were killed during the West Coast Maritime Strike on March 5, 1934 – Bloody Thursday.
When the crowd arrived at the office building housing the Honduran Consulate, marchers quickly filled the hallways, staircases and elevators that led to the Honduran Consulate on the 5th floor.
ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, Vice President Ray Familathe and Southern California Pensioners Group President Greg Mitre entered the Consulate offices and requested a meeting with the Honduran official in charge.
While members chanted outside in the hallways, McEllrath, Familathe and Mitre met with the Honduran official to explain the problems that followed ICTSI’s newly privatized terminal operation at Puerto Cortés in Honduras where union members have faced violent attacks from police, military troops and antiunion death squads. Details about Victor Crespo’s case were provided, including the recent attacks by death squads who murdered Crespo’s father and injured his mother.
“We made it clear to the consulate that these kind of attacks on workers and unions were outrageous and unacceptable, no matter where in the world they happen,” said McEllrath. After receiving assurance that the ILWU’s concerns would be immediately conveyed to top Honduran government officials, the group left the Consulate, vowing to return if necessary.
“I think we made our point,” McEllrath told the crowd of supporters who assembled outside the consulate building after the event.
“And we’ll keep pushing until there’s justice for our brothers and sisters in Honduras.
ILWU members protest at Honduran Consulate in San Francisco against abuse and human rights violations by Honduran government and ICTSI
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – One hundred members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) held a spirited protest at the Honduran Consulate this morning in San Francisco to support Honduran port workers who are suffering human rights violations and retaliation by the government of Honduras and private port operator, International Container Terminal Services Incorporated (ICTSI).
Today’s protest was sparked by an incident on Tuesday, March 4, when three elected leaders of the Honduran Port Workers Union (Spanish acronym SGTM) established a picket line in front of the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) operation at Terminal 6 in Portland, Oregon. The Honduran port workers carried picket signs reading, “SGTM LOCKED OUT ICTSI” and explained that they have been facing physical assault, military repression, death threats, and anti-union attacks since ICTSI won a concession agreement from the government of Honduras to operate the cargo terminal at Puerto Cortes, Honduras, in February of 2013.
ILWU dockworkers in Portland refused to cross the picket line in solidarity, and an arbitrator ruled that the work stoppage was not illegal under the collective bargaining agreement. When the port workers returned home to Honduras two days later, they learned that the Honduran National Police were seeking to detain and arrest them for exercising their free speech rights at the ICTSI gate in Portland.
“ICTSI and the government of Honduras need to stop violating the human rights of these dockworkers,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, who led the Friday morning protest with International Vice President Ray Familathe. McEllrath based his comments about human rights violations on a letter delivered to the US Embassy in Honduras on March 6, 2014, from the AFL-CIO supported Solidarity Center. The letter accused ICTSI of using its influence with Honduran authorities to conduct reprisals against port workers: “It is also disturbing that the Honduran government and police appear to be acting on behalf of and under the direction of ICTSI, and that the company provided the Honduran government and police with the information of the protest in Portland and the picture of the SGTM members from the Oregonian.” The Solidarity Center further stated, “That ICTSI is utilizing its influence with the Honduran police to conduct reprisals on SGTM members’ raises even further concern about issues of corruption within the Honduran police and a continued failure by the Honduran police to respect and uphold human rights.”
“One-to-one, worker-to-worker – that’s a big part of how we organize in the ILWU.” explained Wesley Furtado, International Vice President (Hawaii). This approach has worked for our Union over the years, including 2013 when over 500 new members were brought into Local 142 between September and November.
On September 1, 2013, the Andaz Maui at Wailea – a Hyatt brand resort – agreed to card check recognition and a first contract that will give Andaz Maui workers a 14.5% increase over 3.5 years. The Andaz is expected to eventually employ some 400 bargaining unit workers.
“The Andaz was the priority for our organizing in Local 142.” Furtado continued. “It was a brand new hotel built on the grounds of the former Renaissance Wailea Resort – an ILWU unit for many years. We wanted to make sure it continued to be an ILWU house so we could protect the standards we have at the two other Hyatt resorts represented by Local 142.”
Organizers and rank and file leaders from many Maui Division units identified Andaz applicants from around the island and signed these workers on union authorization cards. Thousands of family members, co-workers, and friends were contacted. Social media and many new and creative ideas were used to build on the ILWU approach of one-to-one, worker-to-worker.
In Hawaii Division, rank and file members were key in convincing a non-union department of the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay to organize. On September 6, 2013, Guest Service Agents voted 6 – 2 to join the ILWU in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
On September 10, 2013, the NLRB conducted an election on Oahu for 45 drivers and warehouse workers at Anheuser-Busch Sales of Hawaii. The Anheuser-Busch workers took ownership of this organizing drive; leaders talked to co-workers, signed them up on ILWU cards, set up group meetings – and they won! The vote: 27 – 17.
Another NLRB election, this time for workers at Kaanapali Alii, was held November 20, 2013. Kaanapali Alii is a vacation condominium resort located between two longtime ILWU units, the Westin Maui Resort & Spa and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa.
Organizers built a solid core of support through one-to-one contact with the workers, and this support grew stronger as ILWU members who are family and friends of Kaanapali Alii employees urged them to “go union”. On election day, leaders and members from the Westin and Hyatt turned out to hold signs encouraging a “yes” vote. The 75 Kaanapali Alii workers responded, voting 49 – 22 for the ILWU.
“Westin is a well-established unit in the ILWU and Kaanapali Alii is right next to our hotel. Our members came out when Alii workers voted – we wanted to show them that they weren’t alone. We live in the same communities and shop in the same stores. We want them to enjoy the benefits of an ILWU contract just like we do,” said Mike Bunyard, unit chair at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa.
In spite of these victories, organizing is tough. Most workers seeking to join a union in this country face an uphill battle made even more difficult by weak labor laws. But one-to-one, worker-to-worker contact – especially by members who can talk firsthand about the ILWU – goes a long ways towards countering the fear and intimidation that many workers face when trying to form a union.
With the current Longshore and Clerks’ Contract expiring just four months from now on midnight of June 30, 2014, the Coast Longshore Division Caucus began two weeks of meetings on February 24 that will establish member-based priorities for the new contract negotiations.
A democratic process
A team of 90 elected delegates representing workers from every West Coast port were joined by dozens of pensioners, special dignitaries, fraternal organizations and member-observers who filled the San Francisco meeting hall from morning ‘til night.
Local 13 veteran Joe Cortez was elected Chair of the Caucus by delegates who also tapped Frank Ponce De Leon as Caucus Secretary. ILWU International President Bob McEllrath delivered brief introductory remarks that provided context and background for the discussions that followed.
“You’re here to set the agenda that our Negotiating Committee will follow,” he explained. “This is your Caucus – and you’ll be calling the shots.” McEllrath then laid out his perspective on issues that will shape the upcoming contract talks. He urged delegates to “hold the line,” and encouraged them to propose strategies to address the challenges ahead, including:
• Jurisdiction – efforts by the employers and other unions to poach Longshore jobs.
• Health Care & Pensions – increased employer & government pressure to cut benefits.
• Automation – employer efforts to replace workers with new technology.
Delegates responded warmly to a proposal by Southern California Pensioner’s Group President Greg Mitre who asked that the Caucus be dedicated to the memory of Victor Manuel Crespo Puerto who was murdered late last month by anti-union death squads in Honduras. Victor Crespo and his wife became assassination targets after his son led efforts to help Port workers secure a union contract at a newly privatized port managed by International Container Terminal Service Incorporated (ICTSI), a story that was detailed in last month’s Dispatcher. Other dedications were offered on behalf of fallen members Frank Cappiello, Sr., of Local 52; Ernie Di Villarico of Local 34; Reg Theriault, Eric Wright and Joy Daniels of Local 10; Local 10 pensioners Osborn Hill, Al Broussard, John Romo, Manny Simpson; and Ethyl Chester – widow of former Local 10 member and International Vice President, Bill Chester.
Delegations of dockworkers from around the world attended the Caucus to convey their solidarity and support. Heading the list of dignitaries was Paddy Crumlin, President of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) which represents over 700 unions in 150 countries with 4.7 million workers.
In addition to serving as Chair of the ITF Dockers Section, Crumlin is General Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). He urged ILWU delegates to remember that their upcoming contract struggle would be watched by dockworkers across the globe who draw inspiration from the ILWU’s strength and courage. “You can count on your friends at ports around the globe to be there if you need our help,” said Crumlin, who noted that powerful carriers and terminal operators are bent on squeezing union members on a global scale. He also cited recent struggles in Australia where dockers have been tangling with powerful employers, “just like the ones you’ll be facing in a few months.” He said MUA members are in the process of tackling new technology, “which we don’t oppose if employers are willing to negotiate the impacts on workers and ensure that they result in dignity and security instead of fear and insecurity.” Crumlin said MUA members at the Port of Brisbane decided to address new technology there by choosing a 32-hour work week with excellent pay that expanded the MUA’s membership and strength.
Another important solidarity delegation attending the Caucus was the International Dockers Council (IDC), led by General Coordinator Antolin Goya, representing 90,000 dockers around the globe. Goya also serves as the head of Coordinadora, the union representing 80% of dockworkers in Spain. Goya pledged that the IDC and Spanish dockers would “stand with you in solidarity” because “a victory by the ILWU will help dockworkers everywhere.”
Recognizing that Hawaiian Longshore workers have their own contract that is negotiated separately from the mainland, President McEllrath made a point of acknowledging the delegation of Hawaiian Longshore Division leaders who attended the Caucus, led by Director Nate Lum, along with Wesley Furtado, International Vice President, Hawaii. The Hawaiian members were introduced and thanked for their pledges of solidarity and support.
Reports for delegates
The Longshore Division’s Coast Committee, consisting of International President Bob McEllrath, Vice President Ray Familathe, and Coast Committeemen Ray Ortiz, Jr., and Leal Sundet, reported on the critical issues expected to emerge in negotiations and gave suggestions and recommendations for delegates to consider as they debate goals and priorities during the two-week Caucus.
Pension & welfare
Additional reports were submitted by the Coast Pension & Welfare Committee that met in late January to prepare materials for Caucus members. Coast Benefits Specialist John Castanho led a series of presentations that provided delegates with detailed information about the union’s health insurance and pension plans. Experts and attorneys were also on hand to provide additional analysis and answer questions.
Thanking Nick Buckles
As the Dispatcher was going to press in late February, delegates were just beginning to debate the many resolutions that will guide the upcoming contract negotiations. The first resolution to be adopted by delegates was passed unanimously by a standing ovation of delegates who honored Local 32 member Nick Buckles, who started working on the docks in 1961 and served for 18 years as the ILWU’s Washington Area Welfare Director. Many heartfelt testimonials, including several filled with tears, accompanied the resolution and honorary plaque that Buckles accepted graciously from the Caucus. Next month’s Dispatcher will report on the conclusions reached by the Caucus and the next steps ahead in the 2014 contract negotiations.
PORTLAND, OR (MARCH 4, 2014) – On March 4, Central American port workers from the labor union Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores del Muelle (SGTM) from Puerto Cortés in Honduras established a picket line in front of ICTSI’s Oregon’soperation at Terminal 6 in Portland. SGTM workers held picket signs that read, “S.G.T.M. LOCKED OUT ICTSI” and statedthat they are facing murder, military repression, death threats,and anti-union attacks. ILWU workers honored the picket line in accordance with their collective bargaining agreement.
ICTSI, the Philippines-based global terminal operator that began its first venture in the United States in 2010 when it leased Terminal 6 from the Port of Portland, is the parent company for ICTSI Oregon and Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana(OPC). On February 1, 2013, ICTSI was awarded a concession agreement in Puerto Cortés for 29 years. ICTSI then establishedOPC,
which imposed a sham labor agreement that was approved by the Honduran Government and ICTSI but never voted on or approved by a majority of port workers. ICTSI/OPC began hiring workers under the sham labor agreement in December 2013 and, over the course of the next couple months, the company fired large numbers of union supporters. This mass firing of union supporters sparked protest on February 26, 2014. The Honduran military responded to the protest by invading the port and arresting approximately 129 workers, who were charged with “terrorism” and “damaging the national economy”. One union leader has had to flee the country after his family members were attacked, killing one and injuring others.
A veteran state safety inspector says top government officials are weakening California’s workplace protection agency – leaving the state’s 18.6 million workers exposed to unnecessary illness, injuries and fatalities. The problems plaguing California’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) include:
- Systematic and continuing understaffing.
- Failure to meet federal inspection benchmarks.
- Failure to investigate accidents in a timely manner
- Failure to inspect California’s most dangerous workplaces.
A report detailing these and other problems was authored and made available in February to The Dispatcher by Garrett Brown, a recently-retired 20-year Cal/OSHA veteran employee with an impressive resume of safety and health expertise. Brown is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with decades of field experience plus policy skills honed in health and safety projects around the world. For more than two years, he was Special Assistant to former Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. Like Brown, Widess was a strong advocate for worker safety rights, but became the target of California corporate interests who successfully lobbied Governor Jerry Brown’s administration to remove her in late 2013. Garrett Brown’s report is impressively documented with official public records, making the dismal state of Cal/OSHA immediately apparent from key statistics. Severe understaffing Neglect from the Governor’s office has left Cal/OSHA with only 170 enforcement field inspectors as of December 2013, to protect the state’s 18.6 million workers. These “Compliance Safety and Health Officers” (CSHOs) are the front-line inspectors responsible for ensuring that California employers are complying with worker safety laws. Worse than Republicans While Democratic Party candidates often promise to help workers, and often criticize Republicans for turning their backs on workers, the statistics reveal that that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fielded significantly more CSHO enforcement officers at Cal/OSHA (190) than the Brown administration is allowing (170). Worse than Fed OSHA When the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970 – thanks to work by union activist and dissident Tony Mazzocchi, occupational health expert Eula Bingham, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader – it was envisioned that many states would create their own OSHA programs and exceed the enforcement and policy standards governing federal OSHA. California, Oregon Washington and other states organized their own safety programs and were once recognized as leaders in enforcement and policy. But Cal/OSHA’s standing has failed in recent years due to political attacks from corporations and budget neglect from the Brown administration. Official records show that only one Cal/OSHA inspector is now available for every 109,000 workers – compared to Fed OSHA’s ratio 1 to 66,000. California looks even worse when compared to Washington State where one inspector is available for every 33,000 workers, or in Oregon where the ratio is 1 for 28,000 workers. Fish & Game has more The Brown administration’s neglect has allowed the Department of Fish & Game to field 33% more enforcement officers than Cal/OSHA does to protect workers. While outdoor advocates agree that the Department of Fish & Game is understaffed at 253 wardens – the situation effecting workers is far worse with only 170 Cal/OSHA’s inspectors for 18.6 million workers. Flunking key tests The Brown administration’s enforcement cuts has caused Cal/OSHA to fail meeting federal benchmarks in key areas, including response to worker complaints, closing inspections in a timely manner, and investigating non-fatal accidents in a timely manner Cal/OSHA cutbacks have caused the agency to conduct fewer planned inspections at the state’s most dangerous workplaces with higher-than-average injury rates. Staffing cuts have also hit workplaces where low-wage, non-union and immigrant workers are concentrated, and the agency hasn’t been able to hire enforcement inspectors who speak languages other than English. Another critical failure is the agency’s inability to conduct “follow-up” inspections –as required by state law – at workplaces where “Serious” citations have been issued. Unused funds neglected The cuts at Cal/OSHA under the Brown administration can’t be explained only by years of budget cuts and austerity from politicians who are afraid to raise taxes. That’s because Cal/OSHA does not receive any funding from California’s General Budget – half it’s budget comes from annual federal grants provided by Fed-OSHA. The other half of the Cal/OSHA budget comes from money directly collected from employers through fees directed to special state funds, including the “Occupational Safety and Health Fund,” which has shown a positive balance of over $20 million in every year for the last three years. These funds could have been used to protect California workers, but the money has been left untouched. The Fund will receive an extra $8 million this year from the ending balance of a related state fund that is being merged into the OSH Fund. Who’s to blame? Former Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess was constantly pressing the administration for sufficient funding to protect workers, but she was unable to secure additional funding and was ultimately removed from office. Cal/OSHA’s demise is best explained by Governor Brown’s philosophy of “small government” and “austerity budgeting” – views that happen to fit nicely with the interests of big business and corporations. Business friendly philosophy Similar “business-friendly” views have been expressed by Christine Baker, Governor Brown’s Director of California’s Department of Industrial Relations, who oversees Cal/OSHA. Baker has spoken candidly about the need for a “new paradigm” that emphasizes “partnerships” with employers and relatively less emphasis on aggressive enforcement of health and safety regulations. “The vast majority of employers either do the right thing, or would do the right thing if they knew how,” Baker has frequently told stakeholders and Cal/OSHA staff. Cal/OSHA’s primary role is to “provide compliance assistance, partnerships and consultations with these employers.” The “new paradigm” views expressed by Baker are virtually identical to arguments made by the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests. More austerity ahead Putting a “business friendly” philosophy into practice explains why the Brown administration has proposed a 2014-2015 Cal/OSHA budget that falls below enforcement staffing levels that existed 14 years ago, in the year 2000. How low can you go? Brown’s business-friendly Cal/OSHA cuts are worse than those imposed by Republican Governor George Deukmejian, who defunded the entire agency in 1987 but state funding was restored by a voter-backed ballot measure in 1988. In 1989, when the agency was fully re-established, there were 185 CSHO’s protecting 14.6 million workers – roughly 15% more enforcement officers than Governor Brown is funding 25 years later. Staffing like OR & WA Correcting Cal/OSHA’s decline and neglect could be cured – with sufficient staffing and a serious commitment at the top to tough enforcement. Using the programs in Oregon and Washington State as a guide, Cal/OSHA would require a total of 556 enforcement officers to match staffing levels found in Washington State where there’s one inspector for every 33,000 workers. Matching Oregon’s ratio would require 658 enforcement officers at Cal/OSHA instead of the current 170. If the Brown administration refuses to let Cal/OSHA hire enough inspectors, then the agency is certain to continue falling short – and California workers will continue to suffer. “Understaffing and weak enforcement at Cal/OSHA threaten all workers in California,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe. “ILWU and other union members have protections and rights on the job that most workers don’t, which is why we’re standing up for 18 million California workers who need more protection than they’re getting now from Cal/OSHA.”
Year after year, up and down the coast, ILWU members, pensioners and auxiliary clubs organize toy drives and donate their time and money to local charity groups who are helping to brighten the holiday for those who have fallen on tough times. Thousands of families along the coast had a happier Christmas because of the generosity of ILWU members and their spirit of solidarity.
Southern California ‘Feed the Community Day’ and Children’s Christmas Party
On November 25 and 26 Southern California ILWU members and their families distributed 1,500 Thanksgiving baskets to families in need. “We had volunteers from every ILWU local in Southern California, as well as pensioners and Auxiliary 8 members. Local 26 members provided the security and Local 65 Port Police provided traffic control,” said Lisa Tonson, Chariman for the Holiday Events Committee
Then in December, the 2013 Southern California ILWU Children’s Christmas Party helped approximately 3,000 kids have a happy holiday season. Over 100 volunteers helped to make this year’s event possible. The committee reached out to local non-profits to identify families in the area who may be in need of some assistance. Volunteers began preparations in the early morning of December 16. ILWU volunteers set out rows of toys and sports equipment. By 9am the hall was filled with Christmas music and children and their families began filing into the ILWU Memorial Hall. Children were allowed to pick a toy of their choice and were treated to cookies, punch, face painting and a visit from Santa.
Locals 13, 26, 63, 94, the Federated Auxiliary 8, Southern California Pensioners, Longshoremen Memorial Association and the Local 63 Memorial Association all made this year’s holiday party possible. The Holiday Events Committee works year round to plan and organize the annual charity events.
Bay Area toy drive
Local 10 hosted a Christmas Party that helped a multitude of families and hundreds of children celebrate the holidays. There were generous servings of food, sweet treats, face-painters, caricature portraits, and balloon artists. Santa Claus was the most popular attraction, with children lining up to tell him their Christmas wishes. A large team of volunteers made the event possible, coordinated by Frank Cresci, and Chris Christensen of the Bay Area Longshoreman’s Memorial Association (BALMA).
Toys for Tots donations were gathered at Local 10’s hall during the month of December. The success of the event was made possible by the many contributions from the members of Local 10, 34, 75, 91 and Bay Area Pensioners. Beth Susim coordinated the Toy Drive again this year which raised several thousand dollars to purchase toys that were used to brighten the holidays for Bay Area families.
“This was a fantastic job by ILWU members. Every year we ask members to step up and they did once again. Thanks to the generosity of Local 10, 34 and 91,” Cressi said. Local 10 and BALMA also donated money and toiletries to Toolworks Working Essentials, a non-profit that helps people with disabilities and those who have fallen on hard times achieve independence. Local 10 members donated several boxes of toothpaste, tooth brushes, shampoo, deodorant which will be distributed to women’s shelters and homeless shelters serving veterans and others in the Bay Area in need.
Local 34 Marine Clerks 2014 Toy and Bike Drive was a great success. Toys and bikes were donated to the San Francisco and Oakland Salvation Army Children’s’ Toy Drive. Many thanks go out to Lea Brocchini, Lance Brocchini, Julie Fisher, John Fisher, Allen Fung, Dave Hill, Ed Kachmarik, Craig Lauderdale, Julie Mavromatis, Jacqueline Peralta, Deborah Sedasey, and Jacqueline Singleton for their donations and support.
Local 19’s Christmas for Kids
Thanks to the generous contributions from Local 19 members, the 2013 Christmas for Kids committee raised nearly $10,000 to benefit several area charities and families. This year, $5,342 was donated to Teen Feed, a program that helps street kids. Donations included backpacks filled with toiletries, sleeping bags, money for bus passes and turkeys for their annual Christmas dinner party.
In addition, $2,011 was donated to the Harborview Hospital burn unit and once again Santa (played by Local 19 member Robert MacDonald) went to the hospital and gave gifts to the kids in the burn unit. A $6,000 donaion was made to TreeHouse, an organization that helps foster kids. Steve Wintermute and Carol Brogdon went to the KIRO radio telethon for Tree House and challenged others to donate and match Local 19’s donation.
By the end of the hour a total of $22,000 was raised for Treehouse. In addition to the charity organizations, the Christmas for Kids committee donated $1,500 in food and toys to three families from the community. The Local 19 Christmas for Kids committee members and volunteers included: Carol Brogdon, Jeannine Lofton, Robert Mac- Donald, and Steve Wintermute.
Tacoma Toy Drive
During the 2013 Local 23 Toy Drive in Tacoma, members donated $28,089 which helped over 650 local children in need who were able to choose two presents a piece. Charities Director, Dragan Butorac, and the toy drive committee of Mandy Peterson, Amy James, Kim Boespflug, Dana Braach and Holly Hulscher, did most of the toy shopping at a local union store for the gifts. Local 98 also donated $1,000 toward the drive. Local 23 also donated $200 gift cards to grade school students in need who try hard in school. Local 23 members Dragan Butorac and Dana Braach delivered gift cards to all 161 grade schools Pierce County which totaled $32,200.
Together with the toy drive donations ($28,089) and gift card donations to local schools ($32,200) the generous contributions of Local 23 members totaled $62,689. Local 23 members also donated $12,000 dollars to the Food Connection food bank during the holiday season.
Volunteers from Local 23 helped with both Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners that fed over 400 at each setting. Local 23 members volunteer there throughout the year. Once every month they prepare lunches that feed around 300 people a day. They also bring in monthly in donations of toiletries and clothing for the homeless of Tacoma. “Our volunteers are grateful for the opportunity for to help serve our community,” said Local 23 member Byron Baydo.
Locals 8, 40 and 92 joined forces with the Local 8 Federal Credit Union to collect bikes and toys for two local charities. One set of donated gifts went to the “Toy N Joy Makers,” an organization with a 95-year history that works with Portland Firefighters to help children in the community. The other group of toys were contributed to the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, who sponsored a luncheon for families in need and allowed them to choose gifts contributed by ILWU and other union members. The drive could not have happened without the work of Don Mehner, Chris Scheffel, Bill Underwood Sr, Mattew Forman, and the credit union staff.
San Diego food drive
Local 29 members in San Diego participated in a successful toy and food drive. They collected over 500 pounds of food for the Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank that helps 320,000 people every month. The toy and food drives were organized by Henry Dominguez, Cameron Pate and Priscilla Perry.
International Container Terminal Services Incorporated (ICTSI) – the rogue employer responsible for flagrant contract violations at the Port of Portland – is now expanding operations in Central America where murder, military repression, death threats and anti-union attacks are accompanying the firm’s expansion.
Labor leader attacked
The family of Honduran dockworker union leader, Victor Crespo, became the latest assassination target on January 27 when an armed assailant murdered Crespo’s father and injured his mother by running them over with a stolen truck in an attack outside the family home. Other Crespo family members narrowly escaped death and injury. Victor Crespo and his family have faced death threats because of his efforts to help workers at Puerto Cortés, a newly privatized operation container terminal that was recently taken-over by ICTSI.
Thugs & threats
An October 2013 article in The Dispatcher explained how members of the Honduran labor union (SGTM) encountered violent thugs, military forces and death threats after seeking union rights for workers. ICTSI secured a lucrative 30-year contract last February to operate the port through their OPC subsidiary. The company expects volumes could reach 600,000 containers, shipped to and from Honduras and neighboring countries.
Brush with death squads
By last September, SGTM General Secretary Victor Crespo had made no progress reaching a contract but he did begin receiving death threats. He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by armed thugs who broke into his home during the early morning hours. The attack was foiled at the last minute by concerned neighbors who sounded the alarm, allowing Crespo to slip away with his life. After the foiled attack, Crespo received critical help from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), who made arrangements to try and protect him from the death squads.
ICTSI’s privatization play
ICTSI is a player in the growing effort to privatize formerly-public ports in the developing world. Privatization efforts across the globe are being aided by the World Bank, wealthy investors, and “free trade” agreements that undermine public ownership and ease private takeovers. Countries wishing to invest and improve their public ports quickly discover that access to investment capital is difficult to secure – but easy to get if government officials agree to privatize.
When public assets are sold to private owners, workers and their unions are usually left behind. The new private employers promote “yellow” or “company” unions that don’t challenge the new owners and prevent workers from creating democratic trade unions.
Super profits for privatizers
Outside investors and terminal operators stand to make fortunes when ports and other public assets are privatized. Investors who make these deals spend time courting officials in countries they target – often with support and assistance from the U.S. State and Commerce Departments – and they are usually willing and expected to share some of their windfall profits with local politicians, business leaders, police and military officials who facilitate the privatization process.
Who wants to be a billionaire?
The privatization frenzy that took place in Mexico during the 1990’s serves as an example – and powerful motivator – for those wishing to make similar fortunes today in countries like Honduras. When Mexico’s public-owned telephone system and other public assets were sold to private investors as part of the “reforms” surrounding the NAFTA free trade agreement, it created new millionaires and billionaires, including one of the world’s richest men – Carlos Slim – who now commands a fortune worth $72 billion dollars, putting him on par with Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates.
Layoffs & lower pay for workers
When ICTSI was celebrating their new deal giving them 30-year control over Puerto Cortés, the Honduran state-owned port operator (Empresa Nacional Portuaria or “ENP”) began dismissing hundreds of public port workers without advance notice. Reaction to the terminations angered other port workers and union members across the country who responded with solidarity actions, marches and strikes. In December 2013, the government sent armed troops to threaten port workers who declared they would resist the intimidation until the nation’s president or officials agreed to help their union secure jobs at ICTSI.
Military confronts workers
As The Dispatcher was going to press in January, armed forces continued to occupy Puerto Cortés. ITF’s Honduran affiliate that represents public port workers, Sindicatos de Trabajadores de la Empresa Nacional Portuaria (SITRAENP) has been promised by the government to expect more productive negotiations with ENP, the nation’s public port agency. Victor Crespo and SGTM union members have also heard from Honduran government officials that ICTSI made a similar commitment to meaningful negotiations with their union. But neither union has been able to secure a fair contract and the sincerity of negotiations remains in doubt.
U.S. military involvement
Honduras has been heavily influenced during the past century by U.S. corporations, military forces, CIA operatives and State Department officials. Puerto Cortés, now run by ICTSI, was originally built to serve U.S. banana corporations, including the United Fruit Company (branded as “Chaquita”) that controlled Honduras for nearly a century, giving rise to the term “Banana Republic.” The U.S. installed several right-wing, anti-union governments and engaged in a massive military buildup during Ronald Reagan’s secret and illegal war during the 1980’s that was waged against pro-union rebels in neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Massacre feared possible
The ITF is concerned that the Honduran government’s latest military intervention at Puerto Cortés and their refusal to address worker concerns could result in a massacre, and has called for solidarity actions worldwide to protect workers in case negotiations fail. On December 4, 2013, the ITF sent a letter to Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, protesting the violation of port workers’ rights and urging him to help facilitate a prompt and fair settlement. Following the assassination of Crespo’s father, the ITF took other diplomatic and solidarity initiatives to help.
Similar conflicts in Costa Rica
Dispatcher readers may recall a similar struggle by dockworkers in Costa Rica that also involved privatization (see articles in March, June and August of 2010). Costa Rica’s public ports of Limón and Moin were privatization targets, following a $72 million loan from the World Bank to “modernize” both sites. When the SINTRAJAP dockworkers union refused to go along, the government ordered police to break into the union headquarters at 4:30 am on May 28, 2010, and take over the building.
When the union continued to resist, the government orchestrated a sham election in January 2011 to replace the democratically-elected union leadership with a new team of government puppets. Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court later reversed the government’s illegal ouster of SINTRAJAP union officials in August of 2011.
The ILWU supported SINTRAJAP with letters from International President McEllrath to President Obama and encouraged 25 members of Congress to express concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The ILWU hosted a SINTRAJAP delegation at the April, 2010 Longshore Caucus in Long Beach, and placed several full-page advertisements in major Costa Rican newspapers to educate citizens about the undemocratic actions taken by their government leaders.
Resistance by SINTRAJAP workers and international solidarity put government officials on the defensive; by mid-2011 press reports noted the government had “back-tracked” on the privatization scheme which had been put “on hold indefinitely.” However, as of 2014, the project appears to be moving forward after the government quickly granted a monopoly container concession to APM, which is slated to begin operations in three years, which will doom the public port.
Port workers and their union leaders continue to receive threats – and worse – from those advocating Costa Rica’s privatization scheme. Last year, a former union leader was murdered after he actively opposed the new private terminal location because it would destroy a sea turtle sanctuary. Police have not arrested or charged anyone for the crime.
ICTSI moves into El Salvador
In December of 2013, El Salvador’s port authority (CEPA) announced they had pre-selected ICTSI and three other companies to submit bids in April, 2014 for a 30-year private concession agreement to manage the country’s newest port of La Unión on the Pacific coast.
The modern, multi-use container terminal was just completed in 2009. The public agency initially operated the port with four, second-hand rubber-tire gantry cranes that cost $4.4 million, and planned to purchase more equipment to boost capacity to 300,000 containers a year. The privatization plan asks ICTSI and other bidders to invest $30 million in the first ten years of operations, enabling the terminal to handle 1 million containers a year.
El Salvador is the smallest, most densely populated and a highly industrialized country in Central America. During the 1980’s, the nation was torn apart by a bitter civil war that killed 75,000 residents, sparked by inequality between a handful of wealthy elites (backed by the U.S. military) who controlled the government and business, while the vast majority of Salvadorians lived then and now, in poverty. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest murder rates, a distinction they share with Honduras.
“Corporations that privatize often act like modern-day pirates who attack workers and communities for profit,” said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe. “Companies like ICTSI have an agenda of plunder and profit that seems to spawn violence and repression. That has to be challenged in Central America, Portland or wherever they try to take advantage.”
Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, former political prisoner and leader of the African National Congress who became a world-wide symbol in the struggle against apartheid passed away on December 5th at the age of 95. Local 10 President-elect and International Executive Board member Melvin Mackay attended Mandela’s funeral in South Africa on behalf of the ILWU.
“A figure like Nelson Mandela comes along once in a lifetime. He became a world-wide symbol for human rights and the struggle for social justice. He helped South Africa along the path to democracy. The world is a better place because of him. He will be missed,” MacKay said.
Striking the Nedlloyd Kimberly
ILWU Local 10 members helped put the anti-apartheid struggle in the national spotlight in 1984 when they refused to unload South African cargo from the Dutch ship, Nedlloyd Kimberly, at San Francisco’s Pier 80.
Although they unloaded the rest of the ship, the South African “bloody” cargo of steel, auto parts and wine remained in the ship’s hold for 10 days while community supporters held daily demonstrations outside protesting South Africa’s apartheid regime. At its peak, the demonstration reached an estimated 700 people. Employers tried to find another West Coast port to take the ship, but because of solidarity from other ILWU locals, no port was willing to accept the Nedlloyd Kimberly. Local 34 clerks played a crucial role in the action by identifying the South African cargo. The cargo was finally unloaded on the 11th day under threat of a federal injunction and fines for Local 10 and individual members.
“Fifty percent of the membership was black,” said Local 10 pensioner Lawrence Thibeaux who was the night-side Business Agent at the time. “To keep unloading cargo meant we were helping their government continue their program of apartheid.”
The contribution made by ILWU members to fighting apartheid was recognized by Mandela when he spoke at the Oakland Coliseum in 1990 shortly after his release from prison. “[The ILWU] established themselves as the front line of the anti-apartheid movement in the Bay Area,” Mandela said to the sold-out crowd.
The role of labor
Peter Cole, a professor of history at Western Illinois University is one of the few writers to highlight the important role played by labor unions in the global movement to end South African apartheid. “To my knowledge, no other US union engaged in work stoppages in support of the anti-apartheid struggle and ILWU was one of the few unions around the world to do so,” Cole said.
“The other documented instances of union workers taking strike action against South African apartheid were also dock workers—from the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) and the Maritime Union of Australia.”
Long history of ILWU support for the anti-apartheid struggle
The striking of the Nedlloyd Kimberly was the result of extensive organizing efforts by Local 10’s Southern Africa Liberation Support Committee (SALSC). The rank and file committee of black and white workers was formed in 1976 when Local 10 passed a resolution authored by member Leo Robinson after the Soweto student uprising and subsequent brutal repression by South African police.
SALSC was likely the first antiapartheid group formed in a labor organization. They raised awareness and material support for South Africa and other freedom struggles across the subcontinent including Mozambique, Namibia and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
In the 1970’s and 80’s Robinson with SALSC-member Larry Wright screened the documentary, Last Grave at Dimbaza, along the coast which helped to lay the foundation for the Nedlloyd Kimberly action.
After screening the film to 400 Local 10 members in 1984, Robinson offered a motion to boycott South African cargo on the next Nedlloyd line vessel that arrived.
Robinson, who passed away in January of 2013, was honored posthumously by the government of South Africa. Ebrahim Rassol, the South African Ambassador to the United States, presented the Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award to Robinson’s widow, Mrs. Johnnie Bell Robinson, at Local 10’s March 2013 membership meeting where Robinson was recognized for his leadership in the Bay Area anti-apartheid movement.
Decades of opposition
The striking of the Nedlloyd Kimberly in 1984 was a part of long tradition in the ILWU of workers using their power on the docks to fight for social justice at home and abroad. In 1935 Local 10 dock workers refused to load metal that was bound for the war machines of fascist Italy and Japan. In the 1970s, Local 10 members refused to load US-made military supplies being shipped to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The ILWU Dispatcher newspaper began shining a spotlight on apartheid in 1948, the year the racist system was formally instituted by the South African National Party. Coverage by The Dispatcher increased in the 1950s and 60s as the anti-apartheid struggle began to heat up. A 1960 Dispatcher editorial drew comparisons between the South African system of segregation and Jim Crow in the American South. The editorial also noted the similarities between the brutal repressions by police forces in both countries of movements for social justice.
Also in 1960, the Longshore Caucus endorsed a boycott of South African Cargo. This resolution laid the foundation for a Local 10 boycott of a ship carrying South African cargo in 1962. Anti-apartheid activists held a community picket at Pier 19 in San Francisco protesting the Dutch ship Raki which was carrying hemp, coffee and asbestos from South Africa.
Over 100 Local 10 members refused to cross the community picket and the ship remained unloaded for both the day and night shifts. In 1963 The Dispatcher published a letter from Acting Secretary-General of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, John Gaetsewe, thanking ILWU members for their solidarity in the fight against apartheid.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, the ILWU general convention passed numerous resolutions against apartheid and racial injustice throughout Southern Africa. Other resolutions criticized US policy of “business as usual” with South Africa’s apartheid regime. In 1976, Local 10, Local 13, the International Executive Board and the Southern California District Council supported a boycott of South African and Rhodesian cargo and in 1977 Local 6 set up a South African support committee.
As early as 1978 the ILWU began the process of divesting pension fund monies from companies that did business with South Africa. Because the pension fund is jointly managed with the employers, ILWU activists had to lobby the employers to support the divestment policy.
Local 26 President Luisa Gratz recalled that in the early 1980’s ILWU warehouse workers at Thrifty Drug Stores in Southern California discovered that the store was selling flannel shirts made in South Africa. “We approached the company when we found this out and told them we did not want to handle these South African goods. To their credit, Thrifty removed the product from their stores and warehouses and discontinued the item.” In April of 1985, then ILWU International President Jimmy Herman, International Secretary-Treasurer Curtis McClain, Local 6 President Al Lannon and IBU Patrolman Charlie Clarke were arrested for civil disobedience along with other labor activists at a sit-in at the offices of South African Airways.
During the 1985 ILWU General Convention, Harry Bridges joined convention delegates at large anti-apartheid demonstration on the campus of UC Berkeley.
“The decades-long activism among rank-and-file members of the ILWU is a wonderful example of the power of ordinary people to make the world more just,” said Professor Cole. “Few historians have, thus far, investigated the important role of workers and unions in the American branch of the global fight against apartheid. Fortunately, South Africans–including none other than Nelson Mandela–very much appreciated the centrality of working class power to their cause. That Mandela thanked the ILWU for its 1984 boycott of the Nedlloyd Kimberly is one example.
The South African ambassador to the USA honoring Leo Robinson, posthumously, is another. I hope that the ILWU continues to take such principled stands when needed. And, it will be needed!”
“Harry Bridges and Nelson Mandela both understood that the struggle for workers and the struggle for civil rights was the same fight,” said Melvin Mackay. “That ILWU members used their power on the docks to support the freedom struggle in South Africa reflects the best traditions of this union: solidarity, racial equality, internationalism and working class power.”
One-hundred and twenty lucky ILWU Longshore Division members attended an intensive 6-day “History and Traditions Conference” in San Francisco on December 1-6. The event was planned by the ILWU Coast Longshore Division’s Education Committee and featured a host of outside experts who joined ILWU officers and leaders for the jam-packed agenda.
Knowing the history
The event opened with remarks from ILWU International President Bob McEllrath who welcomed participants and urged them to learn more about the union’s history in order to be better prepared for the future. “We’re facing some big fights and need all hands on deck,” said McEllrath. After just 20 minutes of preliminaries, the Conference quickly got down to business and involved all participants in an exercise, led by Local 63 member Patricia Aguirre who chairs the ILWU Longshore Education Committee.
Exercise reveals unity
Aguirre said a central goal of the Conference would be to gather lessons from the union’s history – and apply them to current challenges, including the upcoming negotiations for the new Longshore and Clerk Contract that expires on July 1, 2014. With participants divided into a dozen small discussion groups, Aguirre asked each team to rank the various factors that would be essential for building union power and winning a good contract in 2014. The conference room exploded in animated discussion as members at each table debated the relative importance of many factors that could make the union stronger – and a better contract more likely. While some differences were noted between the groups, a consensus quickly developed around ranking the top three factors needed to build a strong union and win good contracts in 2014:
1. Support and solidarity of Longshore workers.
2. Well informed workforce who knows their contract.
3. Strength & support from community allies.
Day two began with comments and context from Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet who reviewed the extensive materials provided to all participants, including three books: “Solidarity Stories, An Oral History of the ILWU” by Harvey Schwartz; “Reviving the Strike” by Joe Burns; and Richard Brisbin’s “A Strike Like No Other Strike: Law and Resistance During the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989-1990.” Other materials were distributed throughout the week “I think you’ll see a clear pattern if you read these materials and listen to the speakers,” said Sundet. “The labor laws in this country, along with the courts and agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, are not our friends. They’re all working to limit what workers and unions can do, while protecting business and commerce so they can operate as freely as possible.”
West Coast longshore history was the focus for the remainder of the day, with the topic divided into three periods (up to 1934, the 1934 strike, and post-1934), each featuring a noted labor history expert.
Retired San Francisco State University History Professor Robert Cherny provided an overview of West Coast longshoring from 1848 to 1934. He emphasized the role of the Gold Rush in launching San Francisco’s status as the top West Coast port for 70 years until being eclipsed by Los Angeles in the 1920’s. Cherny provided interesting statistics, including the fact that 83% of San Francisco Longshore workers in the 1920’s were either immigrants or born to immigrant families. He also surveyed developments at other ports, including Los Angeles, which was a sleepy backwater until 1899 when millions in federal dollars helped build San Pedro’s breakwater that transformed the Port.
In Portland and Tacoma, the lumber boom and growing agricultural exports fueled the rise of their ports, eclipsed by the Port of Seattle in the 1890’s which grew rapidly by serving as a staging point for the massive Klondike Gold Rush.
First Longshore unions
Cherny used the bulk of his time to explain the lengthy and difficult effort by longshore workers to improve conditions on the waterfront. The first effort to organize longshore unions on the West Coast was undertaken in 1853 by San Francisco’s “Riggers and Stevedores” (terms used at the time to encompass longshore work). Twenty-five years later, Portland workers formed their own union of “Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers” in 1878. Eight years later, workers in Seattle and Tacoma formed similar unions. A “National Longshoremen’s Union” was formed by workers on the Great Lakes in 1892, winning a nationwide charter from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). They renamed themselves two years later as the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) and quickly chartered new West Coast locals, beginning with I.L.A. Local 38 in Everett, WA. By 1902, there were 16 ports with ILA locals along the West Coast.
Limited success & decline
Each local union was limited to a contract covering only their port, which made workers vulnerable to “whipsawing” by employers who sought to pit workers against each other in order to drive down wages. Sporadic strikes at individual ports occurred in the early 1900’s. The first efforts to coordinate “coastwise” strikes happened in 1916 and failed. The First World War began in 1914 and ended in 1918, with the U.S. entering the fray in 1917. Union officials at the AFL were swept up in a patriotic fervor – discouraging strikes and encouraging union members to enlist.
Labor organizing continued among Longshore workers who attempted more strikes in 1919 and 1921 that failed. General strikes were also attempted in Seattle and Helena, Montana, but a conservative mood followed the war, climaxing with raids against immigrant militant union leaders, including members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and those inspired by Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 that called for factories to be run by worker-run councils.
The combination of government and employer repression, along with post-war economic prosperity, left most unions – including maritime unions –weak and disorganized. Most fell apart or barely managed to survive during the 1920’s. Working conditions deteriorated, with stagnant wages and hazardous work that disabled an average of 5 workers per eight-hour shifts involving 2,000 men in San Francisco. Professor Cherny concluded his talk by explaining how the 1929 Great Depression set the stage for a resurgence of militant organizing that eventually turned the tide and gave rise to the ILWU.
Resurgence & triumph
ILWU Librarian and Archivist Robin Walker chronicled the successful effort by Longshore and other maritime workers to organize a coastwise strike and contract fight in 1934 that secured a uniform coastwise contract with jointly managed dispatch halls.
While emphasizing the central role played by workers who joined in a nationwide upsurge of militant union organizing during the early 1930’s, Walker also emphasized the critical importance of new legislation enacted during the early Depression years.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act passed by Congress in 1932, prohibited employers from using court injunctions to ban strikes, and outlawed “yellow” or “fink unions” controlled by employers. Franklin Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act passed in 1933 included Section 7(a) that protected the right of workers to organize, negotiate with employers and strike. Both laws passed in response to the economic chaos of the early Depression, and massive, militant protests by unemployed workers who demanded jobs.
1934 waterfront strike
Despite the new laws, the 1934 West Coast maritime strike was an immense struggle, with employers using the same brutal strategies to defeat previous union efforts by Longshore workers. Employers hired strikebreakers, private police, goons and spies. Massive advertising campaigns attempted to smear strikers and confuse the public. Employer-friendly politicians were mobilized against the union. Municipal police forces attacked strikers at every port, often coordinating efforts with company thugs and anti-union vigilante committees.
Following the death of seven strikers and supporters, a general strike in San Francisco, and massive resistance at ports up and down the coast, employers finally agreed to meet most of the union demands, including recognition of the new Longshore union, a single contract with uniform standards for all West Coast U.S. ports, jointly-managed dispatch halls, wage increases, limitations on hours and better working conditions.
New organizing, new laws
In addition to creating a union that would eventually become the ILWU, the West Coast strike helped pressure Roosevelt and Congress to pass the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935 that guaranteed the right of workers to form unions, negotiate contracts and take action. Roosevelt made a point of signing the NLRA exactly one year after Bloody Thursday, on July 5, 1935, in Tacoma, Washington.
The West Coast waterfront strike helped trigger massive union organizing campaigns throughout the U.S. The impact was boosted by other dramatic labor actions in 1934 including a general strike in Minneapolis led by radical Teamsters and a bloody strike at the Auto-Lite plant in Toledo that killed two workers and injured 200. In the years following their waterfront victory, Longshore workers reached out to help organize warehouse and factory workers near the docks, a move that would become known to ILWU members as “The March Inland.”
How laws shaped unions
San Francisco State University Professor John Logan provided an important perspective on how labor laws shaped union behavior and possibilities. Logan noted that before pro-labor laws were passed in the 1930’s, unions faced brutal repression from employers. He said that new labor laws passed in 1932, 1933 and 1935 were one factor that led to a dramatic rise in union membership and re-shaped American politics for decades that followed.
Workers forced the law
But in addition to new laws, Professor Logan emphasized the importance to militant mass labor organizing led by activists who believed in “organizing the unorganized” and empowering the working class. Thousands of dedicated activists helped organize millions of union members during the 1930’s and through World War II. It was the fear of these militant mass actions that forced politicians – led by President Franklin Roosevelt – to pass pro-labor laws.
During the Second World War, unions including the ILWU agreed to moderate demands and curtail strikes in order to support the national cause of defeating fascism in Germany and Japan. The governments of the U.S. and Britain also established a wary but formal alliance with the Soviet Union in order to defeat fascism.
Post war reversal
After the war, political opinion in the U.S. shifted quickly against unions. The alliance with the Soviet Union was replaced with a “Cold War” waged against former Soviet allies. Labor unions – particularly those with leftist leaders like Harry Bridges – came under fierce attack. Anti-Communist crusades were led by Congressmen Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and hundreds of other national and local politicians in both parties. Witch hunts were launched to expose “Reds” teaching in schools, working in government offices, acting or writing in Hollywood or employed by private industry.
The FBI monitored and harassed millions of Americans, including many ILWU members, who were suspected of being “un-American.” The horrors of Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in Russia confirmed the\ public’s worst fears about the Soviet Union and discredited radicals who had staked their hopes and dreams on a belief that the Soviet Union was a worker friendly alternative to U.S. capitalism.
When the ILWU and other union members tried to gain ground through strikes after the war ended, they encountered hostile politicians and a not-so friendly public. President Truman set the tone early after the war by ordering the U.S. Army to break a railroad strike in 1946. Industrial leaders pushed hard for legislation to restrict union power, portraying unions and strikes as dangerous threats to American democracy. Special hostility was directed at unions with left-wing leaders, such as the ILWU, which had refused to purge its ranks of activists. The ILWU left the CIO in 1950 to avoid expulsion.
It was in this context that Professor Logan explained details of the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act, that was passed by Congress in 1947, which:
- Outlawed strikes intended to establish union jurisdiction.
- Outlawed wildcat strikes (unsanctioned actions by union members).
- Outlawed strikes over political issues that concerned union members and the public.
- Outlawed “secondary” boycotts and picketing.
- Outlawed mass pickets so employers could more easily employ strikebreakers.
- Outlawed union shops so that union membership became optional.
- Outlawed donations of union funds to support pro-workers candidates. The Taft-Hartley Act also restricted many rights granted just 12 years earlier by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act:
- Taft-Hartley allowed unions to be charged with “Unfair Labor Practice” violations.
- Taft-Hartley required unions to provide 80-day notices before holding economic strikes.
- Taft-Hartley prohibited federal employees from striking.
- Taft-Hartley allowed individual states to adopt their own anti-union laws and restrictions.
- • Taft-Hartley granted the President new rights to break strikes with court injunctions.
- Taft-Hartley allowed employers to sue unions for damages from “secondary” boycotts.
Despite union opposition, the growing right-wing tide and power of big business made Taft-Hartley impossible to stop. In 1948, the ILWU and a few other unions backed a third party led by Henry Wallace. It was hoped that the “Progressive Party” could rally union members and working class support, but the effort failed miserably; winning no electoral votes and only 2.7% of the popular vote – mostly from New York.
Longshore courage in 1948
Amidst this seemingly hopeless political situation, ILWU Longshore workers dared to confront their aggressive maritime employers and hostile politicians in 1948 by challenging provisions of the new Taft-Hartley legislation and organizing a bold strike.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided to impose a new provision of Taft-Hartley on ILWU members that required workers to vote on the employers’ “last, best and final” contract offer. When longshore employers issued their “last, best and final offer,” Longshore Caucus delegates recommended that members boycott the election proceedings.
In a remarkable show of solidarity, not a single one of the 26,965 members cast a ballot. Employers responded to the standoff by announcing there was one issue that must be addressed, which they said was “Communist leadership in the ILWU.” Again, members refused to be divided and launched a strike effort that lasted 95 days. When it was over, the ILWU’s unity prevailed, and employers agreed to back-down and accept a contract with better terms for workers.
Mine worker solidarity
A similar story of courageous union members overcoming powerful employers and Taft-Hartley restrictions was told by retired professor Richard Brisbin of West Virginia University. He explained how the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), like the ILWU, had been built on militant struggles during the 1930’s, when the union was led by President John L. Lewis who also founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) that launched massive union organizing efforts in the 1930’s. Lewis and his team of radical organizers formed the CIO – with immediate support from Harry Bridges – because the labor establishment in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was refusing to organize millions of industrial workers who weren’t wanted by narrow craft unions.
Like Bridges, John L. Lewis remained in office four decades, was respected within his union and became notorious for making alliances with Communists, and a willingness to confront employers with militant strikes.
When Lewis left the leadership in the 1960’s, a period of corruption ensued, leading to the 1969 murder of union reformer Jock Yablonski who’s killing was ordered by UMWA incumbent President Tony Boyle. Reformers eventually won control of their union and led a series of militant strikes.
Striking Pittston Coal
One of the most famous battles was the 1989 strike against the Pittston Coal Company, triggered when the company dropped out of the coal employers association, then refused to pay pension and health payments covering 1500 retired miners, widows and disabled miners. Pittston warned employees they would be replaced if there was a strike, so miners remained on the job without a contract for another 16 months, before finally striking in April of 1990. UMWA members established a “Camp Solidarity” outpost that accommodated up to 2,000 miners and supporters; built a network of
40,000 workers who engaged in wildcat strikes, actively involved family members including a group of 500 militant women, and conducted a series of dramatic actions – including the non-violent occupations of Pittston properties and road blockades – all of which eventually forced the company to settle, sign a contract and resume paying health and welfare benefits. The struggle also generated millions in legal fees and court fines, most of which stemmed from violating court injunctions, many related to the Taft-Hartley Act. The union was eventually successful in reducing some, but not all, of the court fines.
How the ILWU works
Ray Familathe, International Vice President (Mainland), walked participants through a detailed explanation of the ILWU’s current structure. Familathe noted some new developments, including the addition of a Panama Canal Division.
Information about the non-longshore aspects of the ILWU were provided by ILWU historian Harvey Schwartz, who curates the Oral History Collection at the ILWU library. Joining Schwartz was Local 8 member Adam Wetzel.
The ILWU experience in Hawaii, Canada and Alaska was also covered in the conference. ILWU International Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado provided a detailed overview of past organizing and current struggles by non-longshore workers living in the Hawaiian Islands. He covered the dramatic political changes that resulted from ILWU efforts to organize pineapple and sugarcane workers in the past, and current efforts to organize tourism, service and retail workers on the island.
“The ILWU helped ease the transition from plantations to tourism where the ILWU is fighting for good union jobs,” said Furtado. ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko hoped to attend the Conference but was unable to join due to a scheduling conflict. Gordienko prepared a letter expressing fraternal greetings to conference participants on behalf of the members of ILWU Canada. A three-page history of ILWU Canada, prepared by Local 500 pensioner Dave Lomas was also distributed.
ILWU Alaska President Chuck Wendt was on hand to present a summary of the challenges and opportunities facing union members in the 49th State. His overview covered ILWU activities from the southern part of the state in the nation, to the ILWU presence in Dutch Harbor, a rugged fishing town situated in the remote Aleutian Islands chain.
ILWU Coast Committeeman Ray Ortiz, Jr., explained “How the ILWU Longshore Division Works,” explaining the various committees and procedures. Local 94 President Danny Miranda explained the historical and present-day status of Walking Bosses and Foremen in the ILWU.
Safety & health
Longshore Division Safety Committee Chair Tim Podue and Safety Committee member Adrian Diaz joined with Local 91 President Fred Gilliam, Local 13 member Alberto Bonilla and Local 10 President Mike Villeggiante, to explain the history of the Pacific Coast Marine Safety Code. The presentation and discussion covered the ILWU’s efforts to reduce hazards and risks on the job, and their Committee’s involvement with federal and state rulemaking and enforcement agencies.
A discussion of the historical development and evolution of the Longshore and Clerk Contract was presented by Local 4’s Brad Clark, and Local 19’s Rich Austin, Jr. who Co-Chairs the Division’s Grain Negotiating Committee.
A panel composed of ILWU Librarian and Archivist Robin Walker, with ILWU attorneys Rob Remar and Rob Lavitt, explained how ILWU Longshore Division members were hit hard with federal court injunctions under the Taft Hartley Act soon after the new law was passed in 1947. Injunctions were imposed during the 1948 Longshore strike that lasted 95 days. Longshore workers in that strike managed to protect their jointly-managed dispatch halls and raise wages despite efforts by employers and the government to crush the ILWU with Taft-Hartley. The government also used Taft-Hartley in 2002 and 2008.
A panel moderated by Kirsten Donovan, Coast Longshore Division Director of Contract Administration and Arbitration, provided a detailed discussion of efforts to protect Longshore Division jurisdiction under a set of challenging labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act, subsequently modified by the Taft-Hartley Act. The labor laws are being used by employers on a daily basis to attack ILWU members and their union. Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet discussed the Contracts’ Maintenance and Repair (M&R) provisions.
Attorney Rob Remar discussed the ILWU’s struggle with International Container Terminal Services Inc., (ICTSI), the rogue Philippine-based employer who operates Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland. Although ICTSI is a PMA employer, they have openly defied the Longshore Contract.
Attorney Eleanor Morton discussed jurisdictional challenges in Southern California. Attorney Rob Lavitt discussed how the rogue grain companies, Marubeni/Columbia and Mitsui/United, are using federal labor laws to secure court injunctions that limit the right of union members to picket barges transporting the company’ s grain on the Columbia River, while the illegal lockout continues against ILWU grain workers.
Welfare Plan history
Coast Benefits Specialist John Castanho, with attorneys Chris Hwang and Peter Saltzman, provided an extensive history of the union’s effort to improve health benefits to Longshore members over the past 64 years. Castanho traced the progression of an innovative but modest plan that began in 1949 – to the comprehensive services provided under today’s plan.
President Rich Austin, Sr., of the Pacific Coast Pensions’ Association (PCPA), closed the 5th day of the conference by delivering an address that explained the historical role played by the PCPA – an organization of retired Longshore Division activists who evolved from a small group in 1968 to the dozen chapters in today’s network. Austin also noted that ILWU Canada has two Longshore pensioner clubs.
After citing examples of the PCPA’s work to promote domestic and international labor solidarity, holding the PMA accountable for maintaining quality health benefits, and supporting the ILWU’s organizing and political action efforts, Austin concluded by citing a motion passed at the 2013 Pacific Coast Pensioners Association to “…do all we can\ to help win a good contract in 2014.”
ILWU International Secretary Treasurer Willie Adams joined ILWU Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin to kick-off the 5th day of the History and Traditions Conference. Adams emphasized the ILWU’s rank-and-file culture and need to support politicians who understand the union’s concerns and are willing to fight for working class issues. Adams told of a recent trip to Washington he led with Longshore Legislative Committee Chair Max Vekich, Jr. of Local 52, Local 8 President Jeff Smith, Local 19 member Dan McKisson and Grain Negotiating Committee Co-Chair Rich Austin, Jr. of Local 19.
They met with administration officials and members of Congress about the lockout by rogue grain companies Marubeni/Columbia and Mitsui/United. Adams said the upcoming Longshore Contract negotiations are a time when the union will need help from politicians in Washington who share our concerns, and he urged everyone to consider contributing to the ILWU Political Action Fund. Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin explained the difficulty of working with members of Congress, where worker-friendly legislation has been blocked by an extreme group of anti-union Republicans in the House of Representatives. McLaughlin outlined the union’s continuing effort to address problems with port security and Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cards, and the latest efforts to address the grain lockout.
International President (Mainland) Ray Familathe introduced a special guest who came to the conference from London; Sharon James, Dockers Section Secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation. She provided a compelling overview of the global struggle by dockworkers against powerful international employers. James noted the similar strategic pattern employed by the handful of companies who control the world’s terminal operations. She said that companies are privatizing public ports, outsourcing labor or seeking “individual contracts” with workers to bypass unions, and investing heavily in automation systems.
James said the challenge is for docker unions to coordinate, share as much information as possible, and use the power of solidarity to take on the global employers. Vice President Familathe reinforced her comments and said that the ILWU will continue practicing international solidarity, not just to help other unions, but because it benefits the ILWU as well.
Reviving the strike
Joe Burns, veteran union negotiator, labor lawyer and author of the book, “Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America,” spoke at the Conference. Burns said workers and unions won’t recover from their current position of weakness without organizing bold, powerful strikes that can bring industries to a halt; just like unions did in the 1930’s until the early\ 1960’s. He praised the ILWU’s willingness to battle powerful employers. He believes that unions aren’t likely to survive in their present form by relying on political contributions, lobbying and contract negotiations that approach employers from a position of weakness.
Organizing to win
The remainder of days five and six were spent exploring new skills and approaches to increase unity among Longshore Division members as the battle for a new contract looms ahead in the summer of 2014. The last session on day five was led by the team of Patricia Aguirre, Chair of the Longshore Education Committee and Teresa Conrow, longtime labor organizer and educator. Their presentation focused on a comparing and contrasting two different approaches to unionism which they described as “servicing versus organizing.” Through a host of examples including contract negotiations, health and safety, legislative action and education, participants were asked to consider the strengths and weaknesses of solving problems by organizing or servicing. The conclusion didn’t require participants to choose one or the other approach; it asked everyone to suggest an ideal balance that combined the best of both approaches.
The last day began with a presentation by Coast Communications Director Jennifer Sargent, who delivered a presentation that compared traditional union communication methods (union meetings, newspapers, letters, flyers) with the challenges posed by new forms of social media (websites, Twitter, FaceBook). She emphasized the problems that can arise when well-intentioned members communicate using social media – without realizing that their communication is easily monitored by employers and the government. Sargent urged participants to carefully consider the impact of what they share online – before hitting the “send button” – by imagining how the information could be used against the union by employers and government agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board.
The final exercise at the History and Traditions Conference was led by the team of Patricia Aguirre and Teresa Conrow, who asked everyone to consider the advantages of building a “member-to- member” communication network in each Longshore local. They started by posing a question: “Are the largest group of co-workers in your union involved, not involved or anti-union?” Most participants agreed that the largest group of workers were the ones who aren’t actively involved. Aguirre and Conrow noted this was typical of most unions, and suggested that a “one-on-one” or “member-to-member” approach was the best way to reach and involve this group.
Before the session ended, most participants filled out a form with the names of co-workers they could invite to get more involved. A series of educational events was suggested, where less-involved members to could attend and feel welcome.
“The key to building the network is personal conversations with members that have us listen to their concerns and urge them to get more involved in something they care about,” said Aguirre. Concluding remarks for the Conference were delivered by ILWU Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe, who thanked everyone for spending six days together to learn about the ILWU’s history and traditions. “Let’s go back and put what we’ve learned into action,” said Familathe who recognized and thanked the Coast Education Committee and staff for organizing the event.