Friday, September 21, 2012

ILWU Longview contract

Another Look at the "Battle of Longview"

By David Walters

For many months in the fall and winter of 2011 the "Battle of Longview" in the state of Washington captured the imagination of labor and Occupy activists across the United States and around the world. A small grain-loading local of the West Coast International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU Local 21) went up against a scab-herding, union-busting multinational conglomerate EGT.

Pitched battles pitted the longshore workers and their supporters in the broader labor movement in Washington and Oregon, on the one hand, against the ruling class' cops and courts, on the other. More than 200 members of Local 21, or 95% of the local membership, were arrested, as were numerous members of other unions and members of the Longview Occupy encampment.

Support for Local 21 was massive: Mobilizations and demonstrations, including two port and coast shutdowns on the West Coast, were held, involving tens of thousands of workers. Statements of solidarity came in from around the world and, most important, a threat of a massive West Coast mobilization in Longview (and another coast-wide shutdown) was issued in the event EGT attempted to load any more grain for export using scab labor. This threatened to elevate the class struggle to levels not seen since the 1930s, as thousands of West Coast workers and activists would have been drawn in to do battle with the pro-EGT forces.

The Organizer newspaper reprinted a statement at that time from the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council, which includes Longview, Wash. It read, in part:

    EGT is attempting to break the ILWU. EGT is operating on public port property where the ILWU have worked for decades. They are in violation of their lease agreement, which states that the ILWU is to be the workforce on port property. Longshoremen have done work in port grain elevators before the ILWU was formed [in the 1930s]. If EGT succeeds, they will have essentially broken the ILWU.

    First, they will set a precedent that work on public port docks is no longer automatically Longshore Jurisdiction. Then within less than a year, when the northwest grain handler's agreement is set to be negotiated, all the other grain elevators will seek to either go non-ILWU or will seek to match the eroded standard EGT creates. Shortly thereafter in 2014, the ILWU will negotiate its master contract with the Pacific Maritime Association. If they lose, you can bet the PMA will take notice and hit hard.

    Most important to note is that grain accounts for 30% of the ILWU health and welfare package. If you lose a third of your bargaining power and your traditional jurisdiction on port property, what are you left with? Either no ILWU, or a union that would resemble nothing like what it once was. There would be little or no collective power up and down the West Coast, and no way to fight for social justice or defend the working class, just as the ILWU has done for so long, in its entrenched and strategic position at the gates of international commerce.

For the First Time in ILWU History, Members Do Not Vote on Contract

In late January 2012, like many, we thought the issue was coming to a close. The Organizer reported the following on January 25, 2012:

    We all learned Monday afternoon (January 23) of a 'tentative agreement' reached in the bitter struggle between the 225-member ILWU Local 21 and the EGT grain corporation in Longview, Washington. This tentative agreement was announced just days before a scab grain cargo ship was slated to arrive into the port of Longview and that ILWU Local 21 supporters nationwide were readying to mobilize in large numbers to prevent EGT from loading grain from the new terminal in that port. …

    But no agreement that is reached between the ILWU leadership and EGT management is final until the members of ILWU Local 21 vote for it. On Tuesday afternoon (January 24), a number of postings were sent out over the internet indicating that ILWU 21 members had already voted on the contract, but this turned out to be an unfounded rumor. At this writing, there has been no contract vote by Local 21 members. …

    According to Occupy activist Michael Munk, 'Rumor last week was that a "small number" of ILWU Local 21 members will be allowed to work in the new terminal but, presumably, not in all the 30 or so jobs EGT designated to scabbing Oregon Operating Engineers Local 701.'

    If this rumor were confirmed, this would not be a win for the longshore workers by any stretch of the imagination.

What we did not know at the time of the settlement that ended the picketing was that at no point did Local 21 ever vote on that agreement that was negotiated for them by the leadership of the ILWU. The only vote ever taken by the membership of Local 21 was giving the ILWU president and officers the right to conduct the actual negotiations.

The ILWU membership in all its divisions gets to vote on contracts. This is written into the ILWU Constitution as an assurance of rank-and-file democratic control over the final language of any contract. But the ILWU leadership, more in the traditions of corrupt "business-unionism," violated the union's own rules and democratic traditions in order to implement an agreement more to the liking of EGT and the Democratic Party governor of Washington.

What's at Stake?

The final agreement that was negotiated was a concessionary contract, according to several rank-and-file ILWU activists who issued a statement on June 21 titled, "Danger! ILWU Headed in Wrong Direction! EGT-Longview Longshore Contract – Worst Ever!" The statement, reads in part:

    1. The historic gain of the '34 Big Strike, the union hiring hall, was gutted. This contract completely surrenders a fair order of dispatch and allows the employer to establish their own lists, one for the ship and one for shoreside, and to fire any worker without cause. For the first time the slave labor Taft-Hartley Act, intended to destroy the union hiring hall and militant actions, has been codified into our contract. A sad first in our proud history of fighting Taft-Hartley!

    2. For the first time ever this contract allows employers to do our work with superintendents and sub-contractors, i.e. scabs during 1) stop work meetings, 2) health and safety beefs, 3) bona fide picket lines! And to top it all off, 4) Bloody Thursday which we commemorate every year for the labor martyrs of the 1934 Maritime Strike killed by police by shutting down all West Coast ports!

    3. The ILWU International claims a jurisdiction 'victory' at EGT. What victory? Local 701 Operating Engineers scabs are still working at EGT. If we take job action to kick out the scabs, we're fired at the 'sole discretion of the employer.' No arbitration. That point is emphasized 14 times in the 15 page document. So where's longshore division jurisdiction that we supposedly won?! Our ship clerks were left out and so was IBU, our marine division, that backed us 100%.

    4. After every successful contract negotiation there is always a 'no reprisal' or amnesty clause to protect members and officers that were on the front lines of the battle. In the EGT contract there is NO protection for our members who inspired workers across the country by their bold actions in defense of our union and now they're going to jail while our union is facing big fines. Where are our "leaders"?

    5. The employers can rip up the contract and hire scabs if longshore workers take 3 job actions like the ones that built our union in the first place or if we don't pay a company-dictated fine of $1,500 per hour of a work stoppage within 15 days.

    6. Worst is that the membership of Longview Local 21 never even had a chance to read the contract first, then vote on it as the ILWU International Constitution guarantees. That violates the ILWU International Constitution (Article XIII Section 1. Agreements, Strikes, Lockouts and Boycotts). After leading the biggest labor struggle in years, Local 21 members were denied the most basic union right–the right to vote on their contract!" (1)

A Huge Setback

It doesn't take a Master's degree in labor history to see what a huge setback this contract represents not only for the members of Local 21 (or even for the ILWU as a whole), but for the labor movement, which sorely needs a victory in its battle against union-busting and concessionary bargaining. While the union was able to retain union recognition, the ILWU leadership signed a contract without the membership voting on it that destroyed the hiring hall, allowed continued employment of scabs side-by-side with ILWU members, and eliminated ILWU jobs in the control center of the port.

As noted in the January 2012 article in The Organizer newspaper, the Pacific Northwest Grainhandlers Association, the association of the bosses covered by the Grain Agreement with the ILWU, waited a full year before negotiating the new agreement, waiting to see how the EGT's attack on Local 21 would play out. They are now ready to negotiate a new agreement with the boilerplate of a concessionary contract forced on Local 21.

But wait, there's more! In 2014 the entire Pacific Coast Longshore Master Agreement negotiations begin. If the Grainhandlers Association is able to implement the EGT-like contract across the board in the Northwest (Puget Sound and Columbia River Valley ports), the profit-driven operators of the West Coast's main freight terminals will be next in line in terms of breaking the long-held gains that the ILWU has taken 60 years to win.

This concessionary contract now places the ILWU in the rest of the Northwest grain operations in jeopardy, with the operators now gloating over a contract that strips the ILWU of job control via the smashing of the hiring hall and the loss of the clerks' positions within the contract. The bosses will now use this victory for them as a way of generalizing similar concessions and take-always for all grain-handling contracts.

These are the stakes facing the members of the ILWU — and the labor movement as a whole.

Fighting Taft-Hartley

While we in Socialist Organizer and others in the labor movement worked to build a united front in defense of the gains of the ILWU, and we will continue to do so, the actions of the trade union misleaders cut directly across this perspective. The bureaucracy in our unions today live in fear of the Taft-Hartley Act, a piece of legislation that was passed in the wake of the post-World War II strike wave that outlaws many of the tactics historically used by unions to win against the bosses.

The Taft-Hartley Act is a vicious anti-labor piece of legislation that cannot be taken lightly. It is used as a threat by the capitalists to whip-saw militant unions into line should their struggles start to spread or increase in militancy. But it is also an Act that is used by the trade union officialdom as a way of demobilizing the membership and making concessionary contracts seem inevitable.

Indeed, it was at the very moment that momentum was building for a powerful confrontation on the Longview waterfront — a struggle that could possibly have succeeded in imposing a fair contract for the workers — that the Democratic Party governor of Washington intervened and secured the agreement of the ILWU leadership to force an unacceptable contract down the throats of its union members.

Fearing that the bosses and the government would invoke Taft-Hartley, the ILWU leadership refused to mobilize its own 40,000 members in support of its local in Longview, to the point of actually sabotaging any form of solidarity by other unions and large Occupy contingents that had begun to mobilize across the West Coast in solidarity with the Longview workers.

There is an urgent need to develop a class-struggle left wing in the labor movement that can organize against the cuts and concessions that have been thrown down against the working class. This means that unions, in the best traditions of the U.S. labor movement, have to play hard-ball and stand up to Taft-Hartley and its provisions. It means developing a movement in the unions that not only understands the need to build solidarity through united front actions, but understands that a "legal strike is a lost strike."

By creating the political situation of confrontation with the provisions of Taft-Hartley through truly mass mobilizations of the union membership and its working class community allies, we can roll over Taft-Hartley and smash its effectiveness. This can only be done by all union members relying only on ourselves and the unity of rest of our class — and not the concessionary "share-the-pain" Democrat and Republican party politicians.


(1) The actual contract can be download from the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee web site here:
The 10 Guiding Principals of the ILWU (synopsis of the ILWU Constitution) can be downloaded from here:

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