Plugging the flow - Page 3

Occupy blocks ports spanning the West Coast
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About 1000 Occupy protestors marched to the Port of Oakland at 5:30 a.m., Dec. 12
PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS/FOG CITY JOURNAL

In response, OccupyOakland organizer Mike King said, "We never brought it to them, because it's not something they could endorse." Yet he added that they had sought to include the rank-and-file from the start.

"We have done far more outreach for Dec. 12," than in the days prior to the Nov. 2 port shutdown, which brought tens of thousands of activists to the street, King said. "Leading up to Nov. 2, we never expected half that many people would show up."

Occupiers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Vancouver, Anchorage, and other cities all signed up to participate, and the idea drew support from activist groups as far away as Japan who vowed to perform solidarity actions in their own communities.

Nevertheless, the international union president's statement prompted a flurry of mainstream news articles — along with some downright derisive columns — casting occupiers as out of sync with the very workers they claimed to stand with.

In Oakland, authorities of the targeted facility posed another obstacle. The Port of Oakland took out full-page ads in local daily newspapers and the New York Times urging the community to "Keep the Port Open." The ads borrowed the language of the movement by proclaiming that the port "employs the 99 percent." Port spokesperson Robert Bernardo emphasized this message in an interview with the Guardian. "When you shut down a port, you lose jobs," he said. "Local jobs."

Sue Piper, special assistant to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, noted prior to Dec. 12 that the mayor was working with police and port officials to ensure that the port remained open for business. On the morning of the port blockade, however, police stood down and did not prevent protesters from circling up in front of terminal entrances.

 

BIG FISH TO FRY

Lost in much of the mainstream coverage of the port blockade were Occupy Oakland's three main objectives. The protesters aimed to demonstrate solidarity with low-income port truckers laboring in service of the powerful SSA Marine; stand with ILWU Local 21 members in their face-off against EGT; and deliver a show of resistance against coordinated police raids of Occupy encampments nationwide.

In October, 26 Los Angeles truckers working for a port company called Toll Group were fired after wearing Teamsters truckers' union jerseys to their shifts to demonstrate their wish to unionize. Because they're classified as independent contractors instead of employees, it's illegal for the truckers to join unions. They're paid per shipment rather than per hour, which translates to hours of unpaid labor spent in the queue, and must cover their own job-related costs.

Occupy Los Angeles caught wind of the incident and began to talk about doing an action in solidarity with the truckers.

"The date of Dec. 12 was originally suggested by people in Los Angeles," explained Dave Welsh, a delegate of the San Francisco Labor Council and secretary of the Committee to Defend the ILWU. "It's also Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day, a Mexican holiday. Since many truckers of the Port of LA are Mexican, they picked that date. One focus [of the blockade] is support for truckers and their demand for better wages, working conditions, etc."

On the day of the blockade, an open letter from port truckers was published on the website of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, an advocacy group. "We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people," the message read. "Thank you '99 Percenters' for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible."

The second major target of the blockade was EGT, which constructed a new grain terminal on Port of Longview property at the edge of the Columbia River in southern Washington, about an hour's drive from Portland, Ore.