Union Leaders Disavow Planned West Coast Port Shutdown, But Privately Support It

Boots Riley

Dec. 5, 2011 | The scene of thousands of Occupy Oakland protesters last month flowing like the angry sea into the Port of Oakland is something corporate and government interests loathe to see repeated again.

But, the movements planned shutdown of the entire West Coast set for Dec. 12 appears to be attracting a string of  news stories meant to destabilized the potentially historic and precedent-setting action next week.

Occupy supporters have issued stern rebukes to various mainstream media reports planting the seeds of disconnect between the movement and union labor officials.

“Unions: We don’t support Occupy port shutdown” read a headline last week in the Portland Tribune. OccupyPortland is one of the protest hubs involved in the West Coast port shutdown, along with Anchorage, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tacoma, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia and Oakland.

A posting today at a Washington Post blog includes references to the Port of Oakland’s recent full-page newspaper ad calling the port shutdown “a bad idea. The resulting press has particularly rankled members of the local Occupy movement. Twitter, one of the main gathering places online for followers of the protest, lit up Monday with calls for the truth within these media reports regarding, what they say, is the union’s hidden stance and the unique role of the Port within Oakland’s city government.

“Do not believe the rumor that this means the longshoremen rank-and-file, and the President of the locals don’t individually support us,” said Oakland activist Boot Riley on Facebook last Saturday. “They do. ILWU just can’t officially do it as an organization.”

Boots Riley, also a noted hip-hop artist, has been the local chapter’s unofficial spokesman. The enormously successful shutdown of the Port of Oakland Nov. 2 featuring thousands of protesters paralyzing the port for a single night was in many ways influenced by Riley’s deep roots in the progressive movement in Oakland.

Riley’s blunt and honest manner of speak, though, may have given detractors of the movement a opening to rally its base when he revealed the administrative aspects behind the labor’s public distancing of the planned Dec. 12 shutdown.

“This is exactly how it was done on Nov. 2 as well.” Riley posted for his followers on Facebook last weekend. “They participated in and supported it just as much then as they do now.”

According to Riley, the union risks costing its workers a day’s wage along with being liable for millions in potential lawsuits if the union shows support for the shutdown, at least, initially.

“Here’s how it works: We block the gates to the docks, the arbitrator comes and declares it unsafe for the longshoremen to go to work, and the longshoremen then go home- with pay.

ILWU has to officially say that they don’t “endorse” the shutdown, this is the only way that they will be able to claim that the blockade is a safety hazard for longshoremen.

If they endorsed it, there would be no safety hazard. How could there be a safety hazard from an action that they endorse? It would be a “strike”, no pay for longshoremen that day, and ILWU would be liable for a lawsuit in the millions.”

The Port of Oakland went on the offensive Sunday with a full-page open letter to the Occupy Oakland movement pleading the shutdown of the port will hurt the people it aims to protect. “Another shutdown will only make things worse – diverting cargo, tax revenue, and jobs to other communities,” the ad read. “It will hurt working people and harm our community.”

In a tweet, Riley responded, “The ‘Port Of Oakland’ are not the workers. Theyr the corporations. The workers r w/us. Longshoremen will b sent home w/pay on 12/12.”

The sentiment is backed by many protesters who point to the Port’s unique place within Oakland’s structure of government. The Port, with its power based upon its position at the end of the Transcontinental Railroad a century ago, behaves as a sort of sub-government made up of seven commissioners appointed by the mayor. The recent dustup over Mayor Jean Quan’s desire to appoint Jakada Imani to the post to replace Barbara Gordon attests to the importance of the seat to this day. Imani ultimately withdrew his candidacy amidst the rigorous and played out political push and pull over the appointment.

Critics assert the Port actually costs the city more than it gains. It does not contribute to the city’s coffers like other agencies, but reimburses the city for services like police and fire. It also, critics say, controls and sells potentially highly-sought after pieces of waterfront real estate at far below its market value.

Most of all, its the Port’s inherent and extreme lack of transparency that makes its dealings ripe for criticism and easy pickings for multi-national corporations in the market for a sweet deal outside the purview of the public.

“When the Port Of Oakland says ‘We can’t afford another shutdown.’,” tweeted Riley on Sunday. “The “we” r corporations such as Goldman Sachs. Take no pity.”

Categories: Boots Riley, general strike, Jean Quan, labor, Oakland, occupyoakland, occupytheports, Port of Oakland, unions

2 replies

  1. Riley is right. The wealthiest corporations in the US currently,have more money then the wealthiest corporations in 2008. at first glance that wouldn't make sense!! Were in a recession, were all hurting, right?? Wrong. out of fear of an unstable consumer market companies squeeze every ounce of labor out of the smallest workforce they can get away with and scrimp and save every penny all under the guise of “tough times”. in times like this the poor get poorer and the wealthy get wealthier.


  2. Riley needs to STFU and get a job. LOSER!


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