Workers shut down Port of Oakland
By Terri Kay
December 2, 2012
‘We are determined to get a fair
Oakland, Calif. — “Picket line means don’t
cross,” chanted striking Service Employees Local 1021 workers and their
community supporters as they picketed all seven terminals at the Port of
Oakland on Nov. 20. The workers had walked out in an unfair-labor-practices
dispute with the port.
After 16 months of negotiations, over 220 SEIU electricians, clerical
workers, security personnel and janitors decided they’d had enough and
demanded that the port commissioners bargain with them in good faith. The port
was pushing a concessionary contract.
Millie Cleveland, SEIU 1021 port field staff, says, “SEIU workers
refuse to go backwards, no takeaways. The workers want to remain above water
and keep up with inflation. Once again workers had to withhold their labor to
get the employers to understand how determined we are to get a fair
She talked about how “the strike was significant in that, with the
support of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, they were able to
shut down all seven terminals.”
The workers’ picket lines were fortified by community supporters,
including sizable numbers from Occupy Oakland. Other community supporters
included the Justice for Alan Blueford Coalition, Occupy San Francisco and the
Transport Workers Solidarity Committee. These extra numbers were significant.
The picket lines had to be substantial in order to have the arbitrators declare
a health and safety risk, which then allowed the ILWU workers to get paid,
despite not crossing picket lines and not working.
It’s important to note that SEIU 1021 had just endorsed a resolution
by the Justice for Alan Blueford Coalition demanding that Oakland police
officer Miguel Masso be fired and tried for the murder of Blueford, a Black
youth killed last May. The Blueford Coalition, including Adam Blueford, father
of the slain 18-year-old, was on the picket lines in solidarity and
reciprocation. That is what solidarity looks like.
The strike also covered the Oakland airport, but picketers did not attempt
to shut down passenger travel.
The walkout was planned to last 24 hours, shutting down the afternoon shift
as well. However, when the port commissioners saw the solidarity between the
SEIU, ILWU and the community, they got Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to step in and
restart negotiations. After returning to negotiations on Nov. 23, SEIU
staff member Cleveland said they are “attempting to bargain and
addressing some concepts, but are still far apart, returning to negotiations
Monday.” She pointed out that the strike committee “continues to
Why picket lines must be respected
This writer asked Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10, about why the longshore
workers risked a day’s pay by not crossing the SEIU picket lines. He told
this reporter that Local 10, Local 34 and Local 91, representing longshore
workers, clerks and walking bosses, respectively, all refused to cross the
lines. Thomas explained the ILWU’s strong history of not crossing picket
lines. In recent years that included a community picket to protest the killing
of people bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza and Occupy Oakland’s two
port shutdowns in 2011.
Thomas explained that the ILWU is “one of the most democratic and
militant organizations, which understands the importance of class unity.
… We were keenly aware of the situation with SEIU and their being without
a contract. The strike was their decision. We don’t allow the sanctity of
the contract to be used as a subterfuge to undermine worker unity.”
Thomas quoted from the ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles. He said that
item four, “To help any worker in distress,” must be “a daily
guide in the life of every trade union and its individual members. Labor
solidarity means just that. Unions have to accept the fact that solidarity of
labor stands above all else, including even the so-called sanctity of contract.
We cannot adopt for ourselves the policies of union leaders who insist that
because they have a contract, their members are compelled to perform work, even
behind a picket line. Every picket line must be respected as if it were our
Thomas went on to say: “What’s missing today is that kind of
labor solidarity. The interests that the port represents are those of the
shipping companies, its customers, stevedoring companies and capital, not the
workers, in my opinion. What’s not talked about is the impact of the SEIU
Local 1021 strike on the shipping companies, Walmart, and other global
retailers, as opposed to the focus on independent truckers losing a day’s
He then quoted from Frederick Douglass: “There is no progress without
Thomas summed up: “The ILWU has a living history. We are teaching our
younger members how to contribute to that rich historical legacy by learning
the lessons for working-class unity.”
Pending grain lockout or strike
A major grain contract with ILWU workers in the Pacific Northwest is set to
expire on Nov. 28 after months of negotiations. The employers are demanding a
highly concessionary agreement, like the one forced on ILWU workers in
Longview, Wash., last January. “The companies that operate the NW Pacific
grain terminals,” said Thomas, “have presented their ‘last,
best, and final offer.’” It is one that ILWU workers will be very
reluctant to accept.
ILWU Local 8 members in Portland are already organizing for picket duty.
Portland and Seattle Occupy activists are preparing to support the workers if
the ILWU strikes or is locked out. How this struggle will play out will be
significant for longshore and other workers, given the militant history of the
ILWU and the extreme concessions being demanded by the grain companies.