Labor war in Longview

November 30, 2011

The small city of Longview in southwestern Washington state is currently ground zero for one of the most militant U.S. labor struggles in decades.
Since May, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 21 has been escalating the fight in a two-year-plus battle to force the multinational conglomerate EGT Development to honor its contract and use ILWU labor at a new $200 million grain terminal in Longview. This is the first new terminal built on the West Coast in the last 25 years.
In the course of the battle in Longview, ILWU members and their supporters have blocked trains from bringing grain to the terminal and organized mass pickets to disrupt its operations. But the company is taking a hard line. Local 21 is up against multiple global corporations, police and private security, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and another union--Operating Engineers Local 701, which is providing scab labor.
Now, after a series of test runs, EGT is planning to bring in its first ship in mid-December. Separately, the Occupy movement--whose call for a general strike and day of action in Oakland, Calif., on November 2 in protest of vicious police violence shut down that city's massive port--is calling for protests at ports up and down the West Coast on December 12 in defense of the movement and longshore unionists. The ILWU has not endorsed this call.
The Longview struggle is a crucial test for labor and the wider working-class movement. In late November, Darrin Hoop interviewed Local 21 President Dan Coffman and Local 21 Vice President Jake Whiteside. In this excerpt, they about the background and significance of this modern-day labor war--for workers in Washington state and around the country.
ILWU members in Longview have confronted grain shipments headed for the new EGT terminalILWU members in Longview have confronted grain shipments headed for the new EGT terminal

COULD YOU tell us how this struggle began?
Dan: It would have been early 2009. When we heard about this elevator being constructed in our community, there were a lot of high expectations. If you look at the paper here from November 2009, it talks about how this elevator is going to create 50 new longshore jobs. The new $200 million project was going to put construction people in this community back to work, and this is when our unemployment rate was pushing right around 15 percent.
As soon as ground construction started with the building of this thing, people realized that local labor was not getting any of this action. What we found out is that Bunge was bringing in every non-union type of company to do this project. The high expectations were soon evaporating right in front of our eyes.
At the same time, the ILWU always felt confident, because we have a working agreement with the port that has been in existence for 70-plus years. We felt confident that we were going to sit down and get an agreement with Bunge.

YOU MENTIONED Bunge--that's the main one of the three corporations that make up EGT, right? The others are Itochu, based in Japan, and STX Pan Ocean, based in South Korea.
Dan: In negotiations, Bunge talked about how it had planned this for five years prior. The terminal is EGT, but if you look at it, the 51 percent controlling partner is Bunge North America, based in New York state. We negotiated for close to 14 months, and we were negotiating throughout the whole thing with Bunge. You never saw an Itochu official at the table. You never saw an STX Pan Ocean person at the table.
Bunge is part of what we call the grain cartel, which is the equivalent of the oil cartel. There's a handful of players in the grain cartel, and Bunge is one of them--along with Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Louis Dreyfus, Gavalon. Actually, if you look at it, they're probably more powerful than the oil cartel, because people have to eat, and they know that.
Itochu is a logistics firm out of Japan that has a lot of trucking and shipping interests. Then the shipping lines company they needed to haul their product was Pan Ocean. What they did was triangulate their corporations to meet all their needs, and it became a partnership.

WHY DID they pick Longview?
Dan: We're a small port. I think they probably thought that being such a small port, they could do what they've done throughout the whole world--they could come in and micromanage not only us, but the community as a whole.
Jake: I think one of the main things about Longview is the geographical location. It's the first place you come to on the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. We're set up with a rail system. I-5 is right there. None of that is a coincidence. It was definitely orchestrated, almost brilliantly.

WHAT WERE the key issues during negotiations?
Dan: The two sticking points were straight-time pay and who was in the master console room. They wanted two 12-hour shifts for a 24-hour period. And during that 12 hours a day, they didn't want any of that to be overtime. It was going to be straight time only.
The other big sticking point was that, in a grain elevator, they have what they call the master console. He controls the flow of grain throughout that facility. Bunge didn't want any union member in that control room. We told them we don't care if you have 50 supervisors in there, there needs to be one longshoreman. We don't take orders from a supervisor. We needed that buffer between management and labor.
In the beginning, they offered us a total of three jobs in the whole facility. We finally got them to up that to four when we asked for a lead man or a general foreman. On top of that, there'd be a need for two millwrights and one electrician, for a total of seven jobs.
We started our negotiations on January 20, 2010 in Portland, Ore. We broke off negotiations, I believe, at the end of February of 2011. During our negotiations, they weren't willing to budge on one thing. I didn't call them negotiations--I called them dictations--dictations by three giant conglomerates that wanted it all their way.

WHAT IS the significance of this new terminal?
Dan: This new elevator is going to pour 40 percent faster than the last one that was built on the West Coast and have about a 30 to 40 percent decrease in the labor needed to operate this facility.
If you can imagine a Panamax ship being loaded in about a 24-hour period, that's basically unheard of. You're talking 50,000 to 60,000 metric tons of whatever product being loaded in over a 24-hour or less period. That's huge volumes at super-fast speeds. These people are recreating the playing field for the grain industry.
This new elevator is going to meet their needs logistically to supply them with an easier route to get their product to Southeast Asia and Japan. They had to set up an elevator on the West Coast to achieve that.


Updates from Occupy Olympia

On Monday, November 28th unionists, Occupiers and activists from around the state will converge on Olympia to challenge the $2 billion cuts the legislature is set to begin during their special session.

Follow us on twitter @SeattleISO for on-the-ground updates and photos!


Time to Occupy the Capitol

If the legislature wants to cut from the 99 percent, there will be no business as usual. It's time to Occupy the Capitol on November 28!

Chris Mobley reports on Occupy activists' plans to challenge more budget cuts.
Occupy activists rally in downtown Seattle (Erin Kohlenberg)
OCCUPY ACTIVISTS in Washington state are gearing up for the next stage in our struggle: Occupy the Capitol to oppose another round of budget cuts.

Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire has called for a special session of the state legislature to cut an additional $2 billion out of the state budget. At a recent press conference, Gregoire even admitted, "We have shredded our social safety net."

This move comes on top of $10 billion in state budget cuts over the last three years, which have resulted in furloughs and layoffs for state employees, a 47 percent increase in tuition at public universities, the gutting of social and health services, and many other attacks on the basic quality of life for the 99 percent of Washington.

What effect will this round of cuts have? Here is what has been proposed:
-- Some 13,000 legal immigrants would be cut from the state's food assistance program--their only source of food aid because they are ineligible for federal food assistance.
-- About 35,000 people would be kicked off the Basic Health Plan, ending a program that subsidizes health care for poor.
-- Another 21,000 people enrolled in the state's Disability Lifeline and ADATSA (Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Treatment Support Act) programs would have their medical services cut off.
-- Two wards at Western State Hospital would be closed. These currently serve 52 patients with conditions such as traumatic brain injury or dementia.
-- Foster care, juvenile rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment programs would be slashed by $118 million.
-- A levy equalization program that helps school districts with a poor property tax base will lose half its funding, for a total of $150 million. This will dramatically increase class sizes in affected districts and could shorten the school year.
-- The budget for state colleges and universities will lose another $225 million.
-- Funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs will drop by $240,000.
-- The nuclear waste site cleanup program at Hanford--the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation--will lose $581,000.
-- The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, the agency responsible for issuing budget forecasts, will be cut by $94,000. The agency warned Gregoire that a "10 percent cut will eliminate our agency, because we will not have the rudimentary necessities to fulfill our core mission."

ON NOVEMBER 21, in response to mounting pressure from social services providers, unions and the threat of a Madison-style occupation of the state Capitol, Gregoire proposed an emergency revenue measure--something she hasn't done before during three-year-long budget crisis. Her proposal would raise $550 million by increasing the state's regressive sales tax by half a cent. This would require voter approval in a special spring 2012 election.

The $550 million this measure would rise is not only a drop in the bucket relative to the $10 billion in cuts to the state budget, but it further adds to the tax burden on those who would be most affected by the cuts--Washington's poor and working class.

Because the state has no income tax system, Washington relies on regressive sales and property taxes to meet its budget needs. A study by the Sightline Institute ranks Washington dead last in tax fairness. According to the study, the bottom 20 percent of income earners pay 17.3 percent of their income in taxes of various kinds, whereas the top 1 percent of income earners pay just 2.6 percent in taxes.

The state government does have progressive funding sources at its disposal, but it refuses to use them.

Each year, the state gives away $6.5 billion via tax loopholes, mostly to big business. Washington-based Microsoft received $143 million last year in special tax breaks, and aircraft maker Boeing got $104 million. JPMorgan Chase, which took over Washington Mutual in 2008, continues to receive a $120 million tax break on interest collected on first-time mortgages. There are also loopholes for cosmetic surgery ($6.25 million this year) and private jet enthusiasts ($5 million this year).

Another option for the legislature is to tax the rich. Last year, voters rejected Initiative 1098, which would have imposed a 5 percent income tax rate on individual incomes over $200,000 per year and a 9 percent rate on incomes over $500,000 per year. It would have raised $2 billion annually to fund education and health care.

The legislature could pass such a measure outright with a two-thirds majority, or it could put the proposal on the ballot again with a simple majority vote. As the effects of the budget crisis and the worsening economy hammer away at people, voters may be in a different mood than 2010.
Instead, lawmakers have hid behind Initiative 1053, pushed by right-wing hack Tim Eyman. I-1053, which was passed by voters in 2010, requires the state legislature obtain a two-thirds super-majority to increase taxes. Many prominent legal scholars argue that I-1053 is unconstitutional, but lawmakers have yet to challenge it.

What makes this year's budget battle different is the impact of the Occupy movement. Thousands of people in Washington state have marched, protested, camped and organized. The November 28 demonstration is built around the hope that these thousands will join join public-sector workers, students and the poor in standing up for the 99 perent.

Unions and student groups are renting buses to transport people to the capitol of Olympia on November 28, when the special session begins. Acts of civil disobedience are being planned, and activists from all of the state's Occupy encampments have pledged to take over the Capitol building in protest of the cuts.

If the legislature wants to cut from the 99 percent, there will be no business as usual. It's time to Occupy the Capitol on November 28!

What you can do
For more information on the plans for the November 28 demonstration, visit the Occupy the Capitol and Occupy Olympia websites.

UW meetings & events through the end of Nov

Hello UW folks  -- with midterms and Thanksgiving coming up and several special events we won't be holding our regualr Thursday meetings until the end of the month. There's plenty going on so please join us at these upcoming events:

WED 11/16 7-8:30pm, Gowen Hall 301
Join us for our yearly Debate with between the ISO, the Young Democrats, the College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty (libertarians)!  
The topic of discussion will be the Obama administration's proposed jobs plan.
Info and RSVP on facebook

SAT & SUN 11/19-20
Northwest Marxism Conference in Portland!
With workshops on:
  • Why Marx Was Right
  • No Power Greater: Marxism and the Centrality of Class
  • The Roots of Racial Oppression
  • The Minneapolis Teamster Strike: A Case Study in Working Class Power
  • Theories of Womens' Oppression
  • Workers' Democracy: A Society Worth Fighting For  
  • Sexuality & Socialism
  • Capitalism in Crisis: A Marxist Analysis of the Current Economic Situation 
RSVP on facebook   Check out the full schedule and register online
Interested? Need a ride? Email info@seattleiso.org to carpool with us.

MON 11/28
Occupy The Capitol! Stop Cuts, Make the 1% Pay!
Supporters and occupiers of Washington State, Unite to protest at the start of the special legislative session pushing $2.7 billion more in deadly budget cuts.

Info and RSVP on facebook  Email  info@seattleiso.org to carpool with us.

We'll resume normal meeting on Thursday December 1st!


This weekend! NW Marxism Conference

Spots still available!

Saturday and Sunday, Nov 19-20  
Portland State University

RSVP on facebook
Conference Website 

Interested? Need a ride? Email info@seattleiso.org to carpool with Seattle area activists!

Capitalism isn't working. Socialism is the alternative—a world organized for human need, not profit, where resources are controlled by and for the vast majority, instead of by a tiny rich minority. Real change depends on struggle and action by our side.

The recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have inspired struggles against injustice and austerity across the globe. Massive demonstrations have erupted across Greece, Spain, Britain - and most recently, the United States - occupying public squares and capital buildings in defiance of cuts in social services and workers' standards of living promoted by their governments.

Capitalism has never operated according to the interests of the majority of people. It has always been a system of exploitation and oppression that benefits only the wealthy and powerful. The struggles against austerity and oppression that have emerged in 2011 show that a fightback is possible, and that ordinary people can change society for the better. It's an excellent time to fight for a better world, a world free from the misery of capitalism. Join us and help build a REAL future for workers and students everywhere!

The Northwest Marxism Conference is one of many regional Marxism conferences nationwide that are dedicated to arming a new generation of activists and organizers with arguments and ideas for a revolutionary socialist alternative, learning our history of rebellion and resistance, and discussing strategies for building organization and winning struggles for real change.

Full schedule, registration and more information at the conference website!


11/7: Strikes and Occupations: A Radical History of Seattle's 99%

 Join the UW ISO for this Forum & Discussion
Monday 11/7
7-9pm, Savery Hall 132

We are the 99%! The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to over 1,000 cities in the U.S. and around the globe. Millions are discussing why this movement is important, what it's demands are and how to build it bigger. But Occupy Seattle is only the latest in an incredible history of radical struggle in Seattle.

In 1919 a General Strike of 100,000 workers saw workers run the city for 5 days. Sit-ins led to the formation of the Black Student Union at the UW in 1969. Protests against the WTO rocked the city for a week in 1999.

Join us for a discussion on what lessons we can learn today from the history of strikes and occupations throughout Seattle's radical past.


11/3: John Carlos & Dave Zirin

Instead of our normal Thursday UW & City branch meetings we'll be going to
The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World
Discussion & Book Signing

Thursday 11/3. 7pm
Northwest African American Museum
2300 S Massachusetts St.Seattle 98144
Seen around the world, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute on the 1968 Olympic podium sparked controversy and career fallout. Yet their show of defiance remains one of the most iconic images of Olympic history and the Black Power movement. Here is the remarkable story of one of the men behind the salute, lifelong activist, John Carlos.

Join John Carlos and his co-author, Nation sports editor Dave Zirin, for a book discussion and signing to celebrate the release of "The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World."

Please purchase tickets though CD Forum at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/205183 Tickets are $10 each regular and $8 if you use discount code: NAAMCARLOS

Check out this great video: John Carlos & Dave Zirin Speak at Occupy Chicago

For more information, please contact:
Brian J. Carter | 206-518-6000 x 103 | bcarter@naamnw.org


11/2: Student Walkout in Solidarity with Occupy Oakland & Protest against Jamie Dimon CEO of JP Morgan Chase

There is a lot of #Occupy action happening this Wed 11/2

12pm UW Student Walkout in Solidarity with Occupy Oakland
The Occupy Oakland general assembly has put out a call for a General Strike on November 2ccupy Oakland & Protest against Jamie Dimon CEO of to protest the brutal crackdown by cops against their movement. From Atlanta, to Chicago and now Oakland, the police are using brute force to attempt to shut down encampments. If they get away with using force to shut down Occupy Oakland, this will give the green light for the same kind of brutality to be used all over the U.S. with the same goal. We are all Oakland! Let's show them the power of the 99% standing in solidarity!

12pm - Meeting at Red Square for a speakout. Then we'll march/bus to SCCC for a rally with students and Occupy Seattle

RSVP on Facebook

Protest Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, speaking at UW Business School event
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase will be visiting Seattle, speaking at the downtown Sheraton at a UW school of business event.Yes – this is the same Jamie Dimon that called foreclosures “debt relief.” The same Jamie Dimon that called banking regulations “un-American.” The same Jamie Dimon that raked in $10,000 per hour while too many Washingtonians don’t even have jobs. The same Jamie Dimon whose company Chase helps themselves to a piece of an $86 million tax loophole and to millions from an EBT contract with the state, while we face $2 billion in budget cuts. That Jamie Dimon is coming to our city at the request of the UW Business school!

Let's show him (and the UW Business school)  what Seattle really thinks of banksters like him! We'll be taking on Dimon with 2 awesome events.

1pm: Meet at Seattle Central Community College - 1 hour speak out.
2pm: March and action at a major Chase Branch.
6pm: Meet at Westlake Park march to the Sheraton where Mr. Dimon will be speaking.

This is the perfect chance to strike back against the 1% so please join us and invite all of your friends to this Facebook event! We’re going to let Jamie Dimon know that the 99% isn’t going to stand by while greedy big banks continue to wreck our economy. That it’s time for the mega-rich to pay their fair share so our country can invest in Jobs, not cuts.