Monday, April 11, 2011

Workers Shut Ports

By LeiLani Dowell
Published Apr 6, 2011 5:14 PM

On the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., workers shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., for 24 hours as part of a national day of solidarity with Wisconsin workers and workers who are fighting union busting.

According to Clarence Thomas, a dockworker, union activist and executive board member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, dockworkers unanimously agreed to honor a national call for a “no business as usual” day on April 4 in support of public sector workers in Wisconsin and their fight for collective bargaining rights. More than 1,000 actions were held throughout the country, with at least one in every U.S. state.

With only one ship in the Oakland port on April 4 — perhaps because the port bosses got wind of the planned work stoppage — not enough workers reported to work to even unload that ship. “This was a voluntary rank and file action — an organized act of resistance,” said Thomas. “It is significant that the action by Local 10 was taken in solidarity with Wisconsin public sector workers who are facing the loss of collective bargaining.”

Management had suggested that Local 10 use its monthly meeting on April 4 to honor Dr. King, but Local 10 members rejected the proposal, preferring to voluntarily lose a day’s pay. King, who was killed in Memphis while demanding collective bargaining for sanitation workers, had been named an honorary member of Local 10 six months before his death.

“So we’ve come full circle,” Thomas concluded. The Memphis public workers got their union, after a two-month strike. Now 40 years later their Wisconsin counterparts are threatened with losing theirs. But it is Wisconsin’s “fierce resistance that is inspiring all of us today.” In addition to the actions on the docks, thousands of workers took to the streets in the Bay Area on April 4 to support the struggle in Wisconsin and to commemorate King’s assassination.

Members of the Oakland Education Association attempted to occupy the lobby of the downtown Oakland Wells Fargo Bank to protest bank bailouts in the face of education cuts. The bank locked its doors before the OEA members could enter. At a spirited rally that effectively shut down the bank for three hours, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones said, “We are one with Wisconsin, Ohio and the workers and poor across the country.”

“We Are One” with Wisconsin workers was also the theme of a noon rally called by the Alameda County AFL-CIO Labor Council. More than 1,000 union members representing nurses, teachers, painters, engineers, domestic workers, janitors and others attended. Speakers demanded that the banks and the rich be held responsible for the economic crisis — not the workers.

In the late afternoon, several thousand union members marched through San Francisco’s financial district, stopping at all of the major banks and demanding an end to their massive bailouts at the expense of poor and working people. A final rally was held in front of the Federal Reserve Bank’s San Francisco office.


About 700 people marched from the King gravesite in Atlanta to the state Capitol building for a rally that featured Martin Luther King III. Among the participants were union members from the Teamsters; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union; the Service Employees union; the Machinists union; the United Auto Workers; the International Electrical Workers union; UNITE-HERE; the Communication Workers union; and firefighters.

There was a large contingent in support of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis. People wore “I am Troy Davis” T-shirts and gathered signatures on a petition to the pardons and parole board demanding clemency. The International Action Center carried a banner reading, “Stop the attack on unions! Defend workers’ rights from Wisconsin to Georgia.”


More than 300 workers and community members turned out to North Carolina’s legislative building in unity with demonstrations across the country. North Carolina, which has had a ban on collective bargaining for public employees since the Jim Crow era, is one of the least unionized states in the country. Yet this demonstration, along with others in recent months, shows a trend of renewed strength within North Carolina’s labor movement.

The demonstration was a joint effort by United Electrical Local 150; the N.C. Public Service Workers Union; the North Carolina AFL-CIO; the North Carolina NAACP; the Farm Labor Organizing Committee; People’s Durham; Southerners on New Ground; and Raleigh Fight Imperialism, Stand Together as part of a newly formed Labor, Faith, and Civil Rights Coalition in Defense of the Public Sector. The coalition first mobilized in solidarity with Wisconsin workers two months ago.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, North Carolina NAACP president, affirmed the historic joint struggle of the labor movement and the oppressed. “The demands of the Black freedom movement have always been the same demands as labor, and those that attack the labor movement with lies and propaganda from one side of their mouth, turn around and spread racist hatred with the other side.” Sendolo Diaminah, an education activist and organizer for the lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer group SONG, spoke about the need for unity in the face of divisive oppression: “Queer folks are your neighbors, workmates, and have been in the struggle for justice alongside you. We need everyone in this movement!”

Two recently fired workers that are members of UE Local 150, state mental health worker Rebecca Hart and sanitation worker Kerry Bigelow, addressed the crowd, along with Diego Reyes from FLOC. Local 150 recently fought for and won introduction of House Bill 287, a Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights, into the state House of Representatives, along with Senate Bill 386, a bill to repeal the ban on collective bargaining.


Hundreds of students and union members rallied in Philadelphia on April 4 outside Temple University’s Liacouras Center against proposed state cuts in funding for education and in solidarity with workers in Milwaukee, Ohio, Florida and other states under attack from union-busting, pro-business politicians. Participating unions included the Service Employees union, the Letter Carriers union, AFSCME, the Transit Workers Union, the American Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Temple University Graduate Student Association. Speakers addressed the significance of King’s support of Memphis sanitation workers’ right to unionize in light of anti-union attacks today.

Earlier in the day, city workers staged a break-time walkout, standing outside municipal buildings with signs against the proposed cuts and the Philadelphia city administration’s refusal to bargain in good faith with their unions.

In a truly united effort by labor, more than 700 workers and community supporters from the United Electrical union, the Steel Workers union, TWU, AFT, the Food and Commercial Workers union, UNITE-HERE, the Mine Workers union, SEIU, Citizens Against Marcellus Pollution, the Sierra Club and others rallied in Pittsburgh as part of the “We Are One” rallies on April 4.

An opening rally was held in front of the EQT energy company, one of Pennsylvania’s most notorious natural gas, shale fracking companies. EQT has made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits without paying any taxes. Meanwhile, public transportation fares have recently been jacked up by 25 cents while several routes and services in general have been cut.

The crowd then marched down the street to Gov. Tom Corbett’s office building. Corbett recently released his budget proposal, which included major job cuts in mental health, education and other services, including a 50 percent cut from several state universities. Marchers occupied the lobby of Corbett’s office while chanting, “They say cut back! We say fight back!”


Several thousand unionists and supporters joined an after-work rally near City Hall in downtown Manhattan called by the Communication Workers union. Speakers emphasized that Wisconsin and New York workers have a lot in common. Even though Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker is a Tea Party Republican and New York state’s Gov. Cuomo is a Democrat, one speaker said they are both attacking workers and blaming unions for their state’s economic problems. And both are trying to solve problems by imposing draconian cuts and layoffs.

Another speaker mentioned New York state’s Taylor Law, which makes it illegal for public sector workers to strike. “When you combine this with the hailstorm of imposed cuts and new work rules, it’s pretty much the same as eliminating collective bargaining,” he said.

Many rally participants expressed shock when they heard that New York banks get $25 billion each year in tax-free interest on bonds from the city and the state governments as well as public agencies that manage public transportation, bridges and tunnels.

Dave Welsh, Judy Greenspan, Andy Koch, Cheryl LaBash, Dianne Mathiowetz, Betsey Piette and Dee Knight contributed to this article.

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