Reply from J. Heyman: Analysis of the results of the US dockworkers fight

David Walters dwalters at
Sun Jan 5 20:34:31 MST 2003

FYI...this is a reply to the Bacon article on the ILWU.
--David Walters
A Critique of David Bacon's
"West Coast Dockworkers: Victory in the Face of the Bush Doctrine".

David Bacon's Corpwatch piece on the recent ILWU contract negotiations
begins and ends with the ominous role of government intervention against
trade unions. At no point in the article is he critical of the trade union
bureaucracy's role in acquiescing to government intimidation. He opens the
article with Reagan's devastating crushing of the PATCO air controllers'
union strike of 1981, not mentioning that the strikers were betrayed by the
AFL-CIO bureaucracy not mobilizing to defend airport picket lines. He closes
citing Bush's use of "national security" as a club not just against ILWU but
possibly against other unions as well. The key question was never even
raised: If a militant union like the ILWU with powerful pacts with the
Teamsters and the East Coast ILA and with international dockworker
connections doesn't take a stand against joint government/employer coercion
and turn the tide then who can?

Bacon has written for the ILWU's Dispatcher on international issues before
and has generally done a good job. However, in an article on the dockworkers
in the British port of Felixstowe following the defeat of the Liverpool
dockers' struggle, he once again displayed a similar lack of depth in
failing to criticize the trade union bureaucracy.  The Liverpool dispute was
perhaps the most significant dockworkers' struggle in years. Tragically
support for the bold Liverpool dockers within Britain and internationally
was aggressively cut off and isolated by Bill Morris, General Secretary of
the Transport and General Workers Union, .  Felixstowe, ostensibly a union
port, lent no support during the Liverpool struggle.  Neither of these
points saw the light of day in Bacon's Dispatcher article.

He misses a critical point throughout the Corpwatch article which is that
the present ILWU leadership has departed from our union's principled legacy
of opposing repressive laws passed under the guise of "national security"
and opposing U.S. imperial wars against third world countries.  The ILWU
opposed Taft-Hartley since its beginning in 1947, opposed Democratic
President Truman and his invoking  of it and successfully fought its
anti-communist clause directed against union officers all the way to the
Supreme Court. We also fought government waterfront screening during the
McCarthy period which mainly affected reds and blacks. Now for the first
time the ILWU has a leadership which has remained silent on the question of
war against Iraq, seeks to "improve" oppressive legislation like the Port
Maritime Security Act rather than oppose it and paints this concessionary
contract as a "victory".  Bridges and the ILWU never before negotiated a
contract under Taft-Hartley, not in 1948 and not in 1971.

In his rush to proclaim "victory" in this employer-imposed contract, as some
in the ILWU leadership have admitted, Bacon makes the mistaken assertion
that the agreement was "overwhelmingly ratified", when in fact, the
coastwide vote has not yet taken place in all ports much less been tallied.
Two of the big lies being told in this dispute are 1) The West Coast ports
were shut down by an ILWU strike not a PMA (employer) lockout. 2) This
tentative agreement is a "landmark victory" simply because ILWU was able to
get a good benefits package.  But a labor contract is much more than
benefits. The truth is that labor can not negotiate a good contract with a
Taft-Hartley gun pointed at its head or in a "barbed wire straitjacket" as
Bacon puts it.

This was posed as a "technology" contract by PMA. Yet, the employers already
have the ability under Section 15 of the contract to introduce new
technology.  This contract is not about technology. It is about
jurisdiction, protection of the ILWU's work, traditional and new, clerk and
longshore.  PMA and Bush are testing the waters to determine labor's resolve
to defend itself.  Bacon claims that the "definitive battle.....(of)
technology for jobs-- was not fought to a conclusion this time."  His
earlier writings on this struggle were more accurate in which he asserted
that this was a "defining moment" in the labor movement. Even before the
coastwise contract ratification vote employers are already displaying their
hubris in the port of Oakland: provoking and trying to fire ILWU mechanics
at the new Hanjin terminal  twice; at the APL terminal, cutting longshore
jobs and trying to "contract out" ILWU chassis mechanic work; having
management handling ship mooring lines at terminal after terminal.  These
kinds of attacks are happening at other ports too.

As Bacon correctly points out maritime employers, shippers of the West Coast
Waterfront Coalition and the government set up a secret White House task
force in a collaborative attempt to coerce the ILWU through a litany of
repressive state measures to accept PMA's contractual terms and conditions.
What Bacon leaves out is that because the new ILWU leadership has bought
into Bush's "national security" ruse, they never even considered a strike or
organized national and international actions on the docks in support of the
ILWU. Their conventional wisdom fears that longshoremen would have been
characterized as defiant, greedy and unpatriotic Americans sabotaging Bush's
holy "war against terrorism". Rather than swim against the political stream
which ILWU has always done best, we were faced with a timetable orchestrated
by the PMA. We were locked out and then hit with Taft-Hartley during the
busy shipping season. Now it's the slack season and as the war with Iraq
approaches, our union officials are working overtime trying to sell an
imposed contract as a "victory".

It's time to draw the line.  If we wait until the July 2008 contract
expiration date Bush, if elected, will still be in office, or maybe some
"wannabe Republican Democrat" like Truman. We, longshore workers, should
reject this contract and send our Negotiating Committee back, this time to
negotiate with some muscle by lining up concrete support in the U.S. and
internationally.  This was done on a small scale in the Neptune Jade
campaign in support of the Liverpool dockers. We can do it again on a larger
scale. Bush can not initiate a war on two fronts simultaneously, his I.Q.

Jack Heyman, member, ILWU Local 10

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