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Occupy Leader Says Union 'Opposition' to Planned 12/12 West Coast Port Shutdown Is 'Just A Game'


In another sign of the #Occupy movement flying off the tracks of relevancy, the movement’s next major campaign – a planned shutdown of shipping ports on the entire west coast – is explicitly opposed by International Longshoreman’s Union, the union that the shutdown is purporting to support. However, statements from an Occupy leader indicate that the Union may be bluffing in order to avoid further legal trouble in an ongoing dispute they have with a Portland grain export facility.

The website says that the planned direct action on December 12th is being coordinated by at least ten different Occupy movements, including the recently decamped Los Angeles, Oakland and Portland movements as well as scrawny groups like Occupy Oxnard. More specifically, the Port Shutdown is being spearheaded on by Occupy Oakland and activist / artiste Boots Riley.

The site lays out some big goals…

On December 12, the occupy movements in different cities will stage mass mobilizations to march on the ports, create community pickets, and effectively shutdown the hubs of commerce, in the same fashion that Occupy Oakland shut down the Port of Oakland on November 2nd, the day of our general strike.

And their raison d’être is, as always, ‘solidarity with the 99%.’

We present this call to you because we believe it is time the occupation movement begins to work together to carry through coordinated, pinpointed actions. We want to disrupt the profits of the 1% and to show solidarity with those in the 99% who are under direct attack by corporate tyranny.

But apparently the anarchy loving Occupy movement didn’t clear all of this with the heads of the unions theey are supposed to be in solidarity with. A Portland Trubune article headlined Unions: We don’t support Occupy port shutdown and subtitled Longshoremen say they will not participate in planned Dec. 12 West Coast protest appears to lay out a case for conflict between Occupy and the ILWU.

“We support the goals of the Occupy protesters but we are not supportive or participating in the shutdown of the West Coast ports,” says Jeff Smith, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union Local 8. The union represents workers who load and unload ships at the port, and also move freight in and out of it.

And the same article later quotes ILWU Local 8 president Smith saying succinctly…

“This is a third-party strike. We have to go to work,” says Smith.

It seems that the #Occupy movement forgot that the Union likes doing things the way it likes doing things. The Tribune article quotes a statement from ILWU President Robert McEllarth saying…

“Only ILWU members or their elected representatives can authorize job actions on behalf of the union, and any decisions made by groups outside of the union’s democratic process do not hold water, regardless of the intent.”

That all seems pretty definitive; two unions officials stating clearly and on the record that the Union will not be taking part in the 12/12 direct action. However, into the fray jumps Occupy Oakland’s Boots Riley, who says in the comments section of the Portland Tribune article

There is a rift between some of the leadership and the rank-and-file. National leadership is trying to avoid a lawsuit. That is all. The rank-and-file support this, and in fact, the Longview actions by rank-and-file are not supported by the national leadership.

Dan Coffman of Local 21 says to Occupy Oakland: “You can’t believe what you people have done for my people” ILWU had to come out with the same official line for the November 2nd Oakland Port Shutdown. It’s just a game. The Longshoremen are down with this.

To fully understand what Boots is talking about, you need a little background about the labor dispute between the ILWU and a company called EGT in Longview, Oregon – you’ll note a reference to ‘the Longview actions by rank-and-file’ in his comment. This dispute is central to the 12/12 protest and is mentioned on the website where they say, “We will blockade all the ports on the West Coast in solidarity with the Longshoremen in Longview in their struggle against EGT.”

So, what’s been going on in Longview? Well, enough violent and aggressive acts – including hostage taking – that the National Labor Relations board was forced to step in. The following is from an article back in September — before the #Occupy movement started — from The Wall Street Journal.

According to police reports, some 500 longshoreman broke in at about 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning and held six security guards hostage for two hours while the protesters rampaged through the facility. They cut brake lines on railroad cars and spilled grain from boxcars.

The grain terminal under attack is owned by EGT, LLC, which is a joint venture of U.S., Japanese and South Korean companies. The consortium built the facility for $200 million and announced it would employ non-union longshoreman to save $1 million a year in operating costs. Contract negotiations between EGT and the union broke down earlier this year. The facility has been under physical assault since July.

On August 31, the NLRB issued a complaint accusing the union of taking “violent and aggressive” actions, destroying EGT’s property and harassing its employees. In response to an NLRB request, federal Judge Ronald B. Leighton issued a temporary restraining order, which the union has ignored. It would have been impossible for the NLRB not to have issued a complaint when a union is publicly trashing people and property.

Subsequently, the NLRB got an injunction against the ILWU…

Judge Ronald B. Leighton of the Western District of Washington issued the Preliminary Injunction against both ILWU Locals late Thursday, responding to a request filed by Richard L. Ahearn, Regional Director of Region 19 in Seattle. Judge Leighton had issued a Temporary Restraining Order the previous week, and has scheduled a contempt hearing for Sept. 15.

The judge eventually fined the ILUW $250,000 for violating the restraining order.

So, the Occupy movement and Boots Riley have inserted themselves into an ongoing struggle that has delivered the ILWU a number of losses in the courts and through the NLRB. Occupy protests have turned violent any number of times and if such violence occurred during the 12/12 protest, it would likely come back on the ILWU and it would be the unions, not Occupy or Boot Riley, who would face legal action or hefty fines.

Now, go back and look at what Boots Riley in the public comments section of the Portland Tribune.

ILWU had to come out with the same official line for the November 2nd Oakland Port Shutdown. It’s just a game.

And Boots can’t keep quiet on Twitter, either, where he states…

BootsRiley Boots Riley

@jaysonyagi They did the same on Nov 2. We are working w Longshoremen everyday on this.

And Boots crows about his play to create a ‘safety issue’ forcing workers to be sent home with pay.

BootsRiley Boots Riley

For the Dec12 WestCoastPortShutdown: We block the port, creating a “safety” issue. Arbitrator sez unsafe,workers go home WITH PAY. #OWS #OO

These are all statements that could come up in court if the ILWU tries to later claim that they had nothing to do with the 12/12 protests. As Boots says, “It’s just a game.”

Got that, your Honor?


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