Back in 1939, before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into WWII, the ILWU respected a picket line put up by Chinese Americans asking for a boycott of shipments of scrap iron to Japan destined to be used against the Chinese people in the form of war materiel in its then vicious invasion of Manchuria.
In 1974 the ILWU joined an international boycott of Chilean cargo following the overthrow and murder of democratically elected President Salvador Allende by a CIA-backed military junta. And in 1978 Local 10 refused to handle bomb parts bound for Chile.
In 1980 the ILWU imposed a similar boycott on military cargo bound for the dictatorship in El Salvador during that country's bloody civil war. In 1989 the union also became a key player in a national boycott of Salvadoran coffee organized by Neighbor-to-Neighbor to protest torture and other human rights abuses in El Salvador, including the bombing of union headquarters there.
In 1984 ILWU longshore workers refused to unload ships from the apartheid state of South Africa. This action helped spark a national and international divestment movement that led to the eventual collapse of the apartheid government. When a victorious Nelson Mandela visited the U.S. in 1990, he told a packed audience at the Oakland Coliseum that it was the ILWU's actions that kick-started the movement that ended apartheid.
On April 24, 1999 the ILWU closed all ports on the West Coast in solidarity with the national protests to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
On Nov. 30, the ILWU again closed West Coast ports and was one of the largest union contingents on the streets of Seattle in protest of the WTO.
The ILWU was the first and most important and influential union to come to the support of the Charleston Five, the group of longshore workers (four African-American longshoremen and one white marine clerk) who were victims of a racist, rightwing political vendetta by Charlie Condon, the Republican Attorney-General of South Carolina.
From 1995 until 1998 the ILWU supported the Liverpool Dockers, British longshore workers fired for refusing to cross a picket line. ILWU members refused to work the Neptune Jade, a ship that was loaded by scabs hired by the company that fired the Liverpool dockers.
In 1999 ILWU members refused to work the Columbus Canada, a scab-loaded Australian ship that arrived in Los Angeles, in support of the longshore workers of the Maritime Union of Australia, which the Australian government and ship companies were trying to bust. The action is credited by the MUA with winning their struggle.
In April 2000, ILWU Local 19 boycotted toxic waste-laden containers aboard the Wan He, a vessel that had taken on cancer-causing PCBs from a U.S. Army base in Japan for trans-shipment to Canada, where it was to be landfilled. When the Canadian government refused to accept the poisonous cargo, the shipment was redirected to Seattle, where local environmentalists and union members picketed the ship on arrival. Longshoremen and Teamsters honored their line, and the ship left port with all its cargo still aboard.
In 2000, ILWU members in Tacoma helped the steelworkers at Kaiser Aluminum during their strike and helped them win it with actions at the port where the raw material for the mills came into the country. The ILWU worked with Earth First! as well as the USWA on this struggle.
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