The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

West Coast longshore:
Murder on the docks

Oct 28, 2002

Ever since the West Coast dockworkers' contract ran out on July 1, the employers have claimed that the dockworkers have been slowing down the work. First, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) used this claim to justify locking the workers out at the end of September. Then almost immediately after the Bush administration ordered the longshore workers back to work under the Taft-Hartley law, the PMA used these same charges as an excuse to demand that the U.S. Justice Department seek massive fines against the workers' union the ILWU (International Longshore Workers Union), claiming that the workers were not working "at a normal and reasonable rate of speed."Let's look at what the bosses, the government and the news media consider "normal and reasonable." Since the beginning of the year, seven workers have been killed while working on the docks.

– On March 14 at the Port of Long Beach, John Prohoff was killed when he was struck by a spreader bar that fell from a crane.

– On March 15 at the Port of Los Angeles, Mario Gonzalez was killed when he was struck by a hydraulic-activated door on an auto shredder.

– On June 1 at the Port of Eureka, Richard Peters was killed when a ship-board gantry crane swung and crushed him against the ship.

– On June 23 at Port Hueneme in California's Ventura County, Richie Lopez Jr. was run over by a forklift.

– On September 3 at the Port of Long Beach, Rudy Acosta was killed when he was run over by a top handler, a cargo-moving device.

This is what happens when the workers work at a "normal rate of speed." Seven deaths are what the bosses consider "reasonable."After the 10-day lock-out ended on October 9, the docks were more congested than usual, with the containers and materials stacked up higher than usual. The conditions were thus more dangerous.

In the Port of Los Angeles, only two days after the workers returned to work, a truck hit a cart. A short while later, a union official was hit by another truck. Only after the union shut down the port for safety reasons did the bosses finally assign a guard to direct traffic in the very congested terminal area.

A couple of days later in the Port of Los Angeles, a mechanic was shocked with 480 volts when unplugging a refrigerated container. The man was so badly injured that he remains in the hospital.

No, the workers shouldn't be working faster, but much slower for safety reasons. They should have been working slower all along. At the same time, the entire labor movement should be up in arms against these murderous bosses, who are trying to use the workers' response to these working conditions as an excuse to try to impose even more murderous conditions and other concessions on the workers and to break the union if it won't go along with the plan.

One thing is for sure. If the longshore bosses, with the help of the government, succeed in imposing the murderous speed-up, this will only encourage other bosses to do the same against other workers. Every worker in this country has a stake in this battle. Every worker, every union should find a way to support the longshore workers against these murderous attacks.