Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is the Occupy Movement Running Amok?

On Monday, December 12, the Occupy movement plans to stop international commerce at eleven ports on the West Coast from Alaska to San Diego. In early November, the Occupy Oakland movement was very successful in shutting down the Port of Oakland. This was accomplished largely because the police allowed it and because it was tacitly supported by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (See prior letter of support for OWS from the ILWU at: ILWU Int’l President Bob McEllrath releases solidarity statement in support of ‘Occupy Wall Street.)

Buoyed, perhaps, by this relatively easy success, they are now taking on a much more ambitious action. Will it be as successful as last month's effort? I think not, and here is why I feel that way.
  1. This time around, there is no such approval. In fact, there is actual opposition. (See multiple sources below.) 
  2. While some longshoremen supported last month's action, others only tolerated it, and that level of support and tolerance is waning among their ranks. As a result, there is considerably greater opposition to this sort of action.

  3. There is a growing feeling that no self-appointed group should decide what actions are good or bad for another group without that group's consent, agreement, and support. The longshoremen feel that they should be deciding this for themselves, in unity with one another, and in full control of its own plans and actions. They have their union that speaks for them in matters of work, and the Occupy movement is not authorized to speak or demonstrate on their behalf. 
  4. The Occupy action in November accomplished essentially nothing of positive tangible value for the longshoremen, the community, or the 99% the movement purports to represent. On the other hand, it cost Port workers tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages and truck rentals and had little or no impact of any significance on the big-money interests the movement opposes.

  5. During the November action, the police took a back-seat position. They did not interfere with the shutdown. They were hardly visible, although they were there and available for traffic control as needed and in case there were any violent outbreaks. This time will probably be different. The various local governments and law enforcement agencies are not likely to just stand by and watch as they did on November 2. Many viewed that shutdown to be a one-time action. This second, highly-expanded action is now viewed as something that has to be controlled, contained, and confined. Shutting down one port is an inconvenience. Attempting to shut down eleven ports constitutes a threat to interstate and international commerce that these cities cannot be expected to tolerate.

  6. There are already indications that there could be violence. One organizer, Boots Riley, has been urging people on his Twitter feed to bring shields so they can "push through a police line.” To make such a recommendation in advance of the demonstration is inflammatory and promotes physical insurrection that can lead to violence. That is not my idea of a peaceful demonstration. It appears that they are inviting a non-peaceful, confrontational demonstration, or they wouldn't be making plans to push through police lines.

  7. Because the ports are involved in interstate and international commerce, and many of the ships that would be affected are from other countries, this could provoke action by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in addition to local police, police from other jurisdictions, county sheriff officers, and the Highway Patrol. Because three of these ports are among the largest in the country, and because of national and international implications, it could be just a short step to calling out the National Guard to preserve order. We don't need or want that.
Some of the strongest points against the action come from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here are some excerpts extracted from that article.

... unlike last time, when the area's major unions gave tacit or outright approval, many of them see Monday's action as disruptive and unnecessary.”

And some occupation activists are labeling it as too confrontational, with the protest's potential for violence detracting from Occupy's stated intention of narrowing the chasm between rich and poor.”

"'Support is one thing,' Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, wrote to his members last week. 'Outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process.'"

... unions represent more than 1,400 workers at the [Port of Oakland]. Other unions that have refused to endorse the shutdown, including the California Nurses Association, declined to comment - all apparently not wanting to antagonize protest organizers.”

However, some activists in the roughly 30 other Occupy organizations in the Bay Area have also concluded that a port blockade is too extreme. They say confronting police and blockading commerce is as outdated as they now regard the tent cities recently cleared by authorities.”

In fact, outside of major cities, some activists so strongly disagree with confrontational tactics that they now call themselves '99 Percenters' rather than 'Occupiers.'

"'The 99 percent is non-confrontational,' said Ellis Goldberg, a marketer who has organized Occupy protests in Dublin and San Ramon. 'You don't use a bat to get your point across, and this port action is a bat. It's going to hurt innocents - in this case, port workers and truckers.'"

These are just some of the items from that article Read it in its entirety at Opposition grows to Occupy's port shutdown plan.

Countdown to Occupy Protest Shutdown Attempt

The Occupy movement has yet to clearly define the goals it hopes to accomplish in shutting down the ports. Nor has the movement come to grips with the impact of its actions on the many longshoremen, truck drivers, rail yard employees and other blue-collar workers in the harbor, all of whom are members in good standing of the 99 percent. 
"It does not serve the goals of the movement to shut down the Port of Oakland," said Port Commission President Pamela Calloway.. On Nov. 2, demonstrators were able to bring the port to a standstill as part of their Day of Action. Calloway says they are still adding up the cost from that action. "It's in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that was for the event on Nov. 2," Calloway said. "We cannot afford to be shut down again."

When the port was shut down Nov 2., Calloway said she was at a trade conference in Africa and had to answer plenty of questions to potential international customers. "People are concerned, is Oakland a safe place to be?" said Calloway. "We worked really hard with our customers, with our business partners, to make sure that they understand that we are open for business, we are a good place to do business."

The ILWU issued a strongly-worded statement following the Occupy movement's announcement of their plans. "It does not serve the goals of the movement to shut down the Port of Oakland," said Port Commission President Pamela Calloway. "The port needs to be open, and people need to be working here."

The second planned shutdown does not have the support of the Longshore Workers Union (ILWU). The ILWU issued a strongly-worded statement following the Occupy movement's announcement of their plans. "The ILWU...and Local 21 are not coordinating, independently or in conjunction with, any self-proclaimed organization or group to shut down any port or terminal," the letter read.

If I wanted to shut down the port, I could do it without Occupy. I don’t need ’em,” says Jeff Smith, president of ILWU’s Columbia River District Council. “This is a question for the Occupy movement: Why would I want to send my people home? Why would I take a job away from somebody?

I don’t get what they’re thinking. It’s my job to put people to work. I’ve got jobs for ’em, so I’m going to put ’em to work. And I’m going to take some of Wall Street’s money.”

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is not exactly known for backing away from a fight. But the feisty workers apparently draw the line at calls for strikes coming from out-of-state Occupy protesters. As hinted at last week to me by union sources, that call has now been rejected by the ILWU as a whole.
Robert McEllrath, ILWU President, put out this statement:
Only ILWU members or their elected representatives can authorize job actions on behalf of the union, and any decisions made by groups outside of the union’s democratic process do not hold water, regardless of the intent.”
In other words: Thanks for the suggestion, folks. Next time keep it to yourself

ILWU won’t join Occupy Oakland’s attempts to shut down West Coast ports

Facing hefty fines for illegal picketing, union longshore leaders this week rejected a call from Occupy Oakland protesters to shut down West Coast ports Dec. 12 in support of the union's dispute with the owners of the new EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview.
A federal judge sided with the ILWU and sent the case to a labor arbitrator, who is expected to hear the case in December. In the meantime, the judge fined the ILWU about $315,000 for illegal picketing, including blocking incoming grain trains Sept. 7 and 21 and vandalism occurring during an early-morning raid on the terminal Sept. 8.

ILWU clarifies position regarding third-party protests at ports

In response to recent third-party announcements that community activists will attempt to shut down various West Coast marine terminals on December 12, 2011, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) sent a memo to its 15,000 longshore members and leaders emphasizing the union’s internal democratic process and stating its rejection of third-party calls for job actions that have not been sanctioned by its Officers or voted on by member representatives. The memo stated in part,
To be clear, the ILWU, the Coast Longshore Division, and Local 21 are not coordinating independently or in conjunction with any self-proclaimed organization or group to shut down any port or terminal, particularly as it relates to our dispute with EGT in Longview.”

In view of all this negative feedback, why would any organization persist in actions that are clearly unsolicited, unwanted, unwarranted, unwelcome, and unnecessary, and which are significantly harmful to those they purport to help? What gives them the moral right and prerogative to inflict this sort of action upon them? They will only do further damage to their cause and to the cause of the 99%.

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