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We Must Hang Together - "Year of Strife"


Affinis didn't have time this morning to write a blog post on the ongoing actions at Pacific Coast seaports by the ILWU (International Longshore Workers Union or is it International Longshore and Warehouse Union?) Local 21 at Longview, WA. So I'll attempt to do one in the meantime.

There appears to be a tentative agreement but the Occupy movement is still mobilizing to go to Longview to protest the ship coming in to load grain. Affinis gave me many links to read since I asked for help on understanding what was going on. My favorite link was to a site called Subterranean Dispatches in which Brian Tierney (very good writer) analyzes labor issues. He has a piece on Occupy's relation to the ILWU Local 21 dispute and the threat of military intervention. In that piece he has a fascinating speculation about why Trumka of the AFL-CIO is "mum on the conflict".

In the same piece Tierney shows a clear example of the inequality that the Occupy movement is pointing out.

The workers are fighting to defend fair standards and working conditions for the 99 percent at the docks. They are confronting a profit-hungry syndicate of the one percent. EGT has complained about the $1 million in extra labor costs for ILWU work while its biggest shareholder, Bunge, made $2.5 billion in profit in the U.S. alone in 2010.

Hello! A measly million for workers is still too much for these global gluttons.
Also the name of his blog comes from a quote by a Haymarket Martyr.

If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up.

It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.

- August Spies (Haymarket Martyr)

Longshore & Shipping News had a really interesting article. The Carpenters Local 156 are supporters of the Operating Engineers Local 701 who are employed at the new export terminal instead of the members of ILWU Local 21. But this is a letter in which the carpenters union express disappointment with IUOE with whom they have a close working relationship and believe that

With the benefit of this close relationship, we must be the ones to point out when one of us is choosing the wrong path. Local 156 appreciates the attempts of Local 701 to secure more work for its members. However, in this situation Local 701 is doing more harm long term, for its members and all the Labor Movement.

How about this article "Here's why Longshore workers in Longview are so angry"

Like so many corporations that promise good jobs to get what they want, EGT got a special state tax exemption and a sweetheart lease deal from the Port of Longview to build a $200 million grain terminal there. The government even seized adjacent land for the project. But as soon as the deal’s ink was dry and the ceremonial first shovel of dirt was overturned two years ago, EGT began running the project on the cheap.

Despite high unemployment in Cowlitz County and the availability of hundreds of skilled union building trades workers, EGT imported the vast majority of its construction crews from low-wage communities out-of-state and did not pay area standard wages, leading to howls from the local labor community.

I hope Affinis has time to write more about all this.
"Year of Strife: A EGT/ILWU Timeline"

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Submitted by Alcuin on

Until you asked the question, I thought ILWU was an acronym for International Longshore and Workers Union. Wrong. It's the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. That makes sense, of course, because once the goods were unloaded, they were stored in warehouses on port property until being moved out by truck or train. With the advent of containerization, warehouses are not needed any longer.

I think the biggest problem that unions face is envy - envy on the part of the rest of the (non-unionized) working class that so many union workers enjoy good benefits and pay. Rather than organize themselves and demand the same benefits, they resort to insults and angry rhetoric about lazy union workers. And the unions shoot themselves in the feet by sitting back and enjoying their perks instead of continually organizing and educating.

From where I sit, I think Tierney has a perfectly reasonable explanation of why Trumka doesn't sanction the Operating Engineers and the Carpenters Union. Unions are businesses, which a huge majority of people don't understand. The ILWU has always been a radical union, which allows Trumka the room to not pay a lot of attention to them. But, as the IWW famously observed, "an injury to one is an injury to all." Union leaders, starting in the mid-1940s, sold their membership down the river by allowing themselves to be co-opted by the capitalists and have paid the price ever since. I regularly get blasted by people in love with the union movement because of this statement. People do not like mirrors. It will take a bottom's up movement, led by Occupiers and radical unions like the ILWU, to put the business unions out of business. They are as bad as Obama - promising everything and delivering virtually nothing.

I have no idea how the situation in Longview eventually will turn out, but near term, I think the union is going to take it on the chin. Their struggle is attracting attention, which may pay off in the long run, but they have too many enemies lined up against them seeking to throttle them. It seems as though we are going to have to experience a race to the bottom, with Newt leading the way. God help us all.