This morning we shut down the port of Oakland. The ships that had supplies bound for Iraq sat idle.
At 6:30 am group of various antiwar activists, teachers, and union members went to the SSA Terminal at the port of Oakland. Lucky for me, it was only a 10 minute bike ride from my house. I was part of Bay Rising Affinity Group (BRAG!) – that’s us with the giant dove – and was rockin with UCLA and Bay SDSers. We set up a picket line, which the Longhshoremen Union (ILWU), had agreed not to cross.
Why? SSA (Stevedoring Services of America) has profited in an ugly way from the war in Iraq– privatizing Iraq’s main port in a no bid Halliburton-style deal, and has led efforts to bust the ILWU locally. And, it was at the gates of SSA that peaceful protesters were attacked by police on April 7, 2003.
After a couple hours the Union Arbitrators showed up. It is their job to determine if our picket is legal or not. If it’s legal, then the workers get to go home and still get paid time and a half. If it’s not, then the union is supposed to cross it. The arbitrators ruled against us.
In a staggering act of solidarity, the ILWU decided to STILL refuse to cross it. The workers upheld our picket and all went home – knowing that it would mean losing the time and a half weekend pay. It was a huge victory and a huge demonstration of the power of community support and unity. We had successfully shut down the port for that day with only about 100 people and no arrests.
The next shift was slated for 6pm. Activists that were able committed to returning in the evening (I couldn’t come back). Organizers went back to the port….and we won again. Those ships aren’t going anywhere.
Jonathan Knack, from the Port Action Committee explained it this way:
Key to our success yesterday were too unions – ILWU local 10 and the Oakland teacher’s union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA). The OEA played a major role in the Port Action Committee and were very important in lining up the political support we needed from local elected officials. As a result, numerous elected officials, including Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums expressed their support.
The political and policing situation that existed yesterday was a naturally a product of many years of struggle. After the police
brutality of April 7, 2003, the community forced the City Counsel to promulgate a new set of protocols for the Oakland police for their tactics in dealing with crowd control at non-violent political protests. This was in large measure due to successful law suits against the City by the ILWU and protesters which cost the City millions of dollars to settle.
Port Action will be working on how we can turn our one day success into a sustained campaign
If we really want to do all we can to end this war and shift spending from the war machine to schools and social services, actions like these are going to be critical. For them to be successful, they need to be carefully organized. We spent months laying the groundwork for this. And our tactics on the picket line were smart. Had we done certain things, the police would have moved to shut us down. And if the picket line had been shut down, the workers probably would have had to report for work.
The majority of the population in this country wants to stop the war in Iraq. They want to be heard and felt , but are frustrated and confused about how to accomplish that. Given the chance, they will seize the opportunity. One longshore worker told me yesterday, “[w]e have to stop this war. I’m a third generation longshoreman. My family has children in the Oakland schools. If they think I’m crossing this picket line, they’re crazy.” The task of organizers is to figure out how to allow them to express themselves and have an impact. Ports and other shipping facilities are a weak spot in the War Machine, because people can impact
the flow of material. In other locales, organizers may find their are other weak spots that can be the focus of direct action.
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