International Workers Solidarity Stops Shippers Cold!

"When the union's inspiration through the workers blood shall run..." or, The Sad Saga of a Scabby Ship

This year there have been many expressions of international solidarity in support of the 500 fired dockers in Liverpool, England. One of the most effective was the "hot-cargo" of the ship Neptune Jade that took place in Oakland, California from September 28th to October 1st. For four days a small but determined group of demonstrators protested the docking at berth 23 of the Neptune Jade, a ship that had arrived with cargo from Thamesport, England where Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MD&HC) controls the nonunion port. Over two years ago, MD&HC locked out the Liverpool dockers, thereby busting the last unionized port in England.

The Oakland action was initiated by the International Committee for Victory to the Liverpool Dockers (ICVLD) early Sunday morning with about 20 supporters whose numbers eventually grew to about 60. Numerous individual unionists and leftists (including supporters of the International Bolshevik Tendency [IBT], the Laney College Labor Studies Club, the International Workers of the World, the Golden Gate Labor Party Chapter and the Peace and Freedom Party) participated throughout the four-day action. IBT supporters carried signs calling for international labor solidarity with the Liverpool dockers and urging longshoremen not to unload the Neptune Jade's scab cargo.

The Spartacist League (SL) was prominent among Bay Area left groups which kept aloof from the action. Two SL supporters did turn up for a couple of hours to sell papers, but only joined the line for about 10 minutes before leaving. Even former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown (now a candidate for mayor of Oakland) participated for longer!

When contacted during the action, the local AFL-CIO central labor bodies were non-committal. Ignacio DeLafuente, a Democratic Party member of the Oakland City Council and also a member of the Alameda County Labor Council, refused to back the action when members of the ICVLD contacted him. This is hardly surprising from a capitalist politician who uses the odd bit of pro-labor rhetoric but is mainly involved in fronting for various capitalist rip-offs (e.g., the $70 million gift to Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders football team).

Members of International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) Locals 10 and 34, however, didn't need to wait for official sanction. Having already participated in the two prior international days of action in support of Liverpool dockers, they knew what to do: they refused to cross the demonstrator's line. Yusen terminal company and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) immediately sought an industry arbitrator's ruling to get the longshoremen and clerks to work the ship. In the course of the next four days the industry arbitrator was forced to make a ruling each time a new gang of longshoremen and clerks was dispatched to work the Neptune Jade. More often than not he ruled that the line was a "health and safety hazard" to the workers and that they did not have to cross it.

Meanwhile, nothing was moving in or out of the terminal. Dozens of trucks with containers of everything from prunes to televisions were held up outside the terminal, making Maritime Blvd. a virtual parking lot for hours on end. There were very few incidents of truckers trying to cross our line.

Finally, on Tuesday September 30th, the PMA got an injunction limiting demonstrators to four on the line. The Oakland police, however, never did much to enforce it and were pretty scarce throughout the entire action. At one point Yusen Terminals and the Neptune Jade tried a bit of deception by telling us that it was weighing anchor and heading for Japan only to sneak back into berth 23. Their deception was found out in time and the demonstrators held the line. After four days, the Neptune Jade decided to cut its losses (by this time in the tens of thousands of dollars) and head for a more receptive port.

It would be a long time, however, before it would find longshoremen willing to handle its scabby cargo. Fearing similar receptions in Portland and Seattle it skipped those ports and went straight to Vancouver, British Columbia. Oakland ICVLD members called ahead and on short notice were able to get local supporters there to mount a similar protest at the docks along with support from ILWU Local 500. Though a little slow to learn in Oakland the employers didn't wait around in Vancouver. The ship next headed for Japan where the Zenkowan (All Japan Dockworkers Union) also refused to off load the Thamesport cargo. The Dockers Charter, a publication of the Liverpool dockers reported:

"The last time we heard of the Neptune Jade it was taking the Thamesport cargo (bound for Oakland) to Kaohsiung, Taiwan and is bound for Hong Kong where the ship is due to be sold and renamed."
--Dockers Charter, No.20, October 1997

The incredible world-wide solidarity that this action triggered has caused the PMA and Yusen Terminals to go after participants with a vengeance not seen in the Bay Area for many years. The ILWU is also a major legal target of the employers. Historically after an action like this the employers would simply pursue any grievances it had through contract provisions with the union. This time, however, the employers are throwing a wide legal net to attack both the union and anyone who participated in the action. They are seeking damages, which could run into the millions, and civil contempt charges (for violation of the injunction) against demonstrators which could put them in jail or subject them to heavy fines.

Originally, the employers charged the Golden Gate Chapter of the Labor Party, the Laney College Labor Studies club, the Peace and Freedom Party, Bob Irminger and Jack Heyman. As a result of their testimony in behalf of the above, the employers have charged several other people as well. Others may yet be added to the employers' list to be charged.

This attack must be defeated. The one thing that capitalists understand is their bottom line--if Yusen Terminals suddenly finds that it is unable to get anything moved in or out and, if necessary, industrial actions start cutting into the profits of the members of the PMA, then those who attempt to victimize militants for standing in solidarity with the Liverpool dockers can be dealt a crushing defeat.

Victory to the Liverpool Dockers!
Stop the causualization/privatization of longshore work!
Defend the Oakland Solidarity Activists!