[Contribution by Kees Hudig / Globalinfo] The American dockworkers’ union ILWU has decided to strike in the ports on 1 May, demanding an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The call is now spreading.
The strike of the dockworkers’ union is being discussed among activists in the US. Apparently, the union has once won the ‘right’ to strike one afternoon every three months, under the excuse of a members’ meeting, provided that all kinds of conditions are met. The current strike falls under this agreement and is therefore largely symbolic.
Still, the strike will be felt by ports along the entire US West Coast and there will be many demonstrations. Interestingly, the ILWU decision to strike explicitly states that “both the Republicans and the Democrats fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Other unions are now considering to join in the strike, especially among members of the U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) coalition. For example, the Vermont branch of the federation AFL-CIO has decided to call for a strike on that day.
On Znet, writer Dick Meister explains why the strike is unusual: “The ILWU hopes the dramatic act of shutting down West Coast ports will inspire Americans everywhere to oppose the war. As one longshoreman said, ‘President Bush wants working and poor folks to fight his war ... the sons and daughters of working-class families. We want them out of harm's way’.”
According to Meister, especially the participation of the AFL-CIO in the protests is remarkable: “For it marks the first time the federation has ever opposed a war, whether the president was a pro-labor Democrat or, as now, an anti-labor Republican. The AFL-CIO was an outspoken supporter of the Vietnam War and of the first Persian Gulf War. Even at the start of the Iraq war, the federation backed Bush. But it soon realized its error”.
Contrary to the AFL-CIO, the ILWU has always been progressive and against the Vietnam war: “The ILWU also was a major opponent of dictatorial regimes in South and Central America and the apartheid regime in South Africa, its members often refusing to handle cargo coming from or going to those countries. Just recently, ILWU members in Tacoma, Washington, refused for "conscientious reasons" to load cargo headed for the Iraq war zone”. After the murder of G8 protestor Carlo Guiliani, the ILWU also refused to unload a ship from Italy.
“We can only hope - and hope fervently - that the union's May Day show of strong opposition to the war in Iraq will help prompt millions of others to conclude that they, too, cannot in good conscience support that seemingly endless war”.
And what was May Day about again? The tradition to focus on labour struggles on that day started in 1886, after seven anarchists had been given a death sentence because of riots and an exploding bomb (most likely produced by union-busting firm Pinkerton’s) in Chicago. They had tried to celebrate the first May Day there, responding to a call two years earlier at a congress at the fledgling FOTLU (Federation of Organized Trade and Labour Unions). At stake was an eight-hour working day, a cause for which US unions had called for a national strike.