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West coast dock struggle at front line of war on labor

No recent experience demonstrates the power of labor in today's globalized capitalism more than the hundreds of cargo-laden ships waiting to unload outside west coast ports on Oct. 8, the eleventh day of a lockout of the dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
From the November 2002 issue of News & Letters


West coast dock struggle at front line of war on labor

by Ron Brokmeyer

No recent experience demonstrates the power of labor in today's globalized capitalism more than the hundreds of cargo-laden ships waiting to unload outside west coast ports on Oct. 8, the eleventh day of a lockout of the dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The employers' group, Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), started the lockout after dockworkers decided to strictly enforce contractually agreed upon safety regulations in the face of a deadly speed-up. The lockout caused serious dislocation in the U.S. and world economy.

"Just in time" delivery meant rotting perishables, lost retail sales, and shut down manufacturing plants like giant NUMMI motors in Fremont, Cal. and as far away as Mitsubishi in Normal, Ill. With losses escalating, PMA got what they wanted all along--the power of the U.S. government to help them subdue workers on the job. In fact, just before negotiations collapsed, the solicitor general of the Department of Labor, Eugene Scalia, got the ILWU to agree to a 30-day contract extension, but PMA refused, holding out for government intervention. President Bush promptly obliged as he went to court to get a Taft-Hartley injunction, opening the ports under supervision of the U.S courts. U.S District Judge William Alsup ordered dockworkers to return and perform at a "normal and reasonable rate of speed."

The Taft-Hartley Act, called by the labor movement the "slave labor act," had not been used since 1978 and never in a lockout. Furthermore Bush's secretary of war, Donald Rumsfeld, put his own imperious stamp on the injunction, saying the shutdown interfered with the effort "to prosecute the global war on terrorism." Two weeks later PMA claimed returned dockworkers were working at a 20% to 25% reduced pace and were preparing to ask Judge Alsup to use his extraordinary powers under Taft-Hartley to fine the ILWU and even jail its leaders.


Read the whole story at: www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2002/November/Lead_Nov02.htm
 
 

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