Oakland Port blockade set for Monday despite union objections, Occupy leaders say
on December 9, 2011
Occupy Oakland protesters have planned a blockade of the Port of Oakland on Monday, but this action has not been sanctioned by the longshore workers’ union or the Teamsters Union, which represents port truck drivers.
The blockade is part of a coordinated effort by Occupy groups around the country to shut down business at all West Coast ports. At least 25 Occupy groups have events planned for the day, including shutdowns in coastal cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Mike King, a spokesman for the Occupy Oakland Port Blockade Assembly, said it is being organized to support port truck drivers in Oakland and across the country, as well as longshore workers in Longview, Washington who are engaged in a labor dispute with their employer, EGT Development.
“They’re being attacked by the 1 percent,” King said of port workers. “We’re going to shut down Wall Street on the waterfront on December 12.”
But the blockade is not supported by the leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). On Tuesday, ILWU president Robert McEllrath sent a letter to all ILWU affiliates around the country stating that while members of the union share the Occupy protesters’ concerns about the “future of the middle class and corporate abuses,” the labor dispute in Longview should not be taken up by the Occupy groups.
“None of this is sanctioned by the membership of the ILWU or informed by the local and international leadership,” McEllrath wrote. “Simply put, there has been no communication with the leadership and no vote within the ILWU ranks on EGT associated Occupy actions.”
McEllrath and other ILWU officals did not respond to multiple requests to comment.
TJ Michels, the spokesperson for Change to Win, the Teamsters labor federation, also said that Teamsters did not take part in organizing the blockade. Michels said that if the port terminals are blocked, and truckers can’t get cargo in and out of the port, they will lose a day’s pay because they’re paid by the load, not the hour. She said that because of this, many truckers have been attending Occupy teach-ins and meetings to try to inform protesters about their own ongoing labor struggles. “[The truckers] are saying, ‘we understand why you’re coming here, we want you to understand what it’s like for us,” she said, “and would you please pledge your ongoing support, not just on December 12.”
But she also called the Occupy movement inspiring and said she was not surprised the group was taking action at the port. “There’s no greater symbol for the inequality in this country than the ports themselves,” Michels said. “These are economic engines that really only serve the 1 percent.”
The lack of support from union leadership doesn’t mean rank-and-file members won’t support the planned march and blockade, Mike King said. “We’re hearing from the workers that they support what we’re doing,” he said. “and we’re working with union leadership to bridge any differences that are there or are perceived to be there.”
This will be the second attempt to blockade the port in a little more than a month. On November 2, following a general strike and “day of action” in downtown Oakland, thousands of people marched to the Port of Oakland in the evening and shut down operations, which resumed by the next day.
In an effort to keep the port open this time, officials from the Port of Oakland have also stepped up a media campaign this week. On Sunday, a full-page ad appeared in Bay Area newspapers that read: “Shutting down the Port of Oakland is a bad idea. Another shutdown will only make things worse—diverting cargo, tax revenue, and jobs to other communities. It will hurt working people and harm our community.”
Victor Uno, who is a port commissioner as well as the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 union, said the shutdown is not supported by “anybody who represents people at the port” and will negatively affect the workers at the port. “We are trying to come out of very bad recession,” Uno said. “A port closure makes no sense. What is the point?”
The Alameda County Building Trades Council, which represents 28 unions in the construction industry, also does not support the blockade, said Andreas Cluver, the council’s secretary treasurer. “We oppose any action that’s going to jeopardize workers,” Cluver said. “That action should come from the workers if they’re going to go without wages for the day.”
King said members of the Occupy Oakland group have been meeting with truckers and longshore workers to talk about the planned blockade, and how it will affect them. For the past two weeks, Occupy Oakland members have been down at the Port of Oakland docks speaking with truck drivers, and at the ILWU hiring hall in San Francisco, he said.
King said some workers the group has met with expressed their displeasure with losing a day’s wage. “In the scheme of things, if this action can help create political space so [workers] aren’t getting exploited that heavily every day, then it’s a cost worth bearing, some of them think,” King said. “It’s like any type of strike—there’s a risk involved, but if there’s enough social solidarity there will be some reward at the end of the day. That’s why we’re doing this.”
On Monday, three marches are scheduled to head to the port in an attempt to shut it down: from West Oakland BART at 5:30 am and at 5 pm; and from Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland at 4 pm, following a 3 pm rally.
Oakland Police Department spokesperson Johnna Watson said police are aware of these plans, and have been working with port officials and other law enforcement agencies in preparation, though she declined to state which agencies. She also said it is a federal crime to enter port property and that no one will be allowed to do so.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
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