Drawing on the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” ILWU longshore and marine workers have used their port power to support the struggles of other unions. But jurisdictional disputes, most notably a 2011 battle with the Operating Engineers over work at a grain terminal in Longview, Washington, have driven a wedge between the militant union and the AFL-CIO. Photo: Dawn Des Brisay.
2013-09-05 "AFL-CIO: No Solidarity Charters for ILWU"
by Paul Bigman from "Labor Notes" [http://www.labornotes.org/2013/09/afl-cio-no-solidarity-charters-ilwu]:
As the AFL-CIO prepares for a convention where leaders say the goal is unprecedented solidarity with organizations outside the labor movement, the federation is turning its back on some inside the house of labor. Leaders have ruled that locals of the West Coast Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) cannot seek “solidarity charters” and will be ousted from local and state labor councils. The ILWU international disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO last Friday. The stance is a departure from the federation’s reactions to previous disaffiliations. After several large unions left the AFL-CIO to create Change to Win in 2005 [http://www.labornotes.org/2005/08/what-does-afl-cio-split-mean], the AFL-CIO eventually created a mechanism to allow locals to remain affiliated (after initial reluctance). Locals of the departed internationals could take “solidarity charters” and remain part of their local and state labor movements. Later, similar charters were allowed for locals of the giant National Education Association.
That was then; this is now. Both those initiatives involved large unions. Now the AFL-CIO is faced with the disaffiliation of the much smaller ILWU. Its locals won’t have the option provided to larger, less militant unions, including the Service Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers (now rejoining the AFL-CIO), Carpenters, and Teamsters. Some AFL-CIO leaders have always opposed the solidarity charters, and it appears there is little interest in providing them to ILWU locals. The AFL-CIO has mandated that all ILWU affiliates be expelled from state and central labor bodies effective the date of ILWU’s national disaffiliation, August 30. Central labor councils and state federations have no choice. ILWU President Bob McEllrath urged members to remain actively involved in local and state labor movements.
The Issue Is Raiding -
ILWU locals have been battling other unions, including the 400,000-member Operating Engineers and other building trades unions, over what the ILWU claims as its traditional waterfront jurisdiction. In some instances members of those unions and others have crossed ILWU picket lines. Most notably, members of an Operating Engineers local took traditional ILWU work during a bitter struggle at a new grain terminal in Longview, Washington. Although state federations in both Oregon and Washington supported the ILWU, the national AFL-CIO insisted it could not take sides, and has resolutely refused to support longshore workers as members from the larger and more politically powerful building trades have ignored ILWU picket lines in subsequent battles with shippers and others. In more recent jurisdictional conflicts, both local and state labor councils in Oregon and Washington have unsuccessfully attempted to mediate. The ILWU has accused “a law firm with close ties to the federation” of coordinating “multi-state attacks” against it. Some in the AFL-CIO may feel well rid of a militant affiliate.
Big Role in West Coast Labor -
Despite having only 60,000 members (about 45,000 in the U.S.), the ILWU has played a huge role in West Coast labor. Drawing on the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” ILWU longshore and marine workers have used their port power to support the struggles of myriad other unions. In Tacoma, Washington, longshore workers refused to cross picket lines by Earth First! and the IWW in support of striking Steelworkers at Kaiser Aluminum. When Teamster Port of Seattle drivers faced loss of work to non-union drivers in Tacoma, ILWU longshore and warehouse workers in both ports honored Teamster pickets, resulting in return of the work to the union drivers after only one day. Making use of its strong control of the docks, ILWU members in Seattle a few years back shut down a terminal in response to a picket line from Jobs with Justice, because one container held goods from a struck Teamster warehouse. The offending container was ordered off the dock. The ILWU has also historically used its power for international solidarity. Before U.S. entry into World War II, longshore refused to load scrap iron for imperial Japan. More recently, ILWU workers have denied labor for goods from apartheid South Africa and the Salvadoran military regime. In 1980, when future South Korean President Kim Dae Jung was imprisoned and in fear for his life, action by the ILWU to raise the specter that South Korean ships would not be unloaded in West Coast ports was credited by Kim with his release. More recently, dockers have shut West Coast ports to protest the World Trade Organization and the war against Iraq, as well as to celebrate International Workers Day, May 1. And individual ILWU members play a prominent role in local West Coast labor movements. Two are vice-presidents of the Washington State Labor Council. ILWU members hold top leadership positions in several local labor councils, including the two largest in the state, Seattle and Tacoma. In discussion this week among executive board members of the Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council in Seattle, there was widespread support for offering solidarity charters to ILWU locals, even from some leaders whose locals have had jurisdiction disputes with the ILWU. Members argued for maintaining labor unity. David Freiboth, executive secretary of Seattle’s labor council and a former national president of the ILWU’s marine division, the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, stressed that “Seattle has a long history of solidarity. “We have had internal challenges to that solidarity in the past,” he said. “This latest stress in the house of labor is something we intend to approach from a principled position of maintaining solidarity on behalf of working people. The ‘solidarity charter’ program gives local labor movements the tools to work with to maintain our unity and our power.”
2013-09-05 "East Coast Longshore Union May Bolt Too"
by Jane Slaughter from "Labor Notes" [http://www.labornotes.org/2013/09/afl-cio-no-solidarity-charters-ilwu]:
On the heels of the West Coast longshore union’s departure from the AFL-CIO, it appears the East Coast dockers may also be headed that way. “We had said for a while, if the ILWU left we probably would too,” said Ken Riley, a national vice president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), which represents dock workers on the East and Gulf coasts. Riley said top ILA brass were still wrangling over the move via text messages as of Labor Day but were headed for the AFL-CIO’s convention in Los Angeles next week. Spokesman Jim McNamara said ILA leaders would meet with ILWU (Longshore and Warehouse Union) leaders this weekend, as well as AFL-CIO officials. “When the announcement was made by [ILWU President] Bob McEllrath is when we learned about it,” McNamara said. “We will be trying to get their reasoning from them.” Both unions already had one foot out the federation’s door, angered by what they called its inattention to raiding among maritime unions. Last September they, together with three other unions, formed the Maritime Labor Alliance, independent of the AFL-CIO. And in July the ILA quit the AFL-CIO’s Maritime Trades Department. Other Alliance members are the Marine Engineers (MEBA); the American Radio Association and the Inlandboatmen’s Union, both affiliated with ILWU; and the Masters, Mates and Pilots, an ILA affiliate. MEBA and the Masters, Mates and Pilots also withdrew from the Maritime Trades Department. That AFL-CIO department now includes mostly unions whose primary business is not maritime, such as the Operating Engineers (IUOE), Steelworkers, Electrical Workers (IBEW), and Communications Workers, though it still includes the Seafarers International. The ILWU has accused both the IUOE and the IBEW of muscling in on its territory in the Pacific Northwest. The ILA charges the IUOE with the same. IUOE members boarded ships in the port of Charleston, South Carolina, to unload military cargo, McNamara said, work that had “been done for decades by ILA members.” ILWU and IUOE had a highly publicized fight in 2011 over grain-handling jobs in the Northwest that had traditionally been ILWU work—with management bringing in the Engineers in hopes of a substandard contract. The national AFL-CIO refused to take sides, and even forced the Oregon AFL-CIO to rescind a resolution it had passed condemning IUOE’s behavior. The ILWU finally settled for an inferior deal. Riley said he had been bringing resolutions to conventions for 12 years saying “if we can’t get the AFL-CIO to address raiding we ought to pull out. “On neither coast were they willing to take any action,” he said, “and now it’s really coming home to roost.” The move does not mean that the ILA and the ILWU—which have very different traditions—are considering merging, Riley said. But he considers the two unions closer than they’ve been in 30 years. Some ILA locals have been under federal investigation for mob connections, while the ILWU comes out of a militant CIO tradition. McNamara said about the jurisdictional disputes, “If the ILWU felt they were not getting any relief whatsoever, more of a ‘let it go’ attitude, we would look at that. “Ever since the formation of Change to Win, with unions leaving and coming back again, every union is asking themselves what are the benefits of being in and out.” McNamara said any exit would first have to be approved by the ILA’s executive council. Riley said, “It’s a matter of solidarity. We are two small unions, but because of what we control, we have a lot of power.”
2013-08-31 "Longshore Union Quits the AFL-CIO"
by Mark Brenner from "Labor Notes" [http://www.labornotes.org/2013/08/longshore-union-quits-afl-cio]:
*CORRECTION: The original version of this article said the ILWU had 40,000 members. In fact, it has 42,000 in U.S. locals, another 3,500 in its marine division, the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific (IBU), and 14,000 in the autonomous ILWU Canadian Area, for a total of 59,500. - See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/2013/08/longshore-union-quits-afl-cio#sthash.RoIbPMWB.dpuf
In a surprise move, the 60,000-member* International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced its disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO yesterday. The news comes just a week before the federation is set to hold its national convention in Los Angeles, the nation’s biggest port and an ILWU stronghold. The ILWU, known for its militant traditions and progressive politics, has been drawn into turf wars with other unions in recent years—particularly in the grain export terminals of the Pacific Northwest, where longshore workers have been locked in a high-stakes battle over master contract standards since 2011. In an August 29 letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, ILWU President Robert McEllrath cited these ongoing juristictional battles as part of the union’s decision to disaffiliate [http://www.scribd.com/doc/164542066/ILWU-Disaffiliation-8-29-2013]. The skirmishes hit close to home: McEllrath comes out of Vancouver, Washington’s Local 4, where members of rival unions are crossing ILWU picket lines, and debate over the disputes was squelched at this summer’s state labor convention. The letter also cited the federation’s compromised positions on health care and immigration reform. Invoking the union’s radical and independent history, McEllrath noted the ILWU did not join the AFL-CIO until 1988—after being kicked out of the CIO during the McCarthy era for being “too red.”
Lockstep with Obama -
“[The AFL-CIO] wants to organize these big conventions, and rally to pat themselves on the back, doing nothing to promote the working-class,” said ILWU Coast Committeeman, Leal Sundet, who supported the union’s decision to disaffiliate. The ILWU supports a national single-payer health care system, while the AFL-CIO is “in lockstep with Obama,” Sundet said. He criticized the federation for being unwilling to discuss the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act, which discriminates against union Taft-Hartley benefit plans and will impose a so-called “Cadillac tax” on generous benefit plans. Sundet also chided the federation’s position on immigration reform. The AFL-CIO is backing a bill that he contends will only make things harder for working-class immigrants, because it is “designed to give [only] highly-paid workers a real path to citizenship.” It’s clear, however, that the overriding factor in the break is fallout from the ILWU’s ongoing struggle to maintain its longstanding contract standards—and jurisdiction—for 3,000 longshore workers who handle grain along the Puget Sound and Columbia River. Sundet is in the middle of the storm, heading up grain negotiations for the union.
Grain Strain -
Longshore workers in the region move nearly 30 percent of all U.S. grain exports, including half the nation’s wheat shipments. After talks broke down in December between the ILWU and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, two of the four employers—United Grain and Columbia Grain—imposed their “last, best, and final offer,” in hopes of provoking a strike [http://www.labornotes.org/2013/02/aggressive-employers-challenge-longshore-workers-both-coasts]. Meanwhile the union hammered out a separate deal with TEMCO, a joint venture between global agribusiness companies CHS and Cargill. In February, United Grain locked out ILWU Local 4 members in Vancouver, Washington. In May, Columbia Grain did likewise with ILWU Local 8 members in Portland, Oregon [http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2013/05/scab-grain-ship-accosted-watery-picket]. In both cases ILWU members have been rankled by Electrical Workers (IBEW) and other union members crossing their picket lines, escorted in by the company’s private security forces. Adding insult to injury, the IBEW has initiated internal AFL-CIO procedures to contest ILWU jurisdiction over maintenance and repair work in multiple ports in the region. The lockouts follow on the heels of a pitched battle over 25 jobs in Longview, Washington, in 2011. ILWU members squared off with grain giant EGT after the company announced it would operate its new state-of-the-art terminal with the more compliant Operating Engineers (IUOE) union. After months of picketing and direct action [http://www.labornotes.org/2011/09/longshore-workers-dump-scab-grain-protect-jobs]—including occupation of the grain terminal, a blockaded train shipment, and scores of arrests—the ILWU finally reached an agreement [http://www.labornotes.org/2012/01/longshore-union-settles-grain-dispute-confrontation-loomed]. Despite the militancy, the EGT contract loosened work rules and staffing standards compared to the master grain contract. The solo agreement with TEMCO mirrored some of these concessions. But the employer holdouts are banking that they can spread more of the concessions EGT got, such as regular 12-hour shifts, bypassing seniority, and greater flexibility to use supervisors for bargaining unit work.
Solidarity Divided -
ILWU members see the turf battles with rival unions as an additional, unwelcome hurdle to surmount, in an already difficult employer battle. Attempts to bridge the divisions using the machinery of the AFL-CIO have sputtered, according to Cager Clabaugh, president of ILWU Local 4. One particularly galling example for Clabaugh, a former state fed vice president, was a move to scuttle discussion of the conflicts at the Washington state AFL-CIO convention in July. “We’re at the state labor convention for three days, a half-mile from the picket line of my membership where we’ve been locked out for five months, and nobody’s even brought up our lockout, not once,” Clabaugh said. “Our resolution gets shot down, not even considered. We can’t even talk about labor inside the house of labor, and that’s wrong. “It made me sick watching these big unions play politics instead of figure out a way to support solidarity.” Clabaugh said. “If only as much focus and effort was put on trying to figure out a way to let their members do the right thing, or even educate members on why we don’t cross picket lines, why it’s important.” For Clabaugh, the state AFL-CIO’s focus on decorum rather than the needs of its members helps explain why many ILWU members are frustrated enough to support disaffiliation. “When I go down to the picket line, my members are asking me, what good is being in the central labor council, or state labor council, or national labor council, if we’re gonna watch union members walk in hand in hand with strikebreakers?"
On the national stage, the ILWU pullout casts a shadow over the AFL-CIO’s efforts to reassemble the House of Labor. In 2005, seven unions—spearheaded by SEIU and the newly-merged UNITE HERE—formed a rival federation, Change to Win. The new alliance pledged to spend 75 percent of its resources organizing the unorganized. But the fanfare was short-lived. A bitter internal struggle gripped SEIU in 2008, leading to a trusteeship of its third-largest local, and the union subsequently went to war with its long-time ally UNITE HERE. The 250,000-member UNITE HERE left Change to Win and rejoined the AFL-CIO in 2009. They were followed by the 575,000-member Laborers union (LIUNA) in 2010. And this summer the 1.3 million-member Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) followed suit. The disaffiliation highlights tensions, simmering just below the AFL-CIO’s surface, over the federation’s relationship to the Obama administration despite its spotty workers’ rights record. The news creates at least the opening for a discussion of these tensions at next week’s convention.
But whether or not the ILWU’s exit gooses convention delegates to cross-examine, rather than cheerlead, current strategies for labor’s revival, it should spark a healthy dose of self-reflection [http://www.labornotes.org./blogs/2013/08/10-things-every-labor-leader-should-read-afl-cio-convention]. The ILWU can’t remain an anchor of the waterfront workforce, or preserve today’s longshore standards, simply leaning on its rich history and legacy of militance. It too, needs a survival strategy if longshore workers want to avoid the fate of once-strong unions like the UAW. Automakers worked for years to shrink the Big 3’s core workforce through outsourcing and automation, drive down standards across the rest of the industry, and create a “union-free” supply chain. The UAW accepted the faustian bargain of partnership, and arithmetic did the rest. Now a union that once boasted a million and-a-half members and set standards for workers everywhere has been reduced to 380,000 members, where a growing share of those are working for half the UAW’s traditional wage scale. ILWU members may sit atop the most powerful chokepoint in today’s economy, but employers are working overtime to break their hold on the docks. And public opinion too often casts well-paid longshore workers as part of an unsustainable past, rather than a key link to a prosperous future. The AFL-CIO breakup may satisfy ILWU rank-and-filers starved of solidarity, and it offers the union a chance to stand for principles over bureaucratic decorum. But leaving the federation is no substitute for spelling out a strategy to beat back emboldened employers, keep automation from sapping union power, or stop concessions from spreading. The ILWU’s members, with their rich history, deserve no less from their union. Here's hoping this shakeup stirs the ranks to once again, put their union's slogan—an injury to one is an injury to all—into action.