Oakland dockers honour anti-war picket lines

Antiwar pickets shut down terminal of war cargo shipper in port of Oakland.
Antiwar pickets shut down terminal of war cargo shipper in port of Oakland.

Oakland Port anti-war and labor protesters close SSA terminal for the day. ILWU 10 & ILWU 34 members refuse to cross lines.

Submitted by Ed on May 22, 2007

Dozens of anti-war protesters including the leadership and many members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) joined the picket lines this morning and in the evening of the SSA (Stevedoring Services of America) shipping terminal in Oakland, California to protest the war and the lack of funding for schools in Oakland. The picketers demanded that the US get out of Iraq and called on other trade unionists throughout the United States to mobilize in action to stop the war.

The action which began at in the early morning before the first day shift of ILWU Local 10 longshoremen and women as well as longshore clerks of ILWU Local 34 was organized to encourage the dockworkers to honor the picket line which they are allowed to do under their contract. As a result of a political education campaign in the ILWU Local 10, most workers were fully in support of the picket and did not cross the line.

Newly elected Democratic mayor Ronald Dellums had also sent a letter to the Port Action committee that organized the picket which declared that the war “had been a blunder” and said he opposed the war. The police however not only prevented anti-war picketer from driving to the docks in the morning but also stopped major news media from bringing their vans to the picketlines to cover the demonstration.

The police when questioned by this reporter said that the news vans were not allowed in the area since it was a “safety issue”. In 2003, the Oakland police in collaboration with the SSA company and state security forces launched a violent attack on a similar anti-war protest. They also shot at many ILWU members for the first time since the 1930’s.

The picket line which swelled as the morning went on was manned by a large number of teachers and leaders of the Oakland Education Association who were not only angry about the war and the role of the port companies like SSA who are profiting off the war. This same company runs privatized docks in Iraq.

They were also picketing to protest the fact that West Oakland students who live next to the port have some of the worst conditions in the schools including poorly maintained sanitary facilities and equipment and supplies while the port of Oakland has an income of $38 billion a year. OEA president Betty Olsen Jones pointed out that while Oakland is making tremendous income from the Port operations and could help provide funding for the schools they refuse to help out.

As a result of the crisis in the schools, the state has taken them over in a trusteeship and is rushing full speed ahead to privatize the schools with charters including a military charter set up by former mayor and now California Attorney General Jerry Brown. Many of the Black longshore workers were angry that the Black community in Oakland is not benefiting from the massive income the port is making. The Oakland Education Association is also supporting a $20 tax on each container that comes into the port that would go to the schools in Oakland so the education system would benefit from being home to the fourth largest port in the US.

One ILWU longshoreman, Anthony said that he supported the protesters and it was not just an issue of the war but of a system that is based on profits that will not take care of the needs of working people here or around the world. One of the reason the longshoreman also agreed to honor the picket line was the anger at the Oakland police attack on them and anti-war protesters on April 7, 2003.

After two hours on the picket line and a ruling that this was not a health and safety issue by the ILWU-PMA arbitrator, the company sent nearly 150 workers home without pay. Picketing also continued on the night shift and similar action was taken by the longshore workers not to cross the picket line. They announced that one of the reasons they would not be crossing the line was the vicious police attack on anti-war protesters and longshoremen in 2003.

This action while small has significant lessons for successful workers actions against the war nationally and internationally.