Thursday, February 9, 2012

ILWU Port of Longview Update

EGT has recognized Local 21 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) as the sole bargaining representative for workers at its new grain terminal in Longview, Washington, Working In These Times reported this week, bringing to an end EGT’s attempt to open the first non-union port terminal on the West Coast.

Workers at the terminal signed union authorization cards on January 30 and 31 and an arbitrator has verified their authenticity. EGT and the ILWU agreed to negotiate a contract to finalize the deal.

The agreement came after mediation by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire on the eve of a showdown between union members and their supporters who planned to blockade a Coast Guard protected grain ship due to arrive at the EGT terminal this month. Other actions over the past year have included blockades of trains delivering grain to the terminal, as well as pickets and demonstrations that were met with extreme police violence and over 100 arrests.

In related news, the Left Labor Reporter wrote earlier this week that a jury has found four women not guilty of blocking a train at the EGT grain terminal last September, bringing to six the total number of acquittals of ILWU members and their supporters (or 100% of the cases brought to trial so far).

The union-recognition victory for Local 21 can be attributed to their militancy and perseverance in the face of police violence and employer intransigence, as well as the solidarity of other locals. ILWU members at the Port of Tacoma and Vancouver, for example, went out on wildcat strikes, while workers shut down ports up and down the West Coast at various times in solidarity with Local 21. OWS activists also attempted to shut down West Coast ports in support of the Local 21, succeeding in halting activity at several Oakland terminals.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath used the settlement as an opportunity to portray EGT as a good and honest corporate friend, saying “we are committed to developing a long-term relationship with EGT."

While this sentiment was no doubt intended to help heal some of divisiveness and anger in the community of Longview and to encourage rank and file support for upcoming contract negotiations, it should be remembered by all workers that the boss is never a true friend and any long-term relationship is necessarily one of subservience.

Employees’ interests are irrelevant unless they coincide with increased profits for shareholders and executives. Any compromises EGT makes during contract negotiations will be made purely on a cost-benefit basis. For example, it was cheaper to hire Local 21 members and to recognize their union than to face continued work stoppages, blockades and legal battles.

What Local 21 members will get out of the deal is job security at the Port of Longview. In exchange, EGT will likely demand reduced wages, benefits and working conditions. Union members still face multiple criminal charges and the ILWU still faces $300,000 in fines for disobeying an injunction against illegal picketing issued by a federal judge. If EGT really was a friend, they would drop all pending charges and/or ask the courts to do so.

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