ILWU Longshore workers fight lock-out – and remember Bloody Thursday

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LONGSHORE workers in Oregon and Washington are continuing their round-the-clock fight for a fair contract at grain terminals owned by some of the world’s largest grain corporations a year after negotiations began last August.

ILWU workers have exported a significant portion of the nation’s grain through Northwest ports under a collective bargaining agreement that dates back to the 1930’s.

Of the four employers in the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, three are waging an attack on the ILWU workforce that have made them profitable in the region.

Two Japanese-owned companies, Mitsui-United Grain in Vancouver, WA, and Marubeni-Columbia Grain in Portland, have locked out ILWU members under dubious conditions and imported scab replacement workers.

A third company, French-owned Louis Dreyfus, operates grain export terminals in Seattle and Portland. All three foreign companies imposed a concessionary contract in December that had been rejected by union members by a 94% ‘no’ vote.

The fourth grain employer – and the only one based in the United States – is TEMCO, owned by US -based Cargill and CHS, with terminals in Kalama, Tacoma and Portland. Unlike the foreign-owned grain corporations, TEMCO declined to impose unilateral concessionary terms on workers and chose instead to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that was ratified by 74% of the members of Locals 4, 8, 19, 21 and 23 in February.

The ILWU has a history of struggle and self sacrifice.

Its members and pensioners came together on July 5 along the West Coast to remember Bloody Thursday and honour the memory and sacrifice made by the martyrs of the 1934 West Coast Strike – the struggle that gave birth the ILWU and radically improved the wages and conditions for dock workers.

The 1934 strike began on May 9. Longshoremen in West Coast ports walked out; they were joined by sailors several days later. Violent confrontations between union dock workers and police and private security forces took place in ports up and down the Coast and several workers were killed.

While Bloody Thursday marks the police killings of two strikers on July 5, 1934 in San Francisco that sparked a general strike, the Bloody Thursday remembrance honours the sacrifices of all the workers who gave their lives in the 1934 strike in Wilmington, Seattle, San Francisco, Smith Cove and Hong Kong.

With medical benefits under attack by employers and the 2014 Longshore contract negotiations around the corner, the Southern California Longshore locals staged a massive showing of ILWU strength and solidarity with a march of approximately 2,500 ILWU members, pensioners, casuals and family members.

Clad in white hats and shirts, the marchers assembled at the ILWU Fallen Members Monument at 5th Street/Harbor Blvd., in San Pedro and marched to the First Blood Monument at Wilmington’s Waterfront Park where a memorial service was held.

‘This is a march of solidarity showing that labour is still strong here in the harbour area,’ said Coast Committeeman Ray Ortiz, Jr. ‘We move that cargo. Longshore workers made this port through our hard work and sacrifices including the fallen workers that we are honouring today.’

‘These guys made the ultimate sacrifice,’ said Local 13 President Chris Viramontes referring to the workers who were killed in 1934. ‘What we have today is because of their sacrifices’ Viramontes said that ILWU members should keep in mind the hard-fought struggles of 1934 as 2014 approaches.

‘If any of you think we are going to have a smooth ride into a contract year – you better think twice and you better start saving.

‘We’ve got to be prepared,’ he said. A moment of silence was observed for Mark Passaro, a casual who was killed on the job on July 2.

‘We do dangerous work,’ said Ortiz. ‘We work hard and want to go home after our shift and that doesn’t always happen. That is why we must continue to fight for safe conditions on the docks.’

Bay Area ILWU longshore locals honoured Bloody Thursday in traditional fashion by gathering at the Local 10 Memorial Hall on July 5 where the Drill Team performed, wreaths were laid and mock coffins carried to honour martyrs Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise who were murdered by police in 1934 during the waterfront strike.

This year, a political issue arose before the morning events could be concluded. Oakland’s Port Commission held a last-minute meeting concerning new terminal leases that could impact ILWU jurisdiction and waterfront jobs.

Local 10 President Mike Villeggiante and Local 34 President Sean Farley quickly assembled a delegation of ILWU leaders who blasted the Port for meeting at the last minute and conducting business on Bloody Thursday.

After hearing the ILWU’s concerns, Commissioners delayed their decision – for a week – then moved forward with a consolidation plan to greatly expand the size and duration of Stevedoring Services of America’s (SSA) lease at the Port of Oakland.

Aside from the political drama, the Bloody Thursday activities went smoothly as hundreds of family members were entertained by live music, clowns, face-painting, balloon art, and a wide variety of food offerings – all made possible with support from the Bay Area Longshoremen’s Memorial Association (BALMA).

In Portland, Oregon approximately 1,300 ILWU members, pensioners, family and friends attended the Memorial Picnic that was held at Oaks Amusement Park.

Members from Local 5 (Powells Books), Local 8, Local 40, Local 92 and the IBU were on-hand for the remembrance and celebration of ILWU solidarity.

Before the picnic, a memorial service was held to honour those who fell in 1934.

A wreath was placed in the river while Taps was performed. Local 8 member, Dave Degman, and the Rogue River Band performed during the picnic. Federated Auxiliary 5 organized bingo games for everyone.

The day was festive and everyone was well-fed. Volunteers served over 1,700 hot dogs, 400 hamburgers, 42 gallons of chili, a ton of watermelon, 24 boxes of corn on the cob, and 1,800 ice cream bars.

Local 32 in Everett, WA celebrated Bloody Thursday with their Summer Family Picnic – Western style.

Gay Soriano and other members of Federated Auxiliary 4 made sure everyone had a good time.

There were games for the kids, a bouncy house, pony races, and some friendly competition games for the ‘young-at-heart’ adults. There was plenty of food, including pulled pork, hot dogs, salads galore, and refreshments for all.

‘Bloody Thursday is a reminder that the working class is under constant attack, that our struggle continues,’ said PCPA President Rich Austin.

Austin recounted the history of Bloody Thursday, but then went on to alert everyone about the current battle over medical benefits.

‘Medical benefits are under attack and bills are not being paid as required,’ Austin said.

Adding that active members and pensioners are being hounded by collection agencies for unpaid medical bills.

‘Today, up and down the coast Pensioners are speaking at Bloody Thursday ceremonies.

‘Our message is clear. The PMA is testing us. They are testing us to see if we have what it takes to fight back.

‘They are testing our mettle in preparation for negotiations next year.

‘Well they picked a fight they cannot win. Save your money. Get prepared,’ Austin said.

He also announced that Pensioners would be picketing PMA Offices up and down the Coast. ‘Those benefits are ours and we won’t let anyone chisel us out of them!’