Reflections on Class Struggle at the Port 2011 - 2012
Following the Roots...
The upfront and in your face Class War that began in Wisconsin gave impetus to the Bourgeois on a national and international level to begin, continue and extend Economic and Social Austerity Measures. While economic austerity measures are direct means to alleviating the crisis of political economy and the most well-known forms of austerity, let us explain firstly what we mean by "social austerity". In an effort to reverse the fall of the rate of profit, the ruling class undercuts workers' rights to organize for better wages as to facilitate the overproduction of commodities with relatively little to no loss in the profits of the Capitalist. Parallel to this the ruling class can expect dissent and ferment amongst workers. So taxes are alleviated to the working class to facilitate an expansion of the Police State which in turn suppresses them. The Tottenham, L.A. and Seattle Riots/Actions against the heightening of the Police State following Wisconsin and the Arab Spring in the face of worsening economic conditions is a sure sign that this a material reality of the world we live in and that there is a medium of struggling against the state in these measures that is class based and not activist based.
To the labor movement - labor meaning those organized sectors of the working class in unions representing their interests - these measures naturally impeded their will of action to struggle against these measures, especially in the face of previous defeats. But also the internal limitations, bureaucracy and corruption welded a sloppy union movement marked by the disappointing unwillingness of union leaders to commit to a General Strike and catalyze a wave of struggle to combat austerity in Wisconsin and abroad. So From State legislature to the Point of Production Class Struggle the Bourgeois unilaterally destroyed workplace organization, undercut pay, pensions and benefits, securing workers into contracts with lousy conditions. The struggle between the ILWU and EGT in September ended the window of struggle opened by Wisconsin in previous spring. The ILWU was the "city on the hill" in the American Labor movement, the last refuge of militant unionism. Invigorated by its victory in Wisconsin as a class though, EGT coupled with the State trumped the last standing testament of the correctness of the "Classical Workers' Movement".
Root and Branch of the "Classical Workers' Movement"...
But the rolling rock of spring and summer that crashed at the beginning of fall opened another higher avenue of struggle: Occupy Wall Street - which traced itself back to the General Strike and into organized labor. In an attempt to bail out the classical workers' movement it showed tremendous strength and solidarity, transcending even that of the ILWU by far. But against it stood tremendous heights, two strong enemies: EGT and the ILWU - who worked hand in hand to dismiss the Occupy Movement from the West Coast Ports. The Occupy movement called the EGT's invigorated bluff and in some sense won. Shortly after the Shutdown of the West Coast Ports EGT went back to the bargaining table with local 21. But at the Bargaining table stood another enemy: the ILWU, who had attacked the Occupy movement in the Shutdown of the Ports, who punished Local 21 for its militant action and ultimately sold the local out for the lousiest of contracts.
The ILWU is the last nail in the coffin of the classical workers' movement. Another testament to the fact that Contemporary Unions cannot be reformed that they are no longer vehicles of class struggle. Longview affirmed this. Even with solidarity of so many, with the power to reverse this "one sided class war" the ILWU did not. Why? Because unions are not institutions of Proletarian struggle anymore, they are means by which the Bourgeois maintain its hegemonic control. The real victory here would have been the international's restructuring away from reformism/flat out retreat to an offensive revolutionary form, a refusal to sign any contract and direct struggle in Longview which could have been won and would have labor revitalized in a new fashion.
... The New Workers' Movement
There was no victory in Longview, not for Occupy or the Rank and File. The illusionary victory of getting EGT to the negotiating table, is not a victory considering its fatal results in both the fact that between the interests of the Capitalist and the Proletariat there is nothing in common, nothing to be negotiated and that it denied a struggle on the basis that it would have united the last remnants of organized labor with Occupy, that it would have invigorated the movement so much with a permanent victory that would proclaim to the world: "See here, Occupy is truly the movement of the working class in its best interests". Not to mention that even by reformist standards, it was a sell-out on the International's part. Let us look at the contract as told by Longshoreman (as of right now the contract details are not open to public eyes)
This is the only ILWU contract with a grain shipping facility which does not include ILWU shipping clerks as part of the work force. ILWU Local 40, which represents the ships clerks in Longview, was shut out of the negotiations and has no jurisdiction under the contract. The various grain shipping companies have contracts with the ILWU which are not part of the main Pacific Coast contract for conventional shipping operations.
Although the contract does provide for Local 21 longshoremen to be dispatched from the Dispatch Hall the employer has the exclusive right to reject any worker dispatched if in his judgment the worker is not "qualified". This undermines the hiring hall and in effect allows the company to pick and choose. If the union cannot supply "qualified" workers, the company can go outside and hire whomever they want. The company has the right to permanently terminate any worker for any reason that the company finds appropriate. Article VIII - Management Rights 8.01c states "At its sole discretion, designate and remove employees from the Facility and reprimand or otherwise discipline employees". Article V - Hiring and Manning 5.04 states
The Employer may remove employees from the Approved Lists for any reason at its sole discretion. Such removal may be without prior notice. If an employee is on the premises of the Facility at the time of his removal from the Approved Lists, he must immediately leave the Facility when so instructed."
The company has the right to designate any longshoreman dispatched and working to be a "permanent regular employee" effectively cutting off longshoremen in the dispatch hall from future dispatch. Historically, this issue of "steady men" led to an extended and bitter series of battles in the main longshore division since the infamous 9.43 steady man provision was slipped into the contract in 1966. 9.43 was one of the two issues which caused the three and one half months 1971-72 coastwide strike.
Longshoremen can be required to work up to 13 hours on a given shift. This contrasts with the 10 hour shift maximum in the master contract.
The right to stop work on health and safety issues is rendered ineffectual since the company can continue any unsafe and/or unhealthy work practices with supervisors or anyone they designate to perform the work while the issue is adjudicated under the grievance procedure. This removes the employer's incentive to correct the unsafe or unhealthy condition which could lead to an extended period of time where longshoremen would be "standing by" on health and safety.
Furthermore, the contract requires the Local union officers to order longshoremen to cross and work behind a community picket line or blockade and to announce publicly that such a blockade is unauthorized. This language does NOT appear in the Master longshore contract. If longshoremen stand by on health and safety when a large picket line is blocking the entrance to the facility and the arbitrator rules that a "legitimate" health and safety issue is not involved that becomes an "unauthorized work stoppage". After three of these the employer can cancel the entire contract. This language is clearly intended to intimidate longshoremen from participating in joint actions with Occupy or other outside organizations.
The employer is not required to withdraw all of the financial and legal penalties imposed upon the Local and its members; these remain in place. Even after the end of the 1984 11-day strike of San Francisco longshoremen against South African Apartheid cargo the employers placed all of those penalties in abeyance.
This is the worst contract imposed upon a longshore local that I have ever seen. I can only speculate that Local 21 agreed to this contract after being told by the International Officers that if they don't accept it they are "on their own" and that the International will withdraw all financial and legal support.
When the various coastwide grain handling and shipping contracts come up for renewal shortly they will demand the same give-away contract to remain "competitive".
The contract, if we hold what this Longshoreman (and many other Rank and File say) says to be true, then the contract in effect divides the working class, shrinks the size of the union, therein in lowering its potential of garnishing power. The contract stipulates that the Employer may "pick and choose" which in effect knocks off all labor militancy. To whom does this serve? EGT yes and who else? The ILWU. With its fear of militancy and direct action. To top it all off, it effectively cuts, as the fellow worker says, all connection to Occupy.
What would have this connection done? In our opinion, it would have extended Occupy into practical class struggle and revitalized the workers' movement along stronger terms. A workers movement based not on trade or industrial lines, but on class lines. On the basis of General Assemblies that could unite the entire Proletariat. With a foothold in Industry we could occupy the workplace and communitize industries. This is the face of the New Workers' Movement arising everywhere from Egypt to Greece. In America the seed has been planted with the Occupy movement, but won't grow into branches until we establish a foothold in the workplace and tie the point of production to the larger community. It won't grow till we fight the enemy root and branch: The Politician, the Capitalist and the kind of Unionism which is more of an ally to the Bourgeois then the working class. The defeat in Longview is a major step back for working class. We can only hope that as this window draws to its final close it will create new avenues of struggle and that as a class, we can learn to transcend traditional unionism and fight and win on our own terms.
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