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May Day: ILWU to Shut Down All West Coast Ports to Protest War - Union to Lead March & Rally in S. F.

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May Day: Longshore workers will shut down West Coast ports to stop the war by: Jonathan Nack Wednesday, 23 April 2008 S.F. Bay View

Oakland – An unprecedented job action scheduled for May 1 could shake the West and reverberate across the country. Longshore workers will shut down every port on the West Coast for the day shift in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Never before in U.S. history has any union stopped work over a war.

The decision to down tools for eight hours was made by the longshore division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The union has also issued a nationwide call to action for other unions and workers to take anti-war actions on May 1. They call for the day to be a "no peace, no work" holiday.

A march in San Francisco will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Longshore Union Hall at Mason and Beach streets. The rally will be at Justin Herman Plaza at noon. Speakers will include Cynthia McKinney, Danny Glover and Cindy Sheehan.

The ILWU, particularly Local 10 of the Bay Area, has historically led on social issues. In 1978, they refused to load bombs bound for Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile; in 1984, they refused to move cargo to protest against Apartheid in South Africa; and in 2001, they closed Pacific ports to protest the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. This will be the first time, however, that they've closed the ports to protest war.

In an editorial published by The San Francisco Chronicle, Jack Heyman, an Executive Board member of ILWU Local 10, wrote that at the meeting of the union's Coast Caucus, "the union's Vietnam veterans turned the tide of opinion in favor of the anti-war resolution. The motion called it an imperial action for oil in which the lives of working-class youth and Iraqi civilians were being wasted."

The decision to take action on May 1 was deliberate. "In 2004, Local 10 launched the Million Worker Movement, and one of the things that came out of that was the need to reclaim May Day," according to Clarence Thomas, another Executive Board member of ILWU Local 10. "May Day is celebrated throughout the world on May 1, but it grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour day in America. It's no accident that we picked May Day to stop work at the ports," explained Thomas.

The Port Workers Organizing Committee, which is organizing a march and rally in San Francisco in conjunction with the ILWU's job action, has incorporated support for immigrant rights into their themes. A number of immigrant rights activists are involved in the organizing and the day's events are scheduled so as not to conflict with immigrant rights marches and rallies which will be held later in the day in both San Francisco and Oakland.

"We believe labor should be united with the immigrant rights movement," said Jessica Sanchez of the Coalition for Unconditional Amnesty and International Workers. "We want to end the wars at home and abroad. We think globalization is the reason why there are so many undocumented workers. Undocumented workers are among the most exploited, and amnesty for them is in the interests of the U.S. working class," concluded Sanchez.

The response by other unions to the call to action has been modest. Letter carriers in San Francisco and Greensboro, N. C., as well as postal workers in San Francisco and New York City will observe two minutes of silence per shift on May 1. City College teachers in New York City decided to organize a campus event. Teachers in Oakland also agreed to mark the day.

The call to action has been endorsed by the Vermont AFL-CIO and by Green Party Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney. Both the San Francisco and Alameda County Central Labor Councils AFL-CIO have also endorsed.

"Every step and action we can take, whether strategic or not, helps to further the awareness needed to stop racism and end the incursion in Iraq," said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Central Labor Council.

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Jonathan Nack has been a journalist and activist since 1984. He resides in Oakland, California.
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