Longshore Union Enforced ‘No Work’ Policy on the Docks-During Lockout
The lockout-and the Taft-Hartley injunction that followed-were long planned. First the Pacific Maritime Association locked out all dockworkers on the West Coast for 36 hours. When we went back to work on September 29, we had a large backlog of work-so the employers stated that productivity was too low and accused the union of slowing down. That afternoon the companies locked out the union for the second time.
In the PMA’s haste to quickly implement the lockout and get ILWU dockworkers off the terminals, container ships in Oakland, Portland, Tacoma, and Los Angeles were left stranded with their hatch covers still lying on the docks. As a result some vessels that wanted to sail were unable to do so.
Management in Los Angeles and Tacoma attempted to have company superintendents with no crane experience load the hatch covers from the dock to the ships. In Tacoma, longtime dockworker Jim Walls said, “About 200 of us were in the hall having a meeting when a call came in that the company was going to operate the cranes and cover the vessel. It was a big traffic jam to the dock.
“When we got there we rallied at the terminal gate and our officers helped escort them company guys off the terminal. We should have made them hire police escorts instead.”
At the Maersk facility in Oakland, the company was firing crane operators and ordering them off the terminal. Management then ordered mechanics, members of the Machinists union (IAM), to operate the cranes and cover up the vessel.
ILWU Local 10 business agent Jack Heyman recalled the incident: “Myself, the other business agent, and about 40 rank and file members gathered around the crane. We relayed the message to the IAM that we had been fired and locked out; meanwhile the police had showed up. The mechanics then came down, the police left, and then we all left without any problems or any work being done.”
At the announcement of the lockout, ILWU members up and down the West Coast began picketing around the clock, with effective results. In Oakland, superintendents at stevedoring companies ordered a dozen IAM mechanics to work as usual. Faced with about 30 ILWU picketers, they refused company orders to cross the line.
“John P” from Seattle reported on the ILWU message board: “The picket at terminal 5 in Seattle, made up of ILWU members and members of the IWW (Wobblies), turned away a freight train bringing in cans to T-5...”
In Portland locomotives were left sitting on the docks attached to double stack trains, as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers wanted to honor the ILWU pickets.
Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422, the longshore workers in Charleston, South Carolina, said that no cargo diverted from West Coast ports would be welcome in Charleston. “If we detected that cargo is being diverted and if the ILWU sets up picket lines, those picket lines will be honored,” Riley said.
Solidarity and morale on the lines were very high. News reporters and TV cameras were in full force in every major port. Dockworkers were ready for a fight after months of fruitless negotiations and being locked out by the PMA.
Rallies against the lockout and Taft-Hartley took place up and down the West Coast, the largest ones in the Bay Area. An emergency rally on October 9 called by the San Francisco Labor Council with just one hour’s notice, in front of the court building where the judge was to decide on the Temporary Restraining Order, brought out over 80 workers.
Members from the Teamsters, UAW, SEIU, OPEIU, and unions from all over the world attended the various rallies. Caroline Lund, a worker at New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI) in Fremont and member of UAW Local 2244, was out with a picket sign saying, “Safety at NUMMI and on the docks.” Lund said, “The ILWU members were inspired that even though the lockout had caused our plant’s production to be shut down, we were still supporting them.”
GEORGE BUSH, DOCK BOSS
The Temporary Restraining Order that ended the lockout after ten days ordered the parties to “work in the maritime industry, at a normal and reasonable rate of speed, and in accordance with the wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment provided under the most recent collective bargaining agreement…”
Vance Lelli, member of ILWU Local 23 in Tacoma and president of the Pearce County Labor Council, said, “Why did we work so hard building these companies if they’re going to do this to us? We went over the speed limit for them, we hurt our backs for them, and they took our profits to buy [PMA President Joe] Miniace to bust us.”
Dockworkers faced an enormous backlog of over 200 ships to load and unload. As expected, the employers almost immediately began crying that the union was running a slowdown.
The ILWU will not be intimidated into any speedups to move goods across the docks. ILWU negotiators have been discussing the safety vs. productivity problem with the employers since March, when an ILWU dockworker was killed on the docks, the first of five to die in an industry-related accident this year.
The 80-day “cooling-off period” under Taft-Hartley will end December 26. “We fully expect PMA to use all the anti-union provisions of the Taft-Hartley injunction,” said ILWU President Jim Spinosa. “These 80 days will not be a ‘cooling-off period.’ PMA will start alleging ‘slowdowns’ and will continue that. Taft-Hartley gives them 80 days of free shots at the union and we expect the employers will be dragging us to court daily.”
Taft-Hartley injunctions have been imposed on the ILWU dockworkers twice before. In 1948 the law was applied in an attempt to break up the ILWU by eliminating the hiring hall. And in a 1971 strike the Nixon Administration invoked the law and then attempted legislation for compulsory arbitration. In both cases the union came out stronger.
Jack Mulcahy is a former business agent in Local 8 in Portland and has been an ILWU member for 27 years.