Longshore Union Got a Raw Deal from the AFL-CIO

Published on ZNet, by Carl Finamore, September 16, 2013.

On August 29, 2013, the 60,000-member International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) announced it was leaving the 13-million member AFL-CIO.

The ILWU explained it was taking this action because of “the Federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy positions on such important matters as immigration, labor law reform, health care reform, and international labor issues.”  

The Longshore union also cited “attacks from other national [AFL-CIO] affiliates, who actively tried to undermine our contract struggle by filing legal claims and walking through our picket lines.”

I was at the Sept. 7-11, 2013 AFL-CIO quadrennial convention in Los Angeles and can attest that the ILWU’s presence was sorely missed, especially when “overly compromising policy positions” were openly laid bare.

For example, discussion on healthcare consciously avoided pointed criticism of the enormously controversial Affordable Care Act (ACA). Forbes reported there was an agreement between AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and President Obama to “soften the harshly worded resolutions that several unions planned to push” at the convention.

According to the New York Times, Trumka agreed to make sure to strip out some proposals that called for repealing the [ACA] legislation …;

… Strategically Placed on the Docks: … //

… Solidarity Broken: … //

… What Now?

Technology inevitably changes the scope and character of virtually every job and this is definitely true on the waterfronts.

For example, from 1980-2010, containerization of cargo completely replaced bulk loads that were individually handled piece by piece, leading to super profits and boosts in productivity of around 500%.  “What took two weeks now takes two days,” an experienced dockworker told me, “and it’s done by machines not people.

The same is true of the more recent revolution in information technology. “Tracking the flow of cargo and equipment has grown by 150%-200%,” he said.

Productivity improvements by machines means less people. As a result, the ILWU workforce on the west coast has remained steady all these years at between 10,000-15,000 workers.

Industrial unions, in particular, face this same dilemma, a shrinking workforce producing huge production surpluses. For example, there is the same amount of steel being produced today in the United States but with far less workers than thirty years ago.

For the ILWU, without expected growth on the docks, it means organizing will likely occur inland where solidarity with other unions and community groups is critical.

The growth off-dock is in three categories of workers an experienced ILWU organizer told me: warehousing, trucking and the knowledge-based technology workers like the clerks who struck Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in November 2012.

But there are many organizing obstacles because the nature of technology-based work means it can be relocated almost anywhere, far away from the union’s traditional power base on the docks.

Therefore, it seems essential for the union to assemble the remaining power of the ILWU on the docks to expand outward.

It’s very difficult for any union or group of workers to stand alone. Nor is it desirable under any circumstance. Whatever decision ILWU members ultimately make to keep their union strong and growing, they deserve our solidarity.

Even if some do not believe they have been wronged, we should do it because it’s the right thing to do and because we know they would do the same for us.

(full text including hyper links).

(Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached here).

Links on en.wikipedia:

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or PPACA) is a United States federal statute signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Together with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, it represents the most significant regulatory overhaul of the country’s healthcare system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 …;

Mexico’s Energy Reform: Red, White, and (not) Green, on World Watch Institute /revolt, by Milena Gonzalez and Benjamin Heras, August 27, 2013;

International Longshore and Warehouse Union ILWU is a labor union which primarily represents dock workers on the West Coast of the United States, Hawaii and Alaska, and in British Columbia, Canada …;

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations AFL-CIO is a national trade union center, the largest federation of unions in the United States, made up of fifty-six national and international unions,[3] together representing more than 11 million workers (as of June 2008, the most recent official statistic) …;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

Comments are closed.