Striking clerical workers carry pickets outside the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. (David McNew / Getty Images / November 30, 2012)
To our fellow workers,
We understand that this Wednesday, December 5, you will be voting on a contract for your labor at the Port of Oakland. We do not know the details of this contract, and only you can decide if what they offer is worth your labor at this point in time. However, as people who have and will continue to fight alongside you, we would like to respectfully ask that you consider some points before you cast your ballot.
The entirety of this letter is to argue that you are in a position of great power in this situation that is unparalleled in recent history.
The strike action taken at the Port of Oakland on Tuesday, November 20 was powerful. The Port Commission was undoubtedly shaken by your willingness to withhold your labor, the fierce support of your coworkers on the ports, and the larger community. The fact that they wanted to revisit negotiations after nearly a year shows that they do not want this type of tactic to continue or to escalate. This is still the most powerful weapon that an organized workforce has. We were glad to help organize and carry through two shut downs at the Port of Oakland last year. This collaboration and solidarity is quite obviously a threat to those who profit from the work that we do.
The nearly monumental battle of Longview, WA and the port shutdowns waged by the Occupy movement have clearly shifted the dynamic between workers and their employers. There have been unprecedented actions taken by workers nationwide. Even Walmart is facing uprisings of workers, despite their tireless preparation and dedication to quashing any organizing efforts before those efforts even start. Workers in Chicago occupied their workplace and won an opportunity to form a cooperative of the same company that threatened to close and leave them jobless. Food workers at the Oakland airport are fighting for their right to organize and gain a wage which is legally obligated to them. Pleasanton’s Castlewood Country Club, ended a years-long lockout and are bending to the power of the workers. There was success in getting people back to their jobs at Pacific Steel in Berkeley. Port truck drivers in Seattle staged wildcat strikes in a bold organizing push. You don’t have to look too hard to find workers standing up and bosses backing down (at least as much as they need to quiet workers’ unrest).
LA/Long Beach, the largest Ports on the west coast, are currently being held at standstill by striking clerical workers with the support of their coworkers on the ports. Northewestern Longshore workers, joined by a host of organizers and activists, are poised to strike over the grain handling contract. These particular situations make the Port of Oakland even more vulnerable to your efforts and needs. Ships intended for ports in turmoil will be rerouted to other ports on the same coast. As you can see, there are not many options left on our coast. Those who profit most from your work are facing a serious problem if the Port of LA/Longbeach and the Port of Oakland are brought to a halt at the same time. If the ports in the Pacific Northwest were also blocked, picketed, or slowed down, there would be a potentially catastrophic situation for the capital that feeds Wall Street on the Waterfront.
As if this weren’t enough, the Port Commission has had no success in veiling the corruption that is at play with money made possible by your labor and rightly belonging to the community that harbors this industry. While port officials are out philandering and hemorrhaging money generated from our port, they are closing our children’s schools, cutting social programs and waging an all out attack on funding for our communities. This is one of the more reprehensible moments of Oakland’s social elite’s flaunting their power and greed on the backs of and at the expense of the rest of us.
We hope that you will feel, as we do, that the Port Commission is in no position to be offering anything less than what your labor is worth. You are, in fact, in the position to organize for wage increases, better conditions, benefits, etc. and you should: we all would. Should you be inclined, you are also in a position to consider ways in which you could more adequately control your workplace, work environment, and what happens with the many, many millions of dollars that your labor generates. There are masses– many more than have come thus far– ready to stand with you should you push on. We know that your fight is our fight. Do not be undersold by your union leadership, who for various reasons can be overly focused on the task of reaching a settlement. This day belongs to you, the workers: please consider the possibilities afforded by your current leverage. Accept no concessions or meager gains. Fight for a life you want to live.
Some folks who have organized with port workers, helped shut down the ports three times, stood shoulder to shoulder with you on November 20, and will stand with you again