No Peace, No Work: ILWU Shuts Down West Coast Ports on May Day

by on May 2, 2008 · 2 comments

in Labor, Organizing, Peace Movement, War and Peace

SAN FRANCISCO, CA. May 1- Inside the headquarters of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 at 400 North Point Street, near Fisherman’s Wharf, the old labor saw, “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All,” is prominently displayed.

The ILWU brought that motto to life this May Day by shutting down 29 ports it works at up and down the US West Coast, calling for an immediate end to the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At mid-morning the union hall was bustling with activity, while outside supporters filled its plaza and spilled out onto sidewalks. A brassy band was punching out “The Internationale,” while bright bold signs and banners proclaimed, “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease,” “The Workers Struggle Has No Borders,” “A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind,” and “Not Your Soldier.”

Shortly after 11 the crowd shaped up in the street and started out towards the Embarcadero, destination Justin Herman Plaza. Along the parade route the weather was beautiful, the police behaved, and spirits were high.

Between piers 15 and 9 a vista of the Bay opened up, revealing a freighter moving towards the Golden Gate and out to sea. It didn’t appear to be carrying any cargo.

The march arrived at the plaza at noon to hear an ILWU Local 34 official announcing, “The entire West Coast is shut down. Our message to Mr. Bush is: shut down this war! This war is like all wars-it kills the sons and daughters of workers.”

Another official, from Local 10, told the crowd, “Direct Action To Stop the War shut down the trains at the Oakland Port. This is the first time this has ever been done.”

Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, and who is running against Nancy Pelosi, said Pelosi “wants to give Bush even more money for the war [$178 billion] than he asked for. I stand in solidarity with the ILWU, so there’ll be no more Caseys. If we keep this up, maybe Jonah [her soon to arrive first grandchild] won’t have to die in a bullshit war.”

San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman read a new poem. It concluded, “If ever we needed a revolution, we need it NOW!”

ILWU member Clarence Thomas, who has been to Iraq, then announced “two ports in Iraq are going to be shut down in solidarity with today’s ILWU action.”

Fellow member Michael Eisner, who went with Thomas to Iraq, next read a statement from the General Port Workers of Iraq, the union there carrying out the action. “Your action,” Eisner read, “advances our struggle for a better life here and around the world…We are struggling today to oppose both the occupation and the sectarian gangs, which are a product of the occupation.”

Next activist and actor Danny Glover asserted, “This war must end now, and we’re going to be the ones to do it.” Glover then gave an impassioned reading of a peech by “a black minister from 40 years ago,” Martin Luther King, which pointed out a “need for radical restructuring,” called for people to be “creative dissenters,” and said “we must have a passion for peace fan out over the land.”

Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney next declared “today’s action is as historically significant as the decision of four young students to sit in at a lunch counter” to start the Civil Rights Movement.

McKinney also called for “an end to the Bush/Pelosi war. We need military recruiters out of our schools and more teachers in our schools. She also criticized Pelosi for allowing “$720 million a day” to be “spent for war while they’re laying off teachers in your own district.”

McKinney had sharp words for Senator Dianne Feinstein as well. “Feinstein was forced to leave the Military Appropriation Committee,” she said, “because she was voting on contracts for her own husband, Richard Blum.”

Sureya Sayadi, a physician and KPFA board member, called the war “racist. It’s not really a war. In a war there are two sides. It’s genocide.” She told the crowd that she’s originally from Iraq occupied Kurdistan, and has been in the US for over 30 years. Describing labor relations where she came from, she said “the only industry in the region was a salt factory. The workers went on strike. They closed the factory and shot the workers.”

Sayadi also spoke of going to Jena, Louisiana, to protest racism there, and “what happened to Sean Bell. It’s all related. We need to stop the war so we can work here at home.” She also said that she’d been fired from her job for speaking out against the war.

A recorded solidarity statement from Mumia Abu Jamal was broadcast. The ILWU shut down ports in 1999 in support of Mumia, a union official said.

San Francisco firebrand Gloria LaRiva spoke of “those who can’t be here today,” political prisoners such as Mumia, the Angola 3 and Leonard Peltier. She said San Francisco teachers who had to work today were asked “to suspend standardized testing to teach about the war, and peace.”

Nancy Narcissa, of the women’s peace group Code Pink said of their activism, “We like to kick people’s asses into gear.” Code Pink is currently agitating in front of Nancy Pelosi’s SF home while she’s busy giving Bush more money for war.

An ILWU official explained that Code Pink had come to the union last year to encourage it to take direct action to end the US wars. That stance was amplified and proposed by Vietnam vets in union locals, union officials reported, which led to today’s successful shut down.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar jeff May 12, 2008 at 7:54 am

I live in a small city on the east coast. I’ve done an informal poll of virtually everyone I meet, and NO ONE has heard about the mayday longshoremen’s strike. I feel like Omegaman wandering through a landscape of zombies…

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 12, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Jeff – it really did happen, even here in conservative San Diego. There were shows of solidarity from some diverse groups, including from the Vermont labor council.
The corporate media does a good job – in hiding stuff like this.

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