Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Voluntary rank-and-file act of resistance


Dock workers shut down ports in solidarity with Wisconsin struggle

Published Apr 5, 2011 9:49 PM

Cranes and trucks were idle April 4 in Oakland,
Calif., when longshore workers carried out a
24-hour work stoppage in protest of budget
cuts and union busting.
Photo: Delores Lemon Thomas

April 4 - The power of workers to bring production to a halt was on dramatic display today, when longshore workers of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 shut down the ports of Oakland and San Francisco for 24 hours in solidarity with the heroic struggles in Wisconsin.

The big container port of Oakland was deader than a doornail at 6 a.m. today. I saw a long snake-line of trucks bearing shipping containers idled on the roadway. The shipping cranes were all “standing at attention” – in other words, idle. (These are the same Port of Oakland cranes that gave George Lucas the idea for some of his “Star Wars” imagery.)

The ILWU hiring hall was practically deserted at dispatch time for the night shift, leaving several hundred jobs unfilled. The dockworkers stayed away, and no cargo was worked on any shift Monday in Oakland or San Francisco.

The rank-and-file-initiated shutdown was part of nationwide actions on April 4 to challenge the draconian budget cuts and union busting in Wisconsin and other states.

“This was a voluntary rank-and-file action – an organized act of resistance,” Clarence Thomas, a dockworker and Local 10 executive board member, told this reporter.

“It is significant that the action by Local 10 was taken in solidarity with Wisconsin public sector workers who are facing the loss of collective bargaining,” Thomas said. He pointed out that April 4 is also the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – who was killed in Memphis demanding collective bargaining for sanitation workers in that city.

“So we’ve come full circle,” he concluded. “The Memphis public workers got their union, after a two-month strike. Now 40 years later their Wisconsin counterparts are threatened with losing theirs. But it is Wisconsin’s fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.”

It is not surprising that the 24-hour port work stoppage came out of ILWU Local 10, a racially diverse, predominantly African-American local, and the home local of legendary labor leader Harry Bridges. Dr. King was named an honorary member of Local 10, six months before he was assassinated.

Oakland teachers shut down bank

The Oakland Education Association has been facing crippling attacks on the public school system, including layoff notices for 600 of their members. So on the April 4 Day of Action, the OEA chose to protest at Wells Fargo in downtown Oakland, demanding “Bail out schools, not banks.”

About 100 teachers and supporters chanted, marched and sat down at the bank entrance, effectively shutting down the bank for three hours. They set up a makeshift classroom in the bank plaza to teach the key role of the banks in bringing on today’s economic crisis.

OEA President Betty Olson-Jones pointed out that Wells Fargo received a $50 billion federal bailout, and the people chanted: “Banks took our money! Now give it to the schools!”

The following points were highlighted by the protesters on the bullhorn:

1. They demanded that workers' jobs, pensions, schools and social services must be safeguarded before one cent of interest is paid to the banks and wealthy bond investors. “Which has priority,” they asked. “Profits for the wealthy, or our children’s future?”

2. They highlighted Wells Fargo's role in the foreclosure epidemic – affecting many families of district schoolchildren – and demanded a moratorium on foreclosures, so that families can stay in their homes. An OEA press release said Wells Fargo must "stop foreclosures and lower mortgage debt to reflect homes' reduced market value."

The Bail out the People Movement organized demonstrations today at Wells Fargo branches in Los Angeles and Baltimore, in solidarity with the teachers’ action in Oakland. Wells Fargo is based in California, with their main headquarters in San Francisco.


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