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On the war cargo: Open letter to ILWU Rank & File

The following appears in the November issue of the Industrial Worker, published by the Industrial Workers of the World, IWW
The news came Sept. 30. The UPI wire quoted ILWU President Jim Spinosa as
saying, "We have told the military that our obligation to this country and
to our military effort is one that we will not move away from. ...
Anything our country needs in the interests of national defense, this
union will provide." Two days later, Local 10 issued a release which read,
"The ILWU is committed to shipping all military cargo."

Those weren't a good few days. As someone trying to help organize
solidarity actions on the East Coast where I live, and as an anti-war
activist, this course of action was very discouraging. The ILWU had my
admiration for a number of actions that its members had taken: in
solidarity with workers organizing against the apartheid regime in South
Africa; in support of the thousands of workers, students and activists
demonstrating against the World Trade Organization; and in support of a
new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, political prisoner on Pennsylvania's death
row.

I understand the desire to want to get back to work, but other strategies
were available. For instance, I thought highlighting the dependence of
Alaska and Hawai'i on West Coast shipping provided an excellent foot in
the door. Untieing this ship sent just one person back to work for only a
short time, and the people most likely to be impressed by this show of
loyalty went ahead and issued a Taft-Hartley injunction anyway.

Meanwhile, thousands and thousands of unionists across the world are
rallying against the war. These are the same unionists whose support will
be key as the West Coast dockworkers' struggle continues. To offer to
return to work for the express purpose of loading cargo that is going to
harm other working people must be discussed within the ranks of the union.

The IWW, which had job control in major ports on the East Coast from 1912
- 1923, also had to have this discussion. During World War I, the
government was arresting our leaders at the slightest provocation. Our
membership refused to sign no-strike pledges during the war because we saw
no possible benefit. A prominent longshore worker and IWW organizer
defended himself at trial against an accusation of being anti-American by
saying that he and his coworkers had loaded war cargo. America's role in
WWI was debated heavily, but even more so within the IWW because we had
some key labor power organized and could have slowed, though probably not
stopped, the war drive.

Something very significant happened a few years later, during the Russian
Civil War. There was an internal squabble in the IWW, and one faction
wanted the Philadelphia Wobblies out of the union. An accusation was made
that they loaded ships with munitions destined for the Russian General
Wrangel so that he could use them to kill peasants and workers. The
accusation was untrue, and the indignant tone the Philadelphia
longshoremen used while defending themselves tells me that the question of
loading munitions was really dissected and they had reached a firm
decision, based in part on what happened during WWI, and also on their
feelings of solidarity through international shipyard workers.

Even later in 1936, after the IWW no longer had job control but was still
a real presence, Wobblies were able to interrupt munitions headed to Spain
to be used against workers and peasants who were defending themselves
against Franco's fascist takeover. That is because those workers believed
in the power of connecting their own labor with solidarity actions with
workers across the globe. Anti-fascists reached out to their Wobbly
counterparts to take action. Some Wobs even decided to go to Spain and
help hold the line against Franco.

Because we are American workers, we are in a position of grave
responsibility. We are the workers most able to stop the military
aggression of our own country, and to interrupt the profits derived by
American multinationals from wars all over the globe. That is why the
recent ILWU decision, especially in the circumstance of the bosses'
lockout and the government's clear intention to destroy all our unions, is
so discouraging. Working people all over the world ask Americans to use
our labor power to help them in their simple desire to not be murdered. If
we talk about it now, talk with these workers, we could very likely come
to the conclusion that we do not want to see them murdered, and we would
like to do what we can to stop it from happening.

One such occasion happened in 1971, when a Bengali woman named Sultana
Krippendorff got involved with a fledgling direct action movement
protesting the U.S.'s supplying of arms to West Pakistan for use in a war
against Bangladesh. I read about this story in a book called Blockade by
Richard K. Taylor, but it was first told to me by George Lakey, a Quaker
activist from Philadelphia.

Sultana went on a speaking tour. In Baltimore, the ILA decided to shun the
cargo of the Pakistani ship the Padma for two days. An ILA officer in
Philadelphia, John Resta, invited her to attend the ILA's convention a few
days later in Florida. On first arriving at the Miami hotel where the
convention was held, the anti-war activists were greeted with a banner
which read, "I.L.A. Means 'I Love America.'" But Sultana had the courage
to tell how American sponsorship of West Pakistan's military and economic
war with Bangladesh was endangering the lives of her friends and family.
The upshot? The ILA made it a policy not to load arms to Pakistan, and to
support congressional efforts to end military and economic aid altogether.

Consider this an invitation for discussion. How will we use our labor
power? Whose interests will it serve, the government that is trying to
crush our organizations, or the working class of the world?
-- Alexis Buss

homepage: homepage: http://www.iww.org

Labor Unions really suck 18.Oct.2002 19:48

Bush Admirer

Before I forget, let me say that Mumia Abu-Jamal (real name Wesley Cook) is not a political prisoner on Pennsylvania's death row. He is a convicted cop killer long overdue for execution.

Now on the topic of organized labor. I've been observing organized labor most of my life and finding nothing to admire. In my opinion, organized labor doesn't stand for workers rights, but for the organizers and labor leaders, the mafia types, the Jimmy Hoffas, the exploiters who run the unions.

Nothing is more ridiculous than the closed shop, the requirement that a worker must join a union and must pay dues. That's especially repugnant when his or her dues will be used to support political contributions which are personally repugnant to the individual having to pay them.

If I had been a union member, and had seen my 'forced' union dues used to support the Al Gore campaign, I would have puked first, and gone crazy second.

This nation (and the world) needs strong right to work laws. Union membership should be entirely voluntary and so should the payment of union dues.

What you'd call a 'scab' is what I'd call a strong willed independent thinker who is unwilling to submit to heavy handed union rules.

Now having said that, I will admit that I do admire the ILWU for placing our country first and showing a bit of patriotism. That's a definite feather in their cap.

That's saying quite a lot for me, because I consider Harry Bridges the worst of the worst. The US Maritime unions destroyed the US Merchant Marine with an assist from our government regulators.

Survival 18.Oct.2002 20:10

Union Man

The Bushies think they have got the perfect excuse to break the union. If they can convince the public that union members are slowing supplies "to our boys overseas" after the Bushies start a full-fledged invasion of Iraq (i.e., when the public agrees "there's a war on,") then they think they can get away with sending troops onto the docks to break the union.

The military scabs have already been trained in San Diego, war will come soon. The ILWU leadership apparently believes the Bushies will play the "betraying our troops" card, and appears to be trying to out-PR them.

BA:The bosses really suck 18.Oct.2002 20:19

Union Man

When I can vote for my boss (as I do for my union officers), when I can vote on how much profit will be extracted from my labor (as I can vote on my union dues), and when I can determine my bosses' wages which come at my expense (as I can union officers' salaries) then I will consider handing over my union card. Not before.

Most Americans work for shit, and are treated like shit. As unions have been dismantled, so have wages and job safety. You're free to work for 50 cents an hour in some sweatshop where you've got a 50-50 chance of surviving the job until retirement if that excites you, BA, but the rest of us would like to keep at least a few of the things that unions have won for all working people.