In response to police violence and employer intransigence, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, WA yesterday, the New York Times reported this morning. The ILWU has been in a year-long struggle at the new $200 million EGT Terminal in Longview, WA, where the employer (EGT) has been hiring non-union workers in violation of the ILWU contract. Earlier this week, union members blockaded trains from entering the port and were assaulted by police armed with rifles and rubber bullets, pepper spray and clubs. Many were arrested and injured.
Yesterday, around 500 longshoremen stormed the new terminal in Longview with baseball bats, smashing windows, damaging rail cars and dumping tons of grain from the cars, while over 1,000 more shut down the ports of Seattle and Tacoma by staying home from work (see the New York Times article). Both actions appeared to be wildcat actions, as the ILWU claimed they had not authorized them.
EGT, a joint venture between U.S., South Korean and Japanese companies, not surprisingly, condemned the actions, accusing the ILWU of criminal activity. However, no union members physically hurt anyone and their actions came in response to police violence against nonviolent demonstrators that did injure people, including women and children.
When capital is threatened, it is considered acceptable and necessary to use violence against workers, even when they are engaged in peaceful and nonviolent protest. However, it is considered unacceptable for workers to defend themselves or their working conditions in any way, particularly if it impinges on bosses’ ability to maximize profits and especially if it includes vandalism or sabotage even when it does not result in any physical injuries.
Judge Ronald Leighton of United States District Court in Tacoma expanded the existing restraining order to block all longshoremen in Washington from shutting down ports. (The previous restraining order only applied to the Longview local).
The original restraining order was issued on behalf of the National Labor Relations Board ostensibly because the ILWU was engaged in “unfair” labor practices by “improperly” harassing scabs. However, workers cannot allow the courts or the government to dictate how to protest their exploitation and expect to be successful. Also, one must wonder what kind of harassment (if any) the government would consider proper and allow?
Judge Leighton, who issued the original restraining order, said there was a peaceful way to protest. “It requires some restraint,” he said. “Your clients have none of that.” He added that they must also obey local laws (quoted from the New York Times article).
Yet the train blockade was both peaceful and nonviolent until the police came in with guns, pepper spray and clubs.
More importantly, labor cannot and should be limited to simply protesting, which is essentially just organized complaining. Rather, workers achieve success in struggles with their employers by halting profits through job actions like strikes, blockades, boycotts, slowdowns, working-to-rule, and sabotage.
The requirement to obey laws is absurd. The laws were written and are enforced primarily to protect private property and capital. The law overwhelming favors the wealthy and the bosses over the interests of working people. Laws are routinely written, interpreted and rewritten specifically to limit working peoples’ ability to protest, resist and fight their exploitation and oppression. It is completely justified and necessary to disregard and resist laws that are unjust or that harm us.