ILWU West Coast longshore strike — Organized Labor Has the Power to End the War

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Seattle waterfront on May Day:
Chanting “No Peace – No Work” and “Money for Jobs and Education, Not War,” over a thousand union members, anti-war and immigrant rights activists participated in the historic ILWU’s (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) 8-hour stop work action to protest against the U.S lead occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Passed by a huge majority of delegates (97-3) at a ILWU’s west coast meeting, the ILWU voted to move its’ monthly 8-hour stop work meeting to May 1st, in honor of international labor day and also to take a stand against U.S. foreign policy and its’ barbarous effects on working class people world wide. The ILWU’s decision was met with opposition from the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), who dubbed the stop work action ‘illegal.’ Nevertheless, the ILWU ignored both the arbitrators and the PMA, and shut down all 29 ILWU organized ports on the West Coast (including the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) for 8 hours.

Radical Roots
Alongside the Minneapolis Teamster rebellion of the same year, the 1934 west coast longshore strike redefined the course of the American labor movement. Coupled with the rise of industrial unionism, which sought to organize and unite workers on an industry-wide basis the ILWU was born out of a strong sense of worker education, rank and file democracy, and working class solidarity in the face of enormous adversity.

In recent years, the ILWU has used workplace action to take bold stances on a number of political issues, including the war in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, the WTO and respecting the strikes of other workers in foreign countries, such as the ILWU’s refusal to unload British ships that were loaded with scab labor during the dockers’ strike.

The Power of Working Class Internationalism
The ILWU’s May Day one-day work stoppage enjoyed a wide range of support from community groups and other labor unions, including the New York American Postal Workers Union (APWU), the California Federation of Teachers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and a number of AFL-CIO labor councils throughout the country. In addition, members of the Swedish National Assembly of Dock Workers sent a letter of full support to the ILWU.

The most profound and inspiring show of solidarity came from the General Union of Port Workers in Iraq, who decided to stop work for one hour in the ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Al Zubair. In a letter sent from the Iraqi General Union of Port Workers wrote: “We, the port workers view that our interests are inseparable from the interests of workers in Iraq and the world…. We are certain that a better world will only be created by the workers and what you are doing is an example and proof of what we say. The labor movement is the only element in the society that is able to change the political equations for the benefit of mankind. We in Iraq are looking up to you and support you until the victory over the US administration’s barbarism is achieved.”

The Way Forward
The internationalism of Iraqi dock workers in solidarity with ILWU speaks volumes to the enormous potential power of a mobilized working class worldwide. Unlike the racist and twisted views presented by the corporate media, workers and trade unionists of the Middle East are no different in their struggle for social justice and better living standards than workers anywhere in the world. The ILWU’s stop-work action demonstrated the potential power of labor and a way forward at a time when the leadership of the anti-war movement is enfeebled by its capitulation to the pro-war Democrats As socialists have always argued, workers have the power to bring production and services to a grinding halt.

Union activists should use the example of ILWU to move resolutions in their unions calling for mass demonstrations and to organize coordinated strike action to force the government to withdraw all US troops, and invest the trillions of war dollars in jobs, healthcare and education.