With the Congress, news media, and the vast majority of the American public proven to be impotent in the face of the Cheney Administration's continuing reign of terror, it appears that the last vestiges of true democracy and movements for social and political change are to be found in active labor unions (as if we didn't know this already).
Today, May 1st, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has shut down all 29 West Coast ports by instituting a full-scale, 25,000 worker strike, in order to protest the brutal foreign policy of the United States and to call for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Internationalist Group reports,
"This is the first time in decades that an American union has decided to undertake industrial action against a U.S. war. It is doubly important that this mobilization of labor’s power is to take place on May Day, the international workers day, which is not honored in the U.S. Moreover, the resolution voted by the ILWU delegates opposes not only the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, but also the war and occupation of Afghanistan (which Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain all want to expand). The motion to shut down the ports also demands the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the entire region, including the oil sheikdoms of the strategically important Persian/Arab Gulf."Below is a piece by Peter Cole from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the strike followed by and extraordinary message from the Iraqi Port Workers union, standing in solidarity with their West Coast American brethren.
Once you finish these pieces, feel free to continuing reading nonsense about Jeremiah Wright, Miley Cyrus, and Paula Abdul.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer | 29 April 2008
Peter Cole, Guest Columnist
On Thursday, May Day, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will declare an eight-hour strike to protest the war in Iraq. Since the ILWU controls every port along the U.S. Pacific Coast, including Seattle and Tacoma, this strike demonstrates the collective power of workers willing to use it.
The ILWU is demanding "an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East." Although the majority of Americans repeatedly have expressed their desire to end the war, President Bush has not obliged us, so it drags on. Because our leaders refuse to listen, ILWU members are taking the next logical step for workers: Strike.
For those unfamiliar, the ILWU is perhaps the most militant and politicized worker organization in the nation. It operates in one of the most important sectors of the world economy -- marine transport -- and, thus, is in a strategic location to put peace above profits.
Forged in the fires of 1930s worker struggles to gain basic rights, the ILWU was born in 1934 when longshoremen (there were no women in the industry then, though there are now) performed the incredibly hard, dangerous and important work of loading and unloading ships. To improve their wages and wrest some control over their lives, men all along the coast struck -- and in a few instances died -- to gain union recognition.
The ILWU is highly democratic. A caucus of more than 100 longshore workers representing every union local establishes policies for the Longshore Division. It was this caucus that voted to declare the May Day strike.
Dockworkers, including those in the ILWU, have a proud tradition of political action. For example, in the 1980s the ILWU respected the strike of British dockworkers by refusing to unload a ship worked by scab labor. Just last week, union longshoremen in South Africa refused to unload a Chinese vessel carrying military supplies destined for autocratic Zimbabwe -- a tremendous example of solidarity.
That the ILWU chose International Workers' Day to declare this strike suggests its political commitment and internationalism. Around the world, workers honor labor by taking a holiday. What few Americans know is that the tradition of a May Day strike originated not in the Soviet Union in the 1950s but the United States of the 1880s.
These days, such examples of worker power are increasingly rare in the U.S. The tragedy is that, historically, labor activism gave us the 40-hour workweek (and the weekend) and helped humanize the exploitative excesses of unregulated capitalism. As income inequality continues to grow in the United States, it is wise to remember how, in the past, strong unions created a larger middle class as well as a more democratic and egalitarian nation.
The ILWU strike also reminds us that unions still have an important role in public discussions beyond the workplace. As a democratic institution, the ILWU is precisely the sort of "civic society" that the Bush administration has been trying to create in Iraq. On May 1, dockworkers will speak loud and clear -- end the endless war in Iraq. Other American workers who want to support our troops by bringing them home can make their voices heard by joining with the brave men and women of the ILWU and taking the day off.
Peter Cole is an associate professor of history at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill. His book "Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia" was published by the University of Illinois Press.
General Union of Port Workers of Iraq | 29 April 2008
U.S. Labor Against the War is pleased to be able to share with you a statement of solidarity from the General Union of Port Workers in Iraq to the members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in support of the decision by ILWU members to shut down all the ports on the West Coast on May Day 2008 as a demonstration of their opposition to the war and occupation of Iraq.
In solidarity with the ILWU, the General Union of Port Workers in Iraq will stop work for one hour on May Day in the ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Al Zubair.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of ILWU in California,
The courageous decision you made to carry out a strike on May Day to protest against the war and occupation of Iraq advances our struggle against occupation to bring a better future for us and for the rest of the world as well.
We are certain that a better world will only be created by the workers and what you are doing is an example and proof of what we say. The labor movement is the only element in the society that is able to change the political equations for the benefit of mankind. We in Iraq are looking up to you and support you until the victory over the US administration's barbarism is achieved.
Over the past five years the sectarian gangs who are the product of the occupation, have been trying to transfer their conflicts into our ranks. Targeting workers, including their residential and shopping areas, indiscriminately using all sorts of explosive devices, mortar shells, and random shooting, were part of a bigger scheme that was aiming to tear up the society but they miserably failed to achieve their hellish goal. We are struggling today to defeat both the occupation and sectarian militias' agenda.
The pro-occupation government has been attempting to intervene into the workers affairs by imposing a single government-certified labor union. Furthermore it has been promoting privatization and an oil and gas law to use the occupation against the interests of the workers.
We the port workers view that our interests are inseparable from the interests of workers in Iraq and the world; therefore we are determined to continue our struggle to improve the living conditions of the workers and overpower all plots of the occupation, its economic and political projects.
Let us hold hands for the victory of our struggle.
Long live the port workers in California!
Long live May Day!
Long live International solidarity!
The General Union of Port Workers in Iraq An Affiliate Union with General Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (GFWCUI)