On February 26th, 2014, 30 community members and Union supporters confronted and temporarily stalled a bus transporting a scab workforce to the Port of Vancouver. This action came one day before the 1 year anniversary of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) being locked out by United Grain in Vancouver, Washington. By Lataya Dailey, Dustin Hawks, and Shane Burley.
An Injury to One is A Concern For All
United Grain justified the lockout, citing a video their private investigator claimed showed sabotage of machinery by a Longshore worker. Upon reviewing the video, the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s office declined to file charges against the Longshoreman. Despite the lack of evidence, the lockout continues.
Prior to locking out the Longshoreman, United Grain and Columbia Grain, which operates at the Port of Portland, both hired the services of J.R. Gettier & Associates, Inc. to mobilize a scab workforce to work the grain elevators, provide security for their personnel, and harass and spy on local Longshoremen and supporters. Enduring a year of contentious contract negotiations, lost work, and harassment, Longshoremen from Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon are fighting not only for their jobs; they are on the front lines of a developing struggle that will impact have consequences for the entire working-class.
Vancouver Is A Union Town; Scabs Get Out!
In the early morning darkness shortly before 5:30am, community members arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Vancouver, Washington to protest J.R. Gettier, who doubles as both replacement workers and security, lodging at the hotel. The protesters arrived as the scab workforce was leaving the hotel and boarding a bus scheduled to depart for the Port of Vancouver. As the bus was leaving the hotel parking lot, community members formed a picket in the bus’s path, preventing passage for the bus and its scab workforce. The protesters were immediately confronted by local police who targeted female protesters, pushing them aside as they escorted the scab bus out of the Holiday Inn parking lot while protesters stood in opposition.
Following the altercation at the hotel, the protesters caravaned to the Port of Vancouver in pursuit of the bus full of scab workers enroute to United Grain. Intercepting the bus while waiting to gain entrance to the port, the protesters set up a picket outside of United Grain’s only entrance, blocking the bus and preventing individual scab vehicles from entering the port. Protesters occupied the road and blocked the gate, reciting pro-union and anti-scab chants and refusing to let the vehicles move.
While the scab bus remained idle, nearby Longshore workers and the community supporters surrounded the bus, chanting “Scab cars turn around, no union busting in this town,” and “when Longshore workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
As the bus was surrounded, Longshoreman from the night shift exited the port in a slow, steady procession, passing their fellow Longshoreman, the non-ILWU affiliated community members there to support them, and a bus packed with a scab workforce. Coming face to face with fellow brothers and sisters in struggle, the Longshoremen and working-class community members together confronted those whose work actively undermines workers, unorganized and organized, and sabotages solidarity among the working-class. In this moment, inspired by a principle of solidarity: “an injury to one is a concern for all”, a collective action created a partnership with the community members and Longshore workers by an act of solidarity.
Protesters blockaded the road into the port directly in front of the bus bringing in the scabs.
Law and Police: Obstacles for Working People
It wasn’t until a Vancouver police officer drove his SUV into the protesters’ picket line at the front gate that the procession of scab vehicles drove into the Port of Vancouver. After the front gate was cleared, police physically intervened with protesters picketing the scab bus. Officers shoved protesters out of the way to allow the bus passage into the port, ending the 45 minute picket blocking the scab workforce from entering United Grain.
Vancouver police presence and intervention at the Longshore picket line is nothing new, nor is the police’s commitment to protecting United Grain’s interests during the labor dispute. Local and State police forces, in collaboration with J.R. Gettier security, routinely escort scabs to and from the Port of Vancouver and Port of Portland, physically confronting Longshoremen and breaking the Longshore picket lines. Downriver in Longview, Washington, Longshoremen from Local 21 and their families are all too familiar with intervention of security forces on the side of management and big business. In 2011, local authorities and private security personnel harassed, beat, and arrested many of the Longshoremen from Local 21 in Longview. This occurred as Export Grain Terminal (EGT) locked out Local 21 from grain jobs and employed a scab workforce. Tensions reached a climax when the United States Coast Guard was ordered to intervene on the side of management in early January 2012, a first in nearly 40 years.
The role of the police and security forces in society is to enforce the law, preserve normalcy, and do whatever necessary to fulfill that role; ironically, that sometimes includes breaking the law. While police misconduct and abuse is often associated with breaking the law, their licence to harass and spy, near-total monopoly on violence, and sanction to murder are direct and immediate threats to all working people. Such conduct is daily protocol for modern police and security forces as they enforce corporate laws that necessitate busting unions, and imposing hardships on individual workers.
We need no longer ask the question of police: who do you protect, who do you serve? The answer is revealed by their words and actions. As one officer said, after physically removing a young student from the picket blocking the scab bus: “We are just enforcing the law. There are ways to change laws…like writing your Congressman.” The law this officer is enforcing is damaging to workers that live in the same community as the officer. Another officer was asked if he cared about his neighbors keeping their jobs or about his community. He replied: “That’s not my job today.” A protester continued asking questions of the officer: “Don’t you want to serve the people, not corporate interests?” “Not my job today,” repeated the officer.
J.R. Gettier personnel have been involved in several physical confrontations at both United Grain and Columbia Grain’s gates where the Longshore has pickets. The most disturbing confrontation was the unprovoked attack of a man in his 60s who was held and tasered in the temple by one Gettier guard then pepper sprayed by another. None of Gettier’s guards faces charges since the police have refused to arrest them or follow through with the requests for information that the victim needs for their legal cases.
As employers and big business continue to subjugate the working-class–busting unions, creating unsafe working conditions, driving down wages, polluting and destroying the planet, and displacing entire workforces and communities–working people will continue to be confronted with public and private security forces deployed to enforce the law. In the future, such situations will happen more frequently; police forces will have a choice to make: stand with the workers, or stand opposed. Working people will be forced to decide collectively how to proceed while determining who and what stands in their way to better working conditions, higher wages, a clean and safe environment, and general prosperity for the working poor. When it comes to solidarity with workers and the working-class, actions speak louder than words. Collective action, union and nonunion, is the genesis of all previous victories for the working class. The future will be no different.
Community Support And Union Support: Two Way Solidarity
There was near universal support for the protesters as Longshoreman came face to face with the scab replacement workers. The community picket had immediate, demonstrable results, and displayed that non ILWU affiliated community members are willing to take militant action: risking arrest and injury in action in solidarity with Longshoreman. While it’s important that the community understands the importance of defending fellow workers, unions often are behind in supporting struggles of other unions and the community. And solidarity is not always extended or reciprocated. However, in Vancouver, Longshore Local 4 has taken principled stances with the community, in word and action.
On November 4th, 2013 Rising Tide, allied organizations, and community members temporarily shut down the Port of Vancouver in protest of Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies plans to build an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. During the protest, no Longshoreman approached or crossed the community picket at either of the entrances. Instead, the Longshoreman respected the community picket and called for an arbitrator. The actions of the Vancouver Longshore that morning were the logical outcome of an early event within the union hall. Previously, Local 4 unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the proposed oil export terminal; choosing workplace safety and health issues associated with the handling and transport of crude oil over the promise of more Longshore jobs. This was an act in defense of the class at a cost to the union itself.
Both actions were an example of working people thinking beyond their self-interest and acting in solidarity with fellow workers and members of the community. As the Longshore continues its struggle in Vancouver and Portland — and all Longshore workers on the west coast prepare for the negotiations of the 2014 coast wide master contract — community partners are realizing importance of supporting the Longshore workers. Likewise Longshore workers have voiced and acted on community concerns, realizing their interests are intertwined.
The ILWU has long been a fulcrum for social movements across the board. As Longshore workers — and their communities — move toward the coast wide master contract, opposition from corporations, maritime capital, and associated security forces –both private groups like J.R. Gettier and public law enforcement — will begin to increase, we will see the ports as a point of contact as these corporations again come into direct confrontation from those who want to defend the collective power of working people.
This was an action that was supported by members of the Portland Solidarity Network, as well as the Portland IWW, Portland Jobs With Justice, Hella 503, Black Rose Anarchist Federation, and others. We will continue to stand in support of the ILWU workers, as well as working class struggles around the board.
This Article Originally Appeared at Labor Notes [Empire-Logistics took this version from the Portland Solidarity Network website]
Lataya Dailey is a Portland area labor activist.
Dustin Hawks is a Portland area activist, organizer with the Hella 503 Collective, and a member of the Portland IWW.
Shane Burley is an organizer with the Portland Solidarity Network and the Portland IWW.