Washington State Longshore Workers Dump Scab Grain
to Protect Jobs
AP: Before dawn today, 500 people broke down terminal
gates, prevented security guards from interfering, and cut
the train’s brake lines.
by Evan Rohar and Jane Slaughter
Published on Thursday, September 8, 2011 by Labor Notes
The confrontation between West Coast longshore workers and
an anti-union exporter exploded as pickets massed on
railroad tracks by the hundreds yesterday to block grain
ILWU President Bob McEllrath was detained by police as
longshore workers massed on railroad tracks to stop a
shipment of grain to a non-ILWU terminal. ILWU spokesman
Craig Merrilees said, "When corporations and the
government turn their backs on working families, it
shouldn't surprise anyone to see people step forward and
try to fight back." (Photo/Dawn DesBrisay)
Police used clubs and pepper spray on protesters in
Longview, Washington, as they made 19 arrests.
Early this morning a terminal there was invaded and
hoppers holding about 10,000 tons of grain were opened
onto railroad tracks.
Ports in Washington shut down completely Thursday as
hundreds of longshore workers rushed to Longview, in the
state's southwestern corner.
Bill Proctor, a Longshore Union (ILWU) retiree, was with
fellow retirees and active workers on an early morning
picket line at a Seattle grain terminal. He said, "If that
facility is allowed to go non-ILWU, other facilities will
be tempted to follow suit. And the grain terminals on the
coast are all going into contract bargaining next month."
A foreman came out to politely assure the picketers that
no one would do their work.
EGT Development, a consortium of three companies, wants to
operate its new $200 million grain terminal in Longview
using non-ILWU labor, despite a contract with the port
requiring it to do so. When the ILWU protested, the
company signed up with an Operating Engineers local.
Every other major grain terminal on the West Coast is
operated by ILWU labor, and the union asserts that EGT's
goal is to go non-union altogether, ending generations of
Defied Restraining Order
In a series of protests since July, ILWU members and
supporters sat down on train tracks and occupied the new
terminal, resulting in 100 arrests. As picketing
continued, no trains had attempted to bring in grain
shipments since July. But last week a federal judge issued
a temporary restraining order at the request of the
National Labor Relations Board, which said ILWU pickets
had harassed EGT workers.
Once the restraining order was in place, the BNSF railroad
decided to try once more to ship grain. Justin Hirsch, a
Seattle longshore worker, said grain terminals are major
customers for the rail companies, who might move 500
trains a year through a terminal.
Pickets in Vancouver, Washington, 40 miles from Longview,
delayed the BNSF train yesterday morning, until police
cleared protesters away.
That afternoon, hundreds of port workers stood on railroad
tracks at Longview to block the mile-long train. Nineteen
were arrested and ILWU national president Bob McEllrath
was detained briefly--as talk spread up the coast that
police had broken McEllrath's arm. Riot police used clubs
and pepper spray on some protesters.
Union officers eventually urged the blockaders to let the
train through. But while it sat overnight inside the
terminal gates, the word went out. Workers in Seattle left
their jobs before the shift ended. Proctor reported that
members of Local 19 gathered at 2 a.m. to head the
two-and-a-half hours to Longview.
"Overnight people started flooding into Longview," said
Hirsch. AP reported that before dawn, 500 people broke
down terminal gates, prevented security guards from
interfering, and cut the train's brake lines.
Noting that a train could hold 107 carloads, Hirsch said
the mess on the tracks would be "time-consuming to clean
up" and noted "somebody's not getting paid."
Proctor said, "This struggle is central to our future
because grain work accounts for 20 percent of the
financing of our pension and welfare funds."
Not the First Time
Longshore workers have a history of militant action to
defend their jobs. In the 1980s a company called Pier Q
tried to use non-union labor to move lumber through the
small port of Vancouver, Washington. ILWU members
organized a rally at the port, drawing longshore workers
from as far away as Los Angeles. International President
Jimmy Herman spoke to a crowd of 2,000 or 3,000 assembled
in a warehouse, recalled Doug Rollins, now a clerk at the
Port of Tacoma.
The crowd marched out and surrounded the terminal, and
longshore workers with wire cutters ran toward the lumber
bundles sitting on the pier.
"Every time you cut the bands off the lumber, the bundle
would just explode and it would be like toothpicks
shooting up in the air and coming down in a big pile,"
said Rollins. Ten minutes after the start of the action,
millions of board feet of lumber covered the terminal.
Rollins reported that a policeman asked Herman who led the
action. "I don't know, we don't know," Herman said. The
international president was there, but the ranks were in
charge, Rollins said. Since there were too many workers to
arrest, the police stood by and watched as the thousands
dispersed and went home.
Will It Restrain?
The restraining order, issued by a federal judge, lasts 10
days. Both sides are back in court today, when the judge
will decide if the order should be made permanent.
ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said, "There is no formal
action at either the local or International level, but
large numbers of individuals appear to have taken action
on their own." He stressed that no arrests were made at
this morning's action and called the AP's report of
security guards taken hostage "ridiculous."
"When corporations and the government turn their backs on
working families," Merrilees said, "it shouldn't surprise
anyone to see people step forward and try to fight back."
Ports in Tacoma and Seattle are closed today, though the
international said no job action has been called. One
worker said work would resume at 3 a.m. Friday--unless it
(c) 2011 Labor Notes
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