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Longshore Workers honor Anti-War Picket

Longshore Workers Honor Picket Line, Shut Down War Cargo Shipper in Oakland

Antiwar pickets shut down terminal of war cargo shipper in port of Oakland, California May 19.
(Photos: Barucha Calamity Peller)

Yesterday, May 19, in Oakland, California dock workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 refused to cross picket lines outside a notorious war cargo shipping firm, Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), leaving three ships idle for consecutive shifts. The picket was also called against American President Lines (APL), which along with SSA handles war materiel from the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

When scores of picketers blocked the gates at the SSA terminal beginning at 7 a.m., the company eventually gave up and called off the shift. In the evening, an arbitrator ruled that this was not a bona fide “health and safety issue” and ordered the workers to go to work. However, the dock workers collectively refused. One longshoreman insisted that there was indeed a safety issue because of the heavy police presence, and everyone there remembered how on 7 April 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began, police shot pointblank at protesters and longshoremen at the same docks, injuring six ILWU members.

Yesterday’s picket line was called by a “popular front” coalition of antiwar groups, the Port Action Committee, rather than a labor group. PAC includes the Oakland Green Party and the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). In addition, Oakland’s Democratic mayor Ron Dellums sent a sympathetic letter to the PAC. But the Oakland Education Association, which is part of the Action Committee, declared it was holding an official union picket (not a bogus “informational picket line”). Union picket signs declared “OEA Says Honor the Picket Lines.” And ILWU longshoremen did.

The ILWU has officially opposed the war and occupation of Iraq from the outset, as have most Bay Area labor bodies. But paper resolutions have not translated into union action. In May 2006, Local 10 passed a resolution, “Strike Against the War, No Peace, No Work,” calling on unions and working people nationally to “mobilize for a strike action” of 24 hours “to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East.” But the resolution was buried in committee at the union’s annual longshore caucus.

Longshoremen emphasized the union’s opposition to the war. Local 10 executive board member Jack Heyman was quoted on Oakland’s KTVU (Channel 2) news saying, “I think the message is loud and clear… If longshoremen at the Port of Oakland can honor picket lines against the war in Iraq, then they can do that in other ports. And this will be the beginning of the end of the war.” At the onset of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, British railway engineers refused to move weapons trains, and Italian rail unions joined with antiwar protesters in seeking to stop shipments of military equipment to Iraq.

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