IN THE aftermath of the West Coast Port Shutdown on December 12, a debate over tactics has emerged in the Occupy movement. The discussion centers on the role of port workers and Occupy activists' relationship to them.
The December 12 actions were an important step for the Occupy movement, especially in connecting to the struggle of workers against some of the richest and most powerful corporations around. But the future of the movement depends on Occupy activists adopting strategies and tactics that treat workers on the docks--and everywhere else in the economy--as allies and potential supporters, not as opponents.
The call for a port shutdown on December 12 produced community pickets at ports up and down the West Coast, from Anchorage to San Diego--and succeeded in stopping operations, partially or entirely, in Oakland, Portland, Longview, Seattle and Vancouver. At the giant Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, activists collaborated with nonunion port truckers to disrupt operations for several hours at SSA Marine, which is half-owned by Goldman Sachs.
In Oakland, our preparations began weeks before December 12, with rank-and-file longshore workers and other unionists working with Occupy Oakland activists to build support for the shutdown, especially among workers at the port. We knew from this organizing work that the criticisms made by some union leaders and even left-wing writers and academics--that the Occupy movement was calling for industrial action without the support of workers--was false.
On December 12, we had a strong turnout despite the rain and cold--more than 500 Occupy supporters met at a nearby public transit hub for a 5 a.m. march to the port to set up community picket lines at three terminals. By the late morning, we got word that ILWU members had been sent home after the port arbitrator ruled on safety concerns. An even larger march on the port that evening caused the evening shift to be closed down as well.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) publicly disavowed the port shutdown call. But ILWU Local 10 in Oakland has a proud history of recognizing community picket lines and calling in a port arbitrator over safety concerns.
With rank-and-file ILWU members taking the lead, the December 12 action was planned in Oakland with this foremost in our minds--and with the goal of building solidarity with workers on the ports as a crucial means of strengthening the Occupy movement.
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