Supporters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Local 10 rallied today at the headquarters of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) demanding that the association drop its lawsuit against Local 10. PMA is suing the local and its president Richard Mead over an April 4 work stoppage organized and led by rank-and-file dock workers to support public sector workers under attack by right-wing politicians.
“This was a voluntary rank-and-file action,” said Clarence Thomas, a dock worker and Local 10 executive board member, noting that the choice to walk off the job to show support with other workers was a decision made by each worker.
ILWU Local 10 represents dock workers at the ports of Oakland and San Francisco. On April 4, dock workers walked off the job at the beginning of the day shift at an Oakland container terminal, which closed the terminal. The rank-and-file action was taken to support public sector workers, whose benefits and pay were threatened with cuts and whose right to collective bargaining was being curtailed by right-wing governors and lawmakers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and other states. The port in San Francisco was also closed down.
The PMA subsequently filed suit in federal court seeking unspecified damages against Local 10, which it blamed for the walkout. PMA complained that the walkout delayed the unloading of cargo containers and backed up truck traffic waiting to upload the containers.
Supporters of Local 10 have built a public campaign to support the union. The San Francisco Labor Council passed a resolution calling for the creation of broad-based defense committee to support Local 10 and today’s demonstration at the PMA’s San Francisco headquarters.
ILWU and its rank-and-file have a long history of demonstrating solidarity for other workers and oppressed people. In 1978, ILWU dock workers refused to load bombs headed for Chile, which was then ruled by a military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, who had crushed unions and maintained power through torture and terror. In 1984, they called a 24-hour strike to protest the racist apartheid government of South Africa. In 2000, they called another 24-hour strike to support dock workers in Charleston, South Carolina, who while legally picketing were attacked by police and charged with felonies.
Most recently, they conducted work actions to demand an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an end to the bombing of Palestinians in Gaza, and to support Oscar Grant, an innocent young African-American killed by an Oakland transit police officer.
Addressing an April 10 anti-war rally, Thomas told the audience that the action taken by ILWU members was important because the events in Wisconsin, where the very right to join a union is under attack. Tthe history of the US has come full circle, said Thomas. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while supporting public workers who were trying to organize a union in Memphis. Two weeks after his death, Memphis sanitation workers won the right to join a union and bargain collectively. “Now 40 years later their Wisconsin counterparts are threatened with losing theirs, Thomas said. But their “fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.”