Aug 26, 2002
The 16,000 dockworkers on the West Coast, who are represented by the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union), have been continuing to work without a contract since July 1. So far, the officials of the ILWU have continued to negotiate and have not set a strike deadline. They have not even asked for a membership vote authorizing a strike, almost two months after the contract expired.
Meanwhile, the steamship, stevedore and marine terminal companies – which are represented by the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association ) – have gone on the attack. They are demanding big take-aways in medical benefits. They are also proposing to cut the workforce by subcontracting out hundreds of jobs, under the guise of changing computer technology.
Using a take-it-or-leave-it position, the PMA has threatened to lock out workers if the ILWU doesn't accept the take-aways.
The Bush administration has publicly come down on the bosses' side. Among other things, representatives of both the Labor Department and the Department of Homeland Security have told ILWU officials that the government is ready to move against the workers if there is any disruption at the ports – whether from a strike or a lockout.
Labor Department officials threaten to use the military to operate the ports. The Bush administration also threatened the ILWU with stripping it of its bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act and with breaking up the coast-wide contract, forcing the union to negotiate separate agreements by port or even by terminal, in effect, shattering the workers into small, weaker groups.
Faced with these threats from the large shipping companies – and the U.S. government – union officials have organized a few rallies along the coast of northern California, Oregon and Washington, demanding that the Bush administration let negotiations go on. And they have directed their members to appeal to Democratic Party politicians, both locally and nationally. With a Republican in the White House, the Democrats are perfectly willing to pose "as the friends of labor" and denounce the Bush administration. This costs them nothing. But neither will it reinforce the 16,000 longshore workers in the ILWU who face this brutal extortion. However, the last president to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act against striking workers was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter.
Unfortunately, while the bosses give every indication of their willingness to carry out a war, union leaders so far have gone out of their way to show how reasonable they are. Of course, this doesn't mean the union leaders couldn't call for a strike. Nor does it mean that workers can't prepare for a fight right now.
One thing is sure – the bosses on their own will not be reasonable.