No peace, no work
The ILWU hopes the dramatic act of shutting down West Coast ports will inspire Americans everywhere to oppose the war
San Francisco Bay Guardian
April 30, 2008
Organized labor is set to mark May Day — International Workers’ Day — with what could be the loudest and most forceful demand yet for rapid withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will lead the way by refusing to work their eight-hour morning shifts at ports in California, Oregon, and Washington. For them, it will be a “no peace, no work” holiday — in effect, a strike against the war.
Like many other unions and labor organizations nationwide, the ILWU has long opposed the war in Iraq as an imperialist action in which the lives of young working-class Americans and Iraqi citizens are being needlessly wasted.
The ILWU hopes the dramatic act of shutting down West Coast ports will inspire Americans everywhere to oppose the war.
The coalition behind this movement, US Labor Against the War (USLAW), has been growing steadily since the invasion of Iraq.
It’s now the largest organized antiwar group of any kind and is drawing important support, not only from unions but from a wide variety of socially-conscious activist groups outside the labor movement.
USLAW’s members, which represent millions of workers, significantly include the AFL-CIO and most of the federation’s 56 affiliated unions. No one can doubt USLAW’s ability to organize a massive protest like the one ILWU is hoping to lead: it was USLAW that put together the antiwar demonstration that drew half a million marchers to Washington, DC last year.
USLAW is demanding primarily that “our elected leaders stop funding the war, bring our troops home, and start meeting human needs here at home,” notes Fred Mason, an AFL-CIO official in Maryland.
In the meantime, says Gerald McEntee, a key public employee union leader, “We are spreading violence in Iraq, not democracy.” The Bush administration’s policies, says Musicians Union leader Tom Lee, “make us less secure, increase the threat of terrorism, and have put Iraq on a path of civil war.”
ILWU President Robert McEllrath has urged unions and allied groups outside the United States to also mount protests “to honor labor history and express support for the troops by bringing them home safely.”
The AFL-CIO’s role is particularly notable. It marks the first time the federation has ever opposed a war, whether the president was a pro-labor Democrat or, as now, an antilabor Republican.
The longshoremen’s union, which was not affiliated with the AFL-CIO at the time, was firmly opposed to the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. The ILWU also was a major opponent of dictatorial regimes in South and Central America and the apartheid regime in South Africa, its members often refusing to handle cargo coming from or going to those countries. Just recently, ILWU members in Tacoma, Wash., refused for conscientious reasons to load cargo headed for the Iraq war zone.
We can only hope — and hope fervently — that the union’s May Day show of strong opposition to the war in Iraq will help prompt millions of others to conclude that they, too, cannot in good conscience support that seemingly endless war.
Dick Meister is a San Francisco–based writer who has covered labor and political issues for a half-century as a reporter, editor, and commentator. Contact him through his Web site.
In Australia, ‘Labour Day’ is celebrated with a public holiday, but not May Day. The only, partial exception to this is in Queensland and the Northern Territory, which celebrate May Day on the first Monday in May, a date which sometimes coincides with May 1.
In more advanced societies, such as Bangladesh, May Day, Chicago and the Haymarket Martyrs are still remembered.
In Indonesia, in a manner typical of the African and Asian media, it’s reported that “Manpower Affairs Minister Erman Suparno asked [workers] not to create anarchism during the [May Day] rallies”. Which is kinda ironic, really.
In Israel, workers will be able to celebrate a soaring wage gap.
In Russia, while tens of thousands of Communists and other odds and sods are expected to rally in Moscow and elsewhere, the Mayor has banned an LGBT rally. Mayor Yury Luzhkov has long been a homophobe, once calling gay pride marches “Satan’s work”, the wanker.
In Thailand, “Angry labour leaders are threatening a mass protest tomorrow, May Day, after employers boycotted yesterday’s meeting to set a new minimum wage. Only one employer representative was at the meeting of the tripartite Central Wage Committee — below the legal requirement.” Bosses can be very sneaky eh?
In Turkey, Turkey bans May Day rally in central Istanbul (Reuters): “ISTANBUL, April 30 (Reuters) – Turkish authorities said on Wednesday they would use force if necessary to stop a May Day demonstration in the centre of Istanbul, raising tensions with labour unions. Turkey’s three biggest unions plan to lead half a million members to Istanbul’s central Taksim Square on Thursday. But the government, nervous because of past trouble from rallies there, has banned the demonstration. “We will use force as the law permits … It is natural that an illegal demonstration will be stopped,” Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler told a news conference. Last year May Day street violence near Taksim delayed trading on Istanbul’s stock exchange. Police closed roads and detained nearly 600 people…”
Finally, in 2007, residents of Kreuzberg in Berlin celebrated the 20th anniversary of the May Day riot. This year, who knows? At the very least, there’s a kick-arse video:
Yours for a world without bosses,