How Occupy helped labor win on the West Coast

Defiance of labor law and movement support yield a union victory in Washington state


Earlier this month longshore workers in Washington state reached a contract with a boss that has spent the past year fighting to keep their union out.  That company, the multinational EGT, sought to run its new grain terminal in the town of Longview, as the only facility on the West Coast without the famously militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).  A victory by EGT would have emboldened employers up and down the coast to seek to free themselves of ILWU influence.  And if the union — with the help of the Occupy movement — had not defied the law, EGT would have succeeded.

The Longview struggle began last March when, after initial discussions with ILWU Local 21, EGT announced its intention to run its new grain terminal without them.  The ILWU held protest rallies, and joined the Port of Longview’s lawsuit charging that EGT was bound by the union’s contract with the publicly owned port.  The union may have had a good legal case.  But so did Washington’s Boeing workers when their boss blamed their strikes for its decision to take new work to South Carolina. Boeing mostly got away with it anyway.

Rather than putting all their faith in the law while EGT did its work without them, ILWU members chose to get in the company’s way.  Literally.  Beginning in July, union members blocked railroad tracks to prevent grain shipments from passing.  According to media reports, workers also tore down fencing and dumped grain.  Police charged that workers threw rocks at them; labor denied members were violent, and charged that police beat and pepper-sprayed workers without justification.  The ILWU did not formally endorse its members’ actions, but its international president was among the dozens arrested.  In September, 200 union members and supporters lined up outside the building housing the sheriff’s office and announced they had arrived to turn themselves in for nonviolently defending their jobs.

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