DOCKERS IN the US began their second week on the picket lines this week. This was in response to a lockout of over 10,000 dock workers. The dockers known as longshoremen are part of the powerful and progressive ILWU union on the West Coast of the US.
The Bush administration is facing an economic meltdown. It wants to keep its war plans on track and has tried to get negotiations going between the bosses and the union. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez said, 'I kind of like the idea that a global economy designed to make millions of dollars in bonuses can be torpedoed by a bunch of throwbacks who work the waterfront.'
Some $300 billion worth of goods passes through the West Coast ports. The lockout is costing an estimated $1 billion a day as all 29 West Coast docks have been closed. This is affecting businesses across the country. A car assembly factory that makes Toyotas and Pontiacs was forced to close in Fremont, California, because of a lack of parts.
The key issue is the introduction of new technology like barcode scanners that will mean the loss of many clerical positions and the addition of non-union jobs.
Many longshoremen's jobs have gone in recent years due to technological shifts. Longshoremen are demanding that union members cover new positions created by computer tracking. Bosses want to take advantage of the post 11 September climate to pressure the union into accepting the changes. Bush's government backs them.
On Monday Bush took the first step towards using the anti-union law, the Taft-Hartley Act, to force the dockers into work. During the summer when a strike looked imminent the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, called the president of the union to threaten government intervention if they walked out.
On Wednesday of last week longshoremen negotiators walked out of a negotiating meeting when the bosses brought armed bodyguards in with them. Even the Democratic Party's Senator Dianne Feinstein of California called on Bush to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act.
Feinstein said, 'With our nation in the economic doldrums and at the brink of war, we cannot afford to have this dispute cause further damage to our economy.' The bosses started the lockout claiming the longshoremen were operating a 'go-slow'. But the workers were simply sticking to health and safety regulations. The longshoremen have taken action in solidarity with striking dock workers as far away as Liverpool, boycotted ships from the apartheid regime in South Africa, and in 1999 closed the ports in conjunction with the Seattle anti-WTO protests.
That's why at the port of Oakland last Saturday morning supporters joined dock workers at a 300-strong protest in solidarity with the longshoremen.