West Coast ports shut down as Occupy movement shifts focus

A number of West Coast ports were shut down on December 12 as the Occupy movement shifted its focus from occupying public space like parks to occupying public space that corporations use to turn a profit. Ports are public facilities that corporations like Stevedore Services of America (SSA) and EGT, a grain terminal operator, use to conduct their business.

Occupy movement activists said that the movement has targeted these two corporations for their anti-worker activity.  The port shut downs are designed to  hinder these corporations’ ability to do business and to disrupt business as usual for other 1 percenters who use the public ports for their private gain while waging “a one-sided class war against workers with the assistance of politicians from both parties,” said Boots Riley, an Occupy Oakland activist. “By shutting down (the) ports, we shut down the source of their profits.”

Occupy demonstrators picketed West Coast ports from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada. They successfully shut down ports in Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and Longview, Washington. Ports in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Long Beach, California were blocked for about an hour.

About 100 occupy activists demonstrated at the Port of Houston to show solidarity with the West Coast action. Twenty people were arrested at the peaceful gathering. The Houston Chronicle reports that those arrested were blocking traffic by laying down on a road leading to the port.

On the West Coast, thousands of occupy activists marched on the Port of Oakland Monday morning and set up a picket line at two terminals, one where SSA does business. SSA is owned by Carrix, which owns 11 port terminals along the Pacific Coast from Oakland to Chile. In 2007, Goldman Sachs purchased a 49 percent equity share in Carrix for $2.5 billion, most of which was borrowed from Citigroup and eight other banks.

SSA, the largest container cargo handling company in the US, in conjunction with other container cargo handling companies have been trying to prevent port truck drivers from organizing a union by misclassifying them as independent contractors when in fact they have very little independence. “Some of these mostly immigrant drivers work for as little as $30 a day,” Riley said.

“The companies we work for call us independent contractors, as if we were our own bosses, but they boss us around. We receive Third World wages and drive sweatshops on wheels,” said seven port truck drivers in an open letter about the port shut downs.

The Longview, Washington port was also shut down after occupy activists set up a picket. Longview is where EGT recently opened its high-tech grain terminal without hiring ILWU members to operate it. The ILWU, which demands strict safety protocols at grain terminals where its members work because of the safety hazards at these terminals, has been fighting for its members right to work at the EGT terminal.

EGT, which is owned by an international grain exporting cartel that includes the Bungee Corporation of North America, has resisted hiring ILWU members as required by its lease with the port and has even called out the police to break ILWU pickets near the grain terminal.

The ILWU international leadership has opposed the port shut downs. The union recently was sued by the Pacific Maritime Association for violating its contract with PMA after ILWU members walked off the job last spring to support public sector workers in Wisconsin who were under attack by Gov. Scott Walker.

ILWU “is not supporting the action at all,” said Craig Merrilees, ILWU communications director to the Guardian. “(Occupy organizers) have been very disrespectful of the democratic decision-making process in the union and deliberately went around that process to call their own action without consulting workers.”

But some ILWU activists like Clarence Thomas, an ILWU Local 10 member from Oakland, support the shut down.”The American working class is in a state of emergency,” said Thomas at a press conference announcing the planned shut down. “The sanctity of the contract must be subordinated to the needs of the community. The only time that working people receive any kind of concession is when we do something that costs the bosses money.”

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