From Class Struggle 47 October/November 2002
Support US workers attacked by Bush’s War of Terror
President Bush has decided that the West Coast ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) port workers struggle to renew their industrial contract is a threat to US internal security. The port employers locked out the longshoremen, and Bush threatened to call out the National Guard. Now he has imposed the Taft-Hartley Act to force the ports open for 80 days. Bush is using the war on terror to target the enemies of the US ruling class at home as well as internationally. This proves that the war on terror is a class war and that only the working class can stop war. Our first task is to build international solidarity with the locked out workers and put union bans on scab ships.
What’s behind the current attack on the ILWU?
The ILWU, representing 10,500 dockworkers at 29 major Pacific ports, is embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing the shipping lines. The longshore workers’ contract expired July 1 and the ports have been operating on the basis of day-to-day contract extensions ever since. The key sticking point involves management demands for concessions that would allow for the introduction of new technology.
Wages and benefits are not the issue in these negotiations. The hourly rate for longshore workers ranges from $27.68 to $33.48-about the same as a plumber or electrician. What they would like, however, is to keep certain workers out of the union, the vessel planners who tell the cranes where to put every shipping container; clerical workers who use computers to help track container movement, and drivers who haul containers in and out of the ports.
Workers in these jobs have already joined the ILWU, or tried to, attracted by its good wages. The union wants to include them to replace the potential loss of jobs among the clerks who track cargo manually. Negotiators for the PMA have said no. The union looks at this as an issue of survival.
The union has already made concessions to the employers to accept new technology that would see around 30% of the clerks lose their jobs. But that is not enough for PMA that also wants to claw back hard-won health conditions and freeze pensions.
According to a ILWU leader Steve Stallone, the US Labor Department told the union early on that unless it meets the employers conditions the Bush administration would invoke the seldom used Taft-Hartley Act that can delay any strike by 80 days, use the Railway Labor Act to force the union to bargain port-by-port and bring in the army or navy to run the ports. The government has threatened the union with a "PATCO-type scenario," referring to President Reagan’s mass firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981. This week after 10 days of the lockout, Bush delivered on the first part of his promise invoked the Taft-Hartley Act and forced the ports open for 80 days.
Bush is backed by big business to smash unions
Why has a labour dispute been dragged into Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’? Bush is seizing the post September 11 clampdown on democratic rights in the US to attack the longstanding rights of unions. Both the Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield have told the union that strikes are a threat to ‘national security’ at a time when the extreme right wing Bush Administration considers that the US is at war.
Bush’s right wing agenda is to use the war on terrorism to try to make US workers pay for the crisis of the US economy. Bush is supported by the WCWC, (West Coast Waterfront Coalition) made up of big businesses such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Ikea, Nike, Target and The Gap. The WCWC wants to prevent any strike action that would affect the $300 billion worth of goods that flow through the Pacific ports each year.
The Los Angeles Times reported a June 5 memo to Bush from the WCWC whose members "met with key Bush Administration Officials to convey the message that there is a need both to obtain labour concessions at the West Coast ports that will allow the application of technology and to avoid labour disruptions on the West Coast this summer that could stall a fragile economy."
Bush is following a precedent set already with federal employees. He used the pretext of the war on terrorism to strip 170,000 federal employees being transferred to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security of their rights as public service employees and union representation.
Rank and File solidarity undermined by officials
What has been the response of organised labour to Bush’s threats to smash the ILWU? The rank and file Longshoremen have responded with militant actions up and down the west coast. There has been huge support from unions and workers all over the world. In NZ, Seafarers and Watersiders Union officials have visited the lockout ports, and taken resolutions to ‘black’ any ships loaded by scab labour or the military.
However, the response of the official leadership of the ILWU and the AFL-CIO (main US national labour organisation) to the Bush administration’s threats has been to appeal to the Democrats in Congress to put pressure on Bush and to claim that the ILWU is fully supportive of his patriotic war on terrorism.
The Democrat representatives hope that they can get Bush to back down by promising that the union will accept the bosses’ terms, in particular the job losses following the introduction of new technology. This has been the record of the ILWU leadership over the last few decades as thousands of jobs have been sacrificed with hardly a fight. In Seattle of 2,400 workers in 1963 there are only 550 left today. The union officials admit that today workers handle 10 times the cargo with one-twentieth the workforce.
The rank and file of the ILWU have to break from their officials to win this fight. If workers allow patriotism to replace working class solidarity they will lose. The union is saying "Fight terrorism, not workers". The official union line is that the workers are much more patriotic than the bosses who are importing cheap Asian goods at the expense of American jobs. So they call for worker boycotts of foreign made goods.
But this attempt to prove the workers’ loyalty to the US prevents any real working class solidarity with workers inside or outside the US. It allows Bush to shift the blame for the state of the US economy off the bosses onto the longshore workers.
By supporting the US imperialist policies of a preemptive strike against Afghanistan, Iraq or any country designated ‘terrorist’ by the Bush administration, the ILWU workers unite with the class enemy, at a time when Bush is using the ILWU dispute to unleash his union-busting domestic drive for the same reason that he is promoting the war on terrorism abroad.
US imperialism is crisis-ridden and can only be revived by massive military spending on war, and the driving down of labour conditions at home. The ‘permanent’ war against US enemies abroad and the domestic war against its own working class are one and the same. The US ruling class must resort to the super-exploitation and oppression of workers at home and abroad to survive.
What should NZ workers do?
The ILWU is a strong union with a history of struggle. It opposed the Vietnam War. It closed down Long Beach and San Francisco ports to scab ships during the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) dispute in 1998. New Zealand workers have a clear duty to take solidarity action in support of the West Coast port workers. Multinationals like Carter Holt Harvey have tried to bust the NZ Waterside Workers Union and replace workers with new technology. Only by uniting internationally can workers become strong enough to take on the global corporations that dominate the world economy and win the fight against imperialist oppression and war.
The NZ Terrorism Suppression Bill passed on October 10 is modeled on US bills like the Patriot Bill introduced after September 11. It has provisions that will allow the state to designate industrial action a threat to national security. This includes solidarity action taken by NZ workers in support of locked-out wharfies in the US. We can petition the government to respect our rights as workers, and oppose Bush’s attack on Iraq, but it will be the ability of organised workers to go on strike that wins these rights and defends Iraq from further attacks.
The recent court acquittal of the killer of Christine Clarke shows that workers can place no reliance on the protection of the government and the police to win their struggles. Quite the reverse. As NZ’s history of militant struggle proves, state forces were used to smash strikes in 1913, 1951 and every other major dispute. Mass pickets are what is needed, supported by international action to stop the state from using scab workers or the military as strike breakers.
Solidarity with the locked out US workers!
For a union ban on scab US cargo!
Rally on October 26! 12 noon QE2 Square
Stop the Attack on Iraq
Solidarity with the ILWU workers!
"This union condemns the actions of the employers to lock out the West Coast US Longshoreworkers. We also condemn the Government use of the Taft-Hartley Act to force unionists back to work and the threat of troops and scabs to do the work of unionised workers.
We defend the right of unions to take industrial action in pursuit of their aims and objectives, including the right to strike and picket. We defend the right of workers including NZ/Aotearoa to take strike action in solidarity with workers in other countries.
We call upon the unions affiliated to the NZCTU to act in solidarity with the ILWU and to take industrial action to ban any vessel that is worked by scab or military labour in the US from docking or being unloaded in NZ."
Messages of solidarity and material aid can be sent to the ULWU workers at: http://www.ilwu.org/
Letter on Workers’ Party NZ.
Dear Comrade Editor,
On September 11 2002, the Workers’ Party of NZ walked out of the Auckland Anti-Imperialist Coalition. The WPNZ had helped initiate the AIC in September 2001 and had fully supported it up until the 2002 election campaign maintaining a presence right up until their walkout.
Since the WPNZ claims to serve the working class, surely it owes the AIC an explanation in its own paper the ‘Spark’ as to why it split from the AIC. The ‘Spark’ has been completely silent about the WPNZ’s desertion from the only Auckland militant anti-war united front.
The ‘Spark’, in an article written by Phil Ferguson of ‘Revolution Group’, has criticised the Socialist Workers’ Organisation for not joining the AIC, but now the ‘Spark’ group have left AIC themselves without an explanation to even its own readers. What has changed? Does the WPNZ purport to set an example to the working class on the correct way to operate in united fronts, or do they think that working class organisations should be guided by expediency alone in these matters.
The leader of the ‘Spark’ group had plenty to say on the AIC e-loop and the ‘anti-war, anti-cap"Yahoo group and no doubt these were mainly that AIC members were "mentally disturbed". She also tried to do a political character assassination on an AIC member who had been assaulted by a rightwing member of the Auckland Seafarers Union two days before for disagreeing with this guy over Iraq.
In writing she made out that this thug was a good unionist! Despite the fact an AIC member heard him say that Iraq should have the "shit bombed out of it", and that he also slandered a united front organisation, the AIC, of which the WPNZ was then a part, as supporters of Bin Laden.
I challenge the ‘Spark’ editor to publish her version of why WPNZ split after one year of intensive activity in AIC. On what issue of principle? I bet she will not and cannot say. I also challenge the ‘Revolution Group’ of Christchurch to publicly defend their ‘Spark’ splitter mates since "Revolution" has seen fit to intervene in this debate.
In its most recent edition (Spark, 15 October 2002) WPNZ writes: "the Task is to build an ‘anti-imperialist movement" and "anti-imperialism is the basis for unity with genuine forces for change" (p.3). This, one month after walking out of an avowedly and actively anti-imperialist organisation without making any public criticism of that organisation.Signed BR