Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Port bosses get help from Obama in the West Coast Dock Dispute

Source: Transport Workers Solidarity Committee
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The balance of forces are shifting further in the bosses’ favor in negotiations between the ILWU representing West Coast dockworkers and the Pacific Maritime Association, the organization representing terminal owners, shipping companies and related industries. Management has a new addition to the team in the form of Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Perez is there as a representative of the US government concerned that the ILWU leadership is not moving fast enough down the concessionary road. The pressure from the ILWU rank and file must be too great but the bosses will decisively move against them at some point.  Perez joining the management team is the first shot across the bow.

The effects of the dispute are becoming more apparent in the wider economy.  Honda USA announced that it is cutting back production in Indiana, Ohio and Ontario Canada due to delays caused by the lockout. Freighters are lining up in the Pacific as the PMA locked ILWO members out over the presidents day weekend.  The PMA has accused the ILWU of organizing a work slowdown by keeping the workers on the job rather than striking---a strike with pay.

The imbecile Bush used the Taft Hartley against the ILWU in 2002 and this weapon is on the back burner in the event the ILWU leadership doesn’t overcome any potential resistance to a concessionary deal from the ranks.  As was the case in 2002, giant retailers like WalMart and Target are also putting pressure on the state to resolve this issue and fast.  Almost half of all US maritime trade passes through the affected ports including 70% of all imports from Asia.There is real potential workers power here.

It’s rare that we get much news from these negotiating teams in these instances anyway and that trend continued when ILWU President Bob McEllrath agreed to a federal mediators request for a 48-hour news black out last Friday.

Of course, the bosses own the media so there is no blackout for them when it comes to shaping public opinion. On local news last night the pressure continued as it was announced that it is “imperative the two sides come to an agreement.”  in order to not disrupt the economy further and keep folks on the job. In the usual banter between the news anchors it was made crystal clear that they “Hoped that they could come to an agreement soon”-----on the bosses' terms of course.

The tremendous economic power of the dockworkers must be curtailed.  To undermine economic activity and interfere with profit taking is economic terrorism and the bosses will play that card if they need to.  The same situation applied to the transit workers who operate the trains that take millions of people to work in the Bay Area. There is an ongoing campaign to deny them the right to strike after three strikes two years ago. The union officialdom rarely strikes a company with the intention of halting production these days.  Strikes have become merely 24-hour protests.

“The PMA is trying to divide us. They’re using lies and tactics to turn the public against us and turn locals against the negotiating committee and the rank and file against each other. Nobody divides the ILWU. Nobody.” McEllrath said last week,  “We’re gonna win this fight, we’re gonna win this battle. But there’s only gonna be one way to do it. And that’s to stick together, and stay strong and stay united.”

Unfortunately tough talk doesn’t win strikes and simply sticking together doesn’t either.  It is important to be united but around what issues and what strategy and tactics are applied to win them. The bosses are serious. They are out to break the unions and are relying less and less on the union hierarchy to assist them in forcing concessions on an unwilling membership.  As I pointed outearlier, as this dispute continues, the United Steel Workers have struck the refineries. Combined, these two strikes alone could cripple the US economy and terrify the bosses if conducted properly.  The USW leadership though has only struck a few selected refineries in the hope that the oil industry chiefs will be a little nicer.

A strike is disruptive, it is expected to be.  Not only as far as those on strike are concerned but also the general public.  But this is how we have advanced our interests in this world.  This is our history.  But this is a one sided war.  We know next to nothing about what is actually going on and in most cases during these disputes nor do the rank and file of the unions involved.  The public who’s lives will be disrupted are not appealed to in any way as part of a wider strategy to bring the potential power of working people to the table.  The resources of these unions and in particular the national organizations to which individual unions are affiliated could be directing a massive national campaign aimed at using the economic power of this section of the working class to fight for issues facing all of us. The ILWU endorsed Obama and the Democrats.  Political independence of the working  class is another crucial aspect of the struggle to reverse our declining living standards.

Millions would flock to become involved in such a campaign and disputes if demands were raised speaking to issues that individuals are fighting around throughout the country; at very least, it would undermine the bosses’ media war against organized labor and the inconvenience of strike action would be seen as worth it if gains are the result and we can win some victories if we fight properly. The power of organized labor would be seen as being used for more than just issues on the job or wages and benefits of those workers directly affected. If we want the millions of workers not in unions, the unemployed, and even small community businesses crushed by corporate power to support organized labor then we have to fight for them; we have to make it worth their while and involve them in the struggle.

Another setback, which is the most likely outcome of these latest struggles will be another step further in to the hole we will inevitably have to dig ourselves out of.  The bosses’ can’t halt their offensive; they are driven by market forces beyond their control. The union hierarchy won’t fight as they have no vision of an alternative way of doing things, or an alternative to the market and a radicalized active rank and file can only lead to chaos as they see it.

It’s up to the millions of workers who have given up, tried to find an individual way out, hoped things would change, to step up to the plate. It’s up to us to re-learn our rich and militant history, recall what built the unions and what brought us progress in the past It’s up to us to recognize our potential collective power and use it.

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