Member mobilization and community support key to ILWU victory

When the multi-national grain cartel EGT agreed to a contract with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union after a bitter eight-month struggle, union leaders extended a conciliatory hand to the company that once thought itself so powerful that it could make its own rules for the dangerous work of loading and storing grain without any input from those who actually do the work.

“The partnership between the ILWU and EGT will ensure many safe, productive operations at the (EGT) facility and stability in the Pacific Northwest grain export industry,” said Robert McEllrath, international president of the ILWU.

While there may be a time for every purpose under heaven, including the offer of an olive branch to a defeated opponent, this also might be a good time to reflect on some of the lessons learned from this victory. It’s also a time not to forget those still facing retribution for their acts of worker solidarity.

The key to this win was the organized mobilization of union members and their supporters, which included initiatives taken by rank and file ILWU members and the Occupy movement.

“It is clear that the port shutdowns on November 2 and December 12 and the impending mobilization in Longview is what made EGT come to the table,” said Clarence Thomas, a member and officer of ILWU Local 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The November 2 and December 12 shutdowns referred to by Thomas were two actions called by the Occupy movement, which included rank and file ILWU members, to show support for the ILWU in its fight with EGT. The actions temporarily shut down ports along the West Coast.

The “impending mobilization” was the caravan to block a ocean-going grain shipment headed for EGT organized and coordinated by Occupy Longview, Occupy Portland, Occupy Seattle, and Occupy Oakland.

“It wasn’t until (ILWU) rank and file and Occupy planned a mass convergence to blockade the ship that EGT suddenly had the impetus to negotiate,” Thomas said.

“Make no mistake–the solidarity and organization between the Occupy movement and the longshoremen across the country won this contract,” said Jack Mulcahy, ILWU local 8 member and officer in Portland.

Thomas also stressed the importance of establishing links between organized labor and the community.”Labor can no longer win victories against the employers without the community,” Thomas said. “It must include a broad-based movement. The strategy and tactics employed by the Occupy movement in conjunction with rank and file ILWU members confirm that the past militant traditions of the ILWU are still effective against the employers today.”

Equally important were the organizing and mobilizing efforts that preceded the shutdowns and planned blockade. These efforts took many forms, including informational pickets at EGT’s office, acts of civil disobedience when workers defiantly massed on rail tracks to prevent grain deliveries, and militant picket lines joined by rank and file members, union leaders, and community supporters that were attacked by the police.

During these early struggles at least 100 union members and community supporters were arrested. So far six have gone to trial; all have been acquitted. Others have agreed to plea bargains in which serious charges were dropped and those arrested agreed to perform community service.

However, the trial of others remain pending, and while the ILWU and EGT have for the time being reconciled their differences, the ILWU says that local prosecuting attorney is carrying out a personal vendetta by refusing to resolve charges against those arrested.

Last week, the ILWU called on Sue Baur, the Cowlitz County prosecuting attorney, to drop her vendetta and resolve the outstanding charges. “The waste to the public is apparent, while her reckless ‘charge first and investigate later’ style has caused all sorts of personal stress and anxiety to ILWU members and supporters who did nothing more than to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Leal Sundet, ILWU Coast Committeeman.”

Longview ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman said that it’s time for Baur to do as the ILWU and EGT have done and move on. “We call on Sue Baur to stop escalating this conflict and instead join the rest of Cowlitz County in trying to help this community heal,” Coffman said.


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