White House Threatens Union With Troops
by Steve Stallone
There is a secret White House Task Force that was set up to oversee and monitor the longshore negotiations - it consists of officials from the DOL, the DOD, the Presidents Counsel of Economic Advisors and Homeland Security. They umm contacted the ILWU in mid-June - and they basically laid a number of threats on the union - they wanted us to settle the contract negotiations quickly and if we didnt they said they could:
1) invoke the Taft-Hartley Injunction - which is a 80 day cooling off period which just means nobody can go on strike or take any actions you have to continue to work under the old contract and after 80 days youre just back at the same thing - just a delaying situation - not a big deal - it was Taft in 1948, Senators Taft and Hartley - basically a way in the beg. of the Cold War days to weaken the power of labor unions and it has numerous things in it that weakens the power of labor unions.
2) threaten to back up the T-H injunction with new legislation that would basically take away the ILWUs rights to collective bargaining and our right to strike and
3) threatened new legislation that would break up our coast wide contract - we have one contract that covers the entire coast - they claim we have a monopoly - so now the union is in violation of anti-trust laws - or
4) and most ominously, they threatened to send national guard troops to militarily take over all the ports on the west coast. So thats what were facing here -- lets just go thru these threats.
T_H is no big deal weve been T-Hartleyed before that just postpones things it doesnt destroy the union - but special legislation to take away our right to collective bargaining and strike - these are rights that were granted Am. workers with the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 -- the NLRA is a landmark civil rights act for workers - its says workers have the right to form unions, the legal right to bargain c.b. and the legal right to strike.
MB: And yet no threat of a strike has been made on your part.
Yeah - how about that. But they basically want to take away what is pretty much the only power a union has - understand that were talking about 10,000 blue collar workers versus an employer association of 79 multinational, multibillion dollar companies.
MB: Such as -- such as uhh Sealand, Mersk, Stevedoring Services of America -- you can look it up on the PMAs web site(pma.org) - ummm ..so and Bush is intervening on their behalf and also understand almost none of those - theres a handful - you can count em on the fingers of one hand - out of the 79 - of those companies - 5 are American companies -- but for t hem - Bush is going to take away the civil rights of Am. workers --
MB: So from your POV whats behind this -- this is a situation where -- that Bush is using - the new Bush policy appears to be union rights equals national security threat -- you just take a look at whats holding up the Homeland Security Bill right now thats in Congress - Bush wants to be able to take away the union rights and the rights of c.b. of the gov workers who are being moved into the homeland security dept have in their current positions - Bush has already taken away the union rights of hundreds of workers in the Justice Dept. -- last January because of national security or so he said - Bush adm. has a bill currently pending in Congress that says airline industry workers and their unions wont have the right to collectively bargain -- so were next -- theyre going to try and take away our rights and basically pick off unions one by one.
I want to emphaize that what were looking at here an attorney from the DOL contacting our people and laying these threats out - if youd like to talk to him Ill give you his name and phone number. I would. = Andrew Sift/DOL/D.C. Etc. He has contacted the union and he has laid these threats on us - first contacts were in mid-June even before the contracts expired they decided they had to step in - ummm so - and since then hes been contacting you more regularly - yes on a daily basis - well he wants the contract settled - and heres the situation the PMA is not negotiating - why should they negotiate they know the gov. Is threatening us theres absolutely no incentive for them to negotiate a deal if they know they have the gov. standing there saying dont worry about it well take care of these guys for you, you dont have to do anything - thats why every proposal the PMA has put on the table has been a proposal designed to be rejected.
They dont want a deal - they never wanted a deal and they still arent bargaining seriously - thats why were getting no where - instead of helping to solve this situation Bushs intervention is making the situation impossible --- And theyre trying to say its necessary because if we were to go on strike it would endanger the economy. Well right now the economy is being endangered by Bushs pals at Enron, World. Com and all their scandals and bankruptcies - thats whats making the stock market crash not the ILWU. Following Bushs logic he should be sending troops to Wall Street -- so - the union yes is going public with this and the only thing we can do is let the rest of the world know the madness that is Bush administration policy - and to create a movement in this country to put the pressure on Bush to get out - get out of our negotiations, let the legal coll. barg process proceed.
Do you think that this has been the PMAs understanding from the get-go - a quid pro quo from the White House. Yes, for more than a couple of years Joe Miniache (CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association) has been spending most of his time in Wash. D.C. working on this. With the ultimate goal of breaking the union? Absolutely, absolutely. And he knows that this is his best opportunity in the post-911 era and the paranoia and the national security hysteria with the Bush adm willing to back him this is the best chance hes ever had to bust the union --- And so what are the odds - well its not like were going down without a fight - but we have allies - right now the executive committee of the AFL is meeting in Chicago.
The AFL has vowed to make this contract negotiation the top priority of the Am. labor movement --- they are putting all their resources at our disposal to make a national movement out of this. We will be not just going public like this and putting the word out to the rest of the world, we will be doing this in a way to try and get support from all our congressional representatives and Senators with the goal of them signing a pledge in support of the ILWUs legal rights to try and make it impossible for Bush to follow through on his threats to passing legislation. To make it politically unfeasible for him to act to put troops on the docks. Was that really an option?. It was one of the things Andrew Sift (sp.) said to us (Counsel/Dept. Of Labor), he said these are the things that the task force this secret White House Task Force that we didnt even know about until they contacted us - though we got ahold of an internal memo of one of the employer groups about their meeting with the secret task force - theyre holding meetings with them and we didnt even know this task force exists. Uhh so - where was I going with this - Ive been doing this since 6:30 this morning. But reaching out to the public will be revealed in the rally next week -- Yeah - we will have rallies in the major port cities on the West Coast in which we will be making the point to get Bush out of our negotiations so busienss can proceed. Just to show you where were going the rally in Portland will feature a guest speaker, Senator Majority Leader, Dashchle. The AFL-CIO has some clout, they have some resources - and like I said the American labor movement is drawing a line in the sand on this situation. Because if they can take out the ILWU when our contract comes up they can take out every union as their contracts come up. We talk about who to talk to in the ILWU. Details of rally on August 12th, etc. -0-
David Olson/Political Science Professor/Univ. of Washington: "What do we know - what I know is what Im being told by other parties - some of it anonymous some not - the creation of the special task force within commerce, labor, homeland security departments, transportation - umm the monitoring of talks, the threat of bringing in the national guard - this is truly unprecedented - youve got to go back to 1948 and Im not sure that 48 even measures up to this one. Whats disturbing about it is this administration which has surrounded itself with secrecy in so many different areas is also surrounding itself with secrecy on this one and if they have a plan they are doing this behind closed doors and the facts of are the matter over the last 30 years - every 3 year cycle the ILWU and the PMA go into collective bargaining. The facts are that they rarely reach an agreement before the contract expires. The facts are there has been no slow down as reported by the PMA or by the shippers or by the steam ship lines in the months that have lapsed - so whats the rational here - the rational appears to be that if the ILWU goes on a strike which they have not threatened to do at this point or if they engage in a slow down that it will compromise the nations economy or maybe even the international economy - umm but whats wrong with this argument is that since the contract expired the ILWU has continued to work as they have in past years its part of the collective bargaining process it goes on until September or October - and now we find out that t he White House has surreptitiously put together a task force that has developed a set of policies that are intended to attack the ILWU. The coastwide contract was won in the 1934 strike - that and the hiring hall are sacred to the ILWU.
If this administration comes after the coast wide contract this adm. will do more to upset and harm the nations economy because these are fighting words - and this is a group of workers who are not going to accept a breach of the coastwide contract it is one of the 2 fundamental principles of that organization - so Im aghast - ? Re: coastwide contract -- the 2 principles that came out of the 1934 strike were that the workers would be hired out of a hiring hall and that hall would be jointly operated by the union and the employer - thats sacred - it replaced the old shape-up system where workers would come down to the docks and the boss would choose - and he would not pick people who were in favor of unions or caused trouble.
The 2nd sacred principle to the ILWU is the coastwide contract. If longshore workers organized in one of the bay areas of the West Coast and not in another the shipper would simply leap frog from one to the other and effectively bust the strike - this happened in 1912, this happened in 1906, in 1896, in 1892 and one of the brilliant moves of Harry Bridges was to insist on a coastwide contract that the ILWU, the longshore division would negotiate a master contract that would cover everything from San Diego to Bellingham - if this national adminsitration goes after the coast wide contract - these are fighting words. Were going to go back to 1934 all over again and in 1934 there were deaths in S.F and Seattle.
In Los Angeles there were long protracted struggles - nothing could act more quickly to disturb the nations economy than an attack on the coastwide contract. But its not just the coastwide contract theyre threatening to bring in military personnel to operate the cargo handling facilities on the docks. This is absurd - the ILWU is one of the most highly trained, technically advanced work forces in the country. Operating a container crane or operating the uhh vehicles that move the cargo around the dock is an extremely skilled occupation that takes years of experience working up from b men to a men to uhh becoming a regular in the longshore.
Its also very dangerous. It used to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the country - up there with mining and farming for -- ? The skill level of the longshore is such that its still dangerous but you dont see the kind of deaths and injuries that previously were there -- were going to bring rookies out of the miliary and put em on the dock - uhh unloading 6,000 teu container ships - this is absolutely absurd. Its insanity. And I can only surmise that this adm views the longshore as too powerful, as too militant, as to rank and file controlled, as to racially integrated, as too threatening to some kind of object in the economic system and theyve chosen throw the sword down. When you do this on the docks the sword is going to bounce back up again and were talking about a major conflagration on the waterfront. And you think that even now in the year 2002 that would be manifest?
If this administration does what Ive just been talking about I am 100% confident that we would have warfare on the docks. What do you think the adm. is about here -- the ILWU has there own thoughts on the matter. Are they actually trying to break one of the countrys remaining powerful unions? Well this administration does not like strong trade unions. And this is a strong trade union. They do not like militant trade unions. And this is a militant trade union. They do not like international oriented trade unions. They love globalized capital. But they hate globalized labor. This is an internationally oriented union - they dont particularly seem in favor of racially desegregating the work force. This is a union that did it in 1934. So - I can only surmise that this administration has viewed the expiration of the contract has a rational for breaking the coastwide contract, for replacing the existing workers and if thats their calculus they have made a terrible, terrible mistake that is going to redound - everybody loses, the workers lose, the employers lose, the national gov. will lose, international commerce will lose, shippers will lose .. the freighforwarders will lose. There are no winners in this. Except for some ideologically driven uhh policy wonks in some 3rd level bureacracy in D.C. My guess is that - this task force - I dont know if you saw the AP story today that Strope put out?. Reads to me: The Bush adm has convened a special task force together with officials from commerce, labor, transportation, homeland and has been exploring federal intervention. Monitoring talks and meeting with both sides the official said insisting on anonymity, thats officials of this special task force, the adm is exploring several options - to intervene to keep cargo mvoing - although the most likely is for Pres. Bush to declare a national and economic emergency forcing a strike delay for 80 days. So thats my take on where things are at here - .. Its not a pretty picture. Its not a pretty picture - no. Apparently the AFL - is getting fairly involved here.
What you want to watch is the Teamsters - Jimmy Hoffa was invited back in April - I think you and I actually talked about this in May - yes we did and I was just going to bring that up. And I thought this was going to be the security they were going to have to buffer themselves from the White House but uhhh apparently not. Well I guess you perhaps have to remember Hoffas roots in that regard. Well Im not sure. When the contract expired Hoffa appeared in solidarity with Spinoza from the ILWU and Im just not sure quite whats going on there. I think its too easy to say hes folded up his tent and walked. Yeah - but then you also have to look at the history - way way back of the Teamsters and the long shore and thats certainly not a good one. Thats true - but in the 1934 strike Dave Beck called the Teamsters off the docks and there was a great rivalry bet. Beck and Bridges in the 34 strike and its unclear what would have happened if Beck had not pulled the Teamsters off the docks.
I was speculating with some other labor folks who were saying one thing about Hoffa is if he wanted the long shore contracts for the Teamsters he certainly would get it with this administration. But Hoffa has been party to the negotiations since back in April. I think labor more generally is going to be threatened by this. But the ILWU uhh is the most militant union in the country. The most democratic in the country, the most rank and file controlled in the country. If the Bush administration is asking for a fight in this one theyre going to get it. And theyre going to lose it.