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October 2012, Week 4

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Wed, 24 Oct 2012 20:57:49 -0400
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Longshore union faces the grain monopolies: Will labor
solidarity prevail?
October 16, 2012 at 5:00 AM, updated October 16, 2012 at
5:03 AM
Jack Heyman
http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/10/longshore_union_faces_the_grai.html

The Oregonian has reported that grain talks between the
Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association and the
International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) are
heating up. An "epic showdown" is looming because
workers in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver won't
accept major concessions ("Port braces for new labor
standoff," Sept. 26). 

The contract expired Sept. 30 when the grain giants had
threatened to lock out longshoremen and hire scabs. A
port shutdown was averted only because the employers
failed to file required legal paperwork in time, forcing
an extension until Oct. 24, according to union sources.
An editorial in The Oregonian (Oct. 3) charges the union
with "temper tantrums" for defending contract rights. 

The International Business Times reports "Big grain
companies reap profits as global food prices soar and
poor go hungry" (Sept. 4, 2012). The world's four
largest grain companies -- Archer Daniels Midland,
Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, known as the "ABCDs"
-- collectively control 75 to 90 percent of global grain
trade and are raking in billions during a worldwide food
crisis, the story says. (Bunge owns Longview's Export
Grain Terminal with partners.) 

In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the
Great Depression, grain monopolies are boasting record
profits, yet they're demanding major concessions from
the longshoremen who do the dangerous work of loading
ships. So, who's the real culprit? 

A year ago, members of the ILWU protested EGT's attempt
to break their union and impose concessions in Longview.
Scores were arrested for blocking grain trains,
including ILWU President Robert McEllrath, who was
following the will of the membership. Coastwide protests
occurred on his conviction this Oct. 5. 

In February, state police and an armed Coast Guard
cutter were deployed to escort a grain ship through
picket lines at EGT and stop mass protests by ILWU
members, labor supporters and Occupy activists
caravanning from Portland, the Bay Area and Puget Sound.
Under the threat of overwhelming police and military
forces, including from the Obama administration, union
officials succumbed. The ranks succeeded in defending
their union jurisdiction, but a hugely concessionary
contract was imposed, brokered by Washington Gov. Chris
Gregoire. 

So now, the other profit-bloated grain companies want
the EGT concessions that the union ranks fought against.
Following ILWU's democratic tradition, members and
retirees with nearly 300 combined years on the
waterfront signed a leaflet that opposed the contract:
"EGT-Longview Longshore Contract -- Worst Ever!"

The militant 1934 West Coast maritime strike, like other
strikes across the country, built the trade union
movement, which raised standards for all working people
-- including those not in unions -- on wages, safe
working conditions and social benefits. Unions fought
for and won Social Security, unemployment insurance and
Medicare. Now the ILWU is on the front line defending
all labor. 

Last year when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was attacking
public workers, ILWU Local 10 protested by shutting down
ports in the Bay Area. On May Day 2008, ILWU closed West
Coast ports to demand an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan
wars. And in 1984, longshoremen, protesting apartheid,
organized a boycott in San Francisco of a ship from
South Africa. 

Were these "temper tantrums"? Are these the actions of
"greedy workers"? Nelson Mandela commended the ILWU for
sparking the U.S. anti-apartheid movement. For these
solidarity actions, longshore workers were docked pay,
but that did not deter them from implementing their
time-honored slogan, "An injury to one is an injury to
all." 

Now in Portland, the ILWU is faced with an
employer-imposed contract or lockout backed by a massive
police and Coast Guard mobilization. And in Vancouver, a
strikebreaking agency is already stationed at United
Grain. 

Will intimidation by profiteering grain exporters and
their government backers prevail, or will union
solidarity and ILWU unity against EGT concessions win
out? 

The stakes are high for all working people. 

Jack Heyman, a retired longshoreman from Oakland,
Calif., writes about labor and politics. 

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