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Cost of the
War in Iraq
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"No peace, no work!"
"No peace, no work!"
Longshore workers will demand an end to Iraq War

by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

On May 1, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will sponsor coordinated marches in many West Coast cities to demand an end to the war in Iraq, actions which could affect work at major port facilities up and down the coast. In Seattle, ILWU members, supporters and other anti-war activists will rally at noon at Jack Perry Park near Terminal 30 and Safeco Field, and then march along the waterfront to Pier 66. The date was chosen because May 1 is International Workers' Day, a holiday having its origins in the struggle for the eight-hour day in Chicago.

Founded in 1937, the ILWU represents all port and allied workers in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Its maritime division, the Inland Boatman's Union (IBU), represents Washington State Ferry workers, among others. East and Gulf Coast ports are organized by the older International Longshoreman's Association (ILA), which is not involved in the anti-war actions.

May 1 is also the date set for national marches and rallies in support of immigrant workers. In Seattle, the Comite pro Amnistia and other organizations based in immigrant communities are organizing a march and rally beginning at 4:00 p.m. at Judkins Park, and ending at Seattle Center. The Comite and ILWU are attempting to coordinate their events to avoid any appearance of competition, and are encouraging their supporters to attend both. ILWU founder and longtime president, the late Harry Bridges (1901-1990), was himself an immigrant who successfully fought off two attempts by the US government to deport him for his union activities. He became a US citizen in 1945.

The ILWU's plans come in the context of contentious contract negotiations with their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) of shipowners, terminal operators and stevedore companies. The ILWU had originally wanted to pull all its members off the job for the day. Although their contract entitles the ILWU to take stop-work days, the PMA refused to sanction a stoppage on May 1. Thus, a stop-work action would have carried substantial risk for the union and its officers, who might be accused of violating their contract in the midst of ongoing negotiations.

During the previous contract negotiation in 2002, the PMA locked out union workers and closed the ports for 11 days themselves, a situation the Bush administration then used to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act and force ILWU members back to work under conditions favorable to their employers. The administration also threatened to send National Guard troops to operate the ports, under the pretext of defending "national security" after the 9/11 attack.

Under the circumstances, the ILWU made the decision to call for anti-war actions during work hours, without explicitly directing its members to stop working. Work stoppages to make a political point are not unprecedented for the ILWU. In the past, ILWU members have refused to handle military cargo destined for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and cargo from apartheid South Africa. In 1999, the ILWU initiated an eight-hour stop-work period to protest the WTO meeting in Seattle. ILWU members have also honored anti-war picket lines set up by other groups at several West Coast ports.

The decision to organize anti-war actions on May 1 was taken at the initiative of ILWU Local 10, which represents workers in San Francisco and Oakland, California, a local with a majority of African American members, and a notably militant local in a union with a reputation for labor militancy. In 2003, ILWU Local 10 became the first US union to call for an immediate end to the war in Iraq. Pride At Work, the AFL-CIO's LGBT constituency organization, while not a union, was the first AFL-CIO affiliate to oppose the war, having passed a resolution against the impending war in October 2002, even before US troops invaded Iraq. The AFL-CIO, Washington State Labor Council and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council have also passed resolutions condemning the war and calling for swift withdrawal of US troops.

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