Tuesday, January 10, 2012

[olympiaworkers] The Looming Showdown in Longview

January 10, 2012 Counterpunch.org

"The ILWU Cannot Lose This Fight"


The long-simmering dispute between the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the international consortium EGT Development
transpiring in Longview, Washington looks to be coming to a head.

In a January 3 letter addressed to his members, ILWU International
President Robert McEllrath disclosed that EGT will soon attempt to
commence operations at its new $200 million grain terminal located at the
Port of Longview. As McEllrath wrote, "We believe that at some point this
month a vessel will call at the EGT facility in Longview,
Washington…Prepare to take action when the EGT vessel arrives."

The Struggle and Its Stakes

At the heart of the Longview dispute has been EGT's refusal to hire
longshoremen from ILWU Local 21 to work its grain terminal at the Port of
Longview. The publicly owned port—as with all West Coast public port
docks—has been worked exclusively by the ILWU for decades.

Dismissing this hard-won jurisdiction, EGT chose to break off negotiations
with the ILWU last year and contract with a third party employing labor
from International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 701. The
ILWU argues that this is in direct violation of EGT's lease agreement with
the Port of Longview, which explicitly stipulates all port work is to
indeed be done by the ILWU.

For its part, IUOE Local 701 has been widely condemned within the
Northwest labor community, with many accusing the local of conspiring with
EGT to break the ILWU. Both the Washington and Oregon state AFL-CIO
bodies, along with numerous other unions, have already passed resolutions
condemning Local 701. The July resolution passed by the Oregon AFL-CIO
described 701's actions at the EGT terminal as "scab labor."

The national AFL-CIO, on the other hand, has remained conspicuously muted
on the dispute. No mention of the ILWU's struggle in Longview can be
found on the federation's website or blog. In fact, AFL-CIO President
Richard Trumka has referred to the entire matter as a mere "jurisdictional

Yet despite the AFL's seeming indifference, the outcome of the struggle
couldn't have greater stakes. As Kyle Mackey, Secretary/Treasurer of the
Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council (the umbrella labor body for the
Longview area), argues, "If EGT succeeds, they will have essentially
broken the ILWU." As he explains:

First, they will set a precedent that work on public port docks is no
longer automatically longshore jurisdiction. Then within less than a
year, when the northwest grain handlers' agreement is set to be
negotiated, all the other grain elevators will seek to either go
non-ILWU or to match the eroded standard EGT creates. Shortly
thereafter, in 2014, the ILWU will negotiate its master contract with
the Pacific Maritime Association. If they lose, you can bet the PMA
will take notice and hit hard.

In the midst of a nationwide attack on organized labor and the right to
collectively bargain, the defeat of the powerful ILWU would also be sure
to have consequences reaching far beyond the docks.

The Call for Solidarity

Responding to the intensifying situation, the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central
Labor Council on January 2 passed a resolution calling for solidarity
action to stop the EGT vessel from being loaded. The resolution read in

Be it Resolved: That this Council call out to friends of labor and the
"99 percent" everywhere to come to the aid of ILWU Local 21, and to
support them in any way possible in their fight against multinational
conglomerate EGT. And,

Be it further Resolved: That this Council request that anyone willing
to participate in a community and labor protest in Longview,
Washington, of the first EGT grain ship do so when called upon by this

Accordingly, planning for a regional solidarity caravan to shuttle ILWU
rank-and-file and other supporters to Longview on word of the EGT vessel's
arrival is already underway. With the support of the San Francisco Labor
Council, ILWU Local 10, for one, has already pledged funds for a bus to
ferry rank-and-file picketers up to Longview once given the word.

The Northwest Occupy movement, meanwhile, has also begun to mobilize. On
December 19, Occupy Longview issued a call for Occupy activists to
converge on the port to blockade the loading of any vessel at EGT's
terminal. As Occupy Longview stated, "We are calling out to all occupies,
from New York City down to Florida, all the way through to the West Coast,
to join us in solidarity…We ask that tens of thousands travel to Longview
to join us and make this action the central action for January 2012."

Occupy and the ILWU

The inclusion and participation of outside activists in the ILWU's
Longview struggle—such as those from the Occupy movement—has not been
without its share of controversy. As was widely publicized, the ILWU
leadership refrained from embracing the West Coast Port Shutdown in
December, which the Occupy movement had called in part to show solidarity
with the ILWU in the struggle against EGT. In fact, the Occupy-led port
shutdown led a few unionist and other observers to question the merits and
rational behind an action conducted without much in the way of ILWU input
and participation.

Occupy activist, though, maintained that they did indeed have
rank-and-file support for the action. Moreover, they argued that the
antagonistic statements coming from the ILWU leadership regarding the port
shutdown were merely for legal cover. (Local 21, for instance, already
faces upwards of $300,000 in fines due to unfair labor practice charges
accrued from its ongoing struggle.)

Regardless, the matter of independent action conducted in solidarity with,
or in the name of, the ILWU remains an issue. As President McEllrath
cautioned in his January 3 letter, "Any showing of support for Local 21 at
the time that a vessel calls at the EGT facility must be measured to
ensure that the West Coast ports have sufficient manpower so as not to
impact cargo movement for PMA member companies. A call for a protest of
EGT is not a call for a shutdown of West Coast ports and must not result
in one."

Facing a Stacked Deck

The dictate to limit any ILWU action to EGT in Longview stems from the
severe restrictions American labor law places on unions. As McEllrath
notes in his letter to members, "Locals need to be aware of the narrow
path that we must cut through a federal labor law (the Taft-Hartley Act)
that criminalizes worker solidarity, outlaws labor's most effective tools,
and protects commerce while severely restricting unions."

Of course in addition to repressive labor laws, a key challenge facing any
attempt to effectively blockade EGT's terminal from beginning operations
will be the expected heavy-handed police presence. To date, at least 75
out of the 200 Local 21 members have already faced arrest, citation,
fines, or both. (Little surprise, then, to learn that EGT has made
contributions to local police and fire bureaus.)

But as for what to expect once EGT seeks to load a grain barge later this
month, McEllrath warns, "We have been told that this vessel will be
escorted by armed United States Coast Guard, including the use of small
vessels and helicopters, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the EGT
facility and that the facility itself will be protected by a full
complement of local law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions."

But even facing such a stacked deck—with the courts, police, and, needless
to say, the media conspiring against them—make no mistake: the ILWU has
never been a union to back away from a struggle. As ILWU Local 21
President Dan Coffman has stated, "The ILWU cannot lose this fight; we are
in it to it to win it."

And so it is that as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Wisconsin
uprising, the long sleeping giant that is American labor stirs once more.

Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon. He may be
reached at bnschreiner@gmail.com.

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