|Coast Guard Gun Ship Protecting Seattle Ferries Today, EGT Grain Shipments Tomorrow? (Image from Flickr, by ArtBrom)|
Members of the International Long Shore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in Longview, Washington have been battling EGT over its use of scab labor at its grain terminal at the Port of Longview. This is in violation of their contract with ILWU which guarantees that long shore jobs will go only to ILWU members. There have been 220 arrests of ILWU members during the struggle and extensive police brutality against ILWU members and their families.
EGT now plans to have its empty grain ships escorted by U.S. Coast Guard boats and helicopters from the mouth of the Columbia River to the EGT terminal, according to the San Francisco Labor Council. This is the first time that military force has been used in a labor dispute in 40 years (the last time being when Nixon unsuccessfully used the Army and National Guard to break the Great Postal Strike of 1970).
The deployment of the Coast Guard to Longview to protect private capital against labor would seem to be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act (1878), which restricts the U.S. military’s use in enforcing law and order on U.S. soil. However, the Coast Guard is exempt from the act. The plan is also generally consistent with the overall move toward a police state by the Obama administration and Congress, which recently approved a defense bill that would allow the U.S. military to arrest American citizens anywhere in the world, including on U.S. soil. And though the military has not been used against American workers in 40 years, the U.S. has a long, sordid and deadly history of using the military against its own citizens. (For a few examples, please see Labor History Timeline, by Modern School)
If such heavy handed tactics are allowed to succeed in Longview, they will certainly be attempted elsewhere (remember Scott Walker’s threat to call in the National Guard if Wisconsin public sector workers were to strike?) Therefore, it is imperative for workers throughout the U.S. to oppose it in Washington and act in solidarity with the Longview ILWU.
The ILWU, for its part, should seriously consider shutting down the entire West Coast, something they are capable of pulling off (and have on several occasions), even without the support of OWS. However, with the popularity of this tactic among OWS members, a complete shutdown of the West Coast ports ought to be relatively easy to organize. However, the ILWU is explicitly removing this option from the table, at least officially, saying that the conflict is only with EGT and not the ports. The letter from ILWU President McEllrath to his union brothers and sisters suggests this is intended to avoid legal persecution under Taft-Hartley.
Click here to see the San Francisco Labor Council’s resolution in support of the Longview ILWU and against the use of military force.