Protests shut down West Coast ports

May 1, 2008 7:07:02 PM PDT
The shipping companies say the longshoremen's participation in today's protests may have been less about the war, and more about contract talks, now underway.

Longshoremen from Seattle to San Diego walked off their jobs today or didn't show up, shutting up 29 ports on the West Coast.

The Port of Oakland was quiet on Thursday. Streets normally clogged with big-rigs were empty, there were no containers on the trains.

In Seattle, longshoremen demonstrated at the port and joined students for a march and rally.

The Pacific Maritime Association says 6,000 longshoremen should have been at work on Thursday at ports up and down the West Coast.

Instead they were on strike, to protest the Iraq war.

Nearly 30 cargo ships sat idle. One of those was at Oakland. The port says normally three to five ships come in, but today there was only one scheduled.

"I think there was quite a bit of advance notice in terms of the possibility that this could happen, so our customers were aware that planned activities today could disrupt their business," said Marilyn Sandifur from the Port of Oakland.

On Tuesday, an arbitrator ordered the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, ILWU, to come to work on Wednesday as usual.

The companies went to a federal judge in Oakland in an attempt to get an injunction to enforce the arbitrator's order. The judge declined to get involved in the matter.

Kevin Elliot is spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association. It represents the shippers who employ the union workers.

"The fact is it's an illegal strike. The contract does not permit this kind of job action," said Elliot.

"It's one of the ways that working people can really make a difference, with being able to withhold our labor," said ILWU mechanic Marcus Holder.

Elliot thinks the strike is not really about the Iraq war, but about current contract negotiations.

"Clearly some conversations are going to have to happen with the union to figure out how to move past this," said Elliot.

Truckers who were not union members were unaware of the strike. They say they will now be behind schedule by a day.

On Thursday morning, there was a brief demonstration by an anti-war group who tried to block rail workers from going to their jobs.

The work stoppage appears to be done. One longshoreman went back to work on Thursday afternoon. When asked to calculate the cost of Thursday's work stoppage, the Pacific Maritime Association doesn't know the cost, but any impact is too much in today's fragile economy.


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