Longview’s call for solidarity

January 5, 2012

In the small city of Longview in Washington state, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 21 is locked in a battle to force multinational conglomerate EGT Development to use ILWU labor at a new $200 million grain terminal--the first new terminal built on the West Coast in the last 25 years.

When picketing by hundreds of unionists and their supporters disrupted test run operations at the terminal, the company countered with harassment and state repression--Local 21 has been fined over $300,000, and at least 75 of its 200 members face some form of citation, fine or arrest. However, in a setback for EGT, the two cases that have gone to court so far have resulted in acquittals for Local 21 members.

Sometime between the beginning of January and early February, EGT plans on unloading its first barge grain shipment using scab labor--and then loading its first scab ship with grain destined for Asia. Local 21 President Dan Coffman summarized the stakes in this modern-day labor war by saying, "We view this as an attempt by corporations to try to break the strength of the ILWU."

In December, Occupy Longview put out a call "to all Occupies, from New York City down to Florida, all the way through to the West Coast, to join us in solidarity in Longview" in protest against the scab barge and ship when they arrive at the Port of Longview. Paul Nipper, a spokesperson for Occupy Longview, talked to Darrin Hoop about the importance of the call for people to caravan to Longview--and why Local 21's struggle is crucial not only for the Longview community, but for people all over the U.S.

WHY DID Occupy Longview (OLV) vote to call for a caravan to Longview to support ILWU Local 21 in its struggle against EGT?

THE GROUP voted to move forward with this action because we view Longview as ground zero in the labor movement right now. The ILWU is considered to be one of the most powerful unions in the country and world as well. If "the corporations" are successful in busting up a union as strong as the ILWU, who's next? The answer is obvious--anyone who gets in their way.

WHY IS this struggle one the Occupy movement nationally should support?

THE OCCUPY movement is all about supporting the middle class and trying to level the playing field between corporate power and people. Union workers are part of the 99 percent. It is a verifiable fact that when unions are strong, the middle class is strong. It's no coincidence that with the decline of union membership, the rest of the middle class has suffered.

The members of OLV are all in agreement that unions have the final grip on our voices in the workplace, and even in our unbalanced political system. We also agree that it is inevitable that if the remaining unions in this country are overpowered and busted up, our voice will no longer be heard in both arenas.

ILWU members and supporters rally in Longview
ILWU members and supporters rally in Longview

WHAT ROLE do you see for both union and non-union workers in building support for Local 21?

IN MY opinion, the two are inseparable. The ILWU and all other unions were born from the struggles of the original labor movements in the late 1820s. From the early victories of a simple 10-hour workday, to the advances in on-the-job safety improvements and additional employee benefits that workers gained, the very fabrics of both groups are interwoven. Without one, the other is weaker or will not survive at all.

I am not a union member and never have been, but I depend on the strength of organized labor as a stabilizer for non-union workers in general. I see no reason to draw a distinction between the two groups. I firmly believe that it is the absolute duty of non-union 99 percenters to support the unionized labor force, and I would expect nothing less in reverse circumstances.

HOW HAS Occupy Longview supported with Local 21 up to this point?

THE PREVIOUS December 12 West Coast Port Shutdown action was in direct support of the ILWU. OLV as a group supports all unions and working-class people in general. As it states on the window of the ILWU hall, "An injury to one is an injury to all." We share that philosophy.

The biggest benefit that we, OLV, have received from the ILWU is education and representation in the organized labo community. We have had rank-and-file members attend various meetings to inform us of the EGT conflict--how it started, the stages it has gone through and the current state of affairs. ILWU members have helped OLV develop the relationship that we have with organized labor.

The ILWU has the ability to represent our intentions when dealing with other unions directly or through the labor council. They are our direct voice with these other groups and are instrumental in getting our message to them.

HOW IS Local 21 perceived in Longview outside the Occupy movement? Is there broad support for its struggle?

IN MY experience, the average working person views the ILWU with respect. I and others admire the union's determination and use of a wide array of tactics to fight the corporate power of EGT.

That being said, I also have to acknowledge the influence-peddling that EGT has engaged in. It has donated money to local and various "charitable" organizations. EGT has donated large sums of money to our fire and police departments. It is common knowledge that its purpose for participating in local gatherings, etc., is to improve its public image, and at the same time spread a negative public image of the ILWU.

EGT's influence is obvious in the unbalanced coverage of events via local media, such as the Longview Daily News. The members of OLV are trying to change that.

HOW CAN different Occupy movements help to support this call? What kind of specific things--medical, legal, food, money--will help make this a success?

WE CAN use all of the above. The most important is bodies. We need as many loud voices and warm bodies as humanly possible to gather--the bigger the crowd, the stronger the message will come across.

Our government fears nothing more than an informed, determined electorate. At the present, our voices are smothered in corporate cash. I would love to match every corporate dollar of influence with 10 pissed-off 99 percenters. We absolutely need money, no question. Medical teams are imperative, legal observers are equally important.

We need to spread the word to all of our families, friends and co-workers, through any means necessary. Make calls, send emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, write letters to the local news papers, go to local union halls--just reach out to everyone. This action could very well be the turning point in the labor movement as a whole. We can't fail!

WHAT WOULD a victory for Local 21 mean to the people of Longview?

MY VIEW of an ILWU victory is that the people of Longview come together to conquer corporate corruption.

From the beginning, the people of Longview were lied to and deceived. EGT made promises to the community of being a "good corporate citizen," and what we got in return were lies, the buying of political influence, jobs stolen from our neighbors and our tax dollars unnecessarily distributed to the very company that was behind the corruption.

I honestly believe this could be the end or the new beginning of a revived labor movement locally and across the country. We strongly feel that if EGT successfully loads this first incoming ship with grain, and it leaves the port without the ILWU workers on those docks, EGT can claim victory. The ILWU and the rest of the working-class 99 percenters will have been defeated by another transnational corporate giant.

We simply cannot accept that outcome. If we are successful in working together, and the ILWU emerges victorious, this can be seen as a new partnership.

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