Occupy shuts down morning shift at Port of Oakland

Photo by Luke Thomas, Fog City Journal

Usually, when significant events related to the Occupy movement occur in the pre-dawn hours, it means an encampment has been raided. But this morning, Occupy protesters were the ones carrying out a strategic plan before the sun came up.

A main objective of today's Port of Oakland shutdown -- the second in two months initiated by Occupy Oakland -- was to strike back against the police raids that dismantled their camps.

Protesters led by Occupy Oakland effectively shut down the morning shift at the Port of Oakland today, Dec. 12, as part of a Coordinated West Coast Port Blockade that Occupy groups from San Diego to Anchorage have been planning since Nov. 18, when Occupy Oakland's General Assembly unanimously approved the call to action.

Several hundred activists met up at the West Oakland BART station at 5:30 a.m. and proceeded to march down Seventh Street to the sprawling shipping hub, where they formed picket lines outside terminal entrances to prevent workers from entering the gates for the 7 a.m. shift. Shortly after they began picketing, truckers waiting to load or unload cargo began turning around to exit port property.

There were several busloads of protesters in addition to those who traveled to the port on foot, as well as a bicycle contingent. While most protesters filed through the streets in an uncharacteristically quiet march that seemed muted due to a lack of sleep, a few displayed gusto with a sound system, shiny homemade flags, and flashy outfits. Some showed up toting a life-sized cut-out of Lt. John Pike, the University of California Davis officer who became notorious for dispersing teargas into student protesters' eyes, with the face cut out so people could pose for photos.

Police arrived on the scene clad in riot gear, but did not attempt to prevent protesters from circling up around the gate entrances and forming picket lines. They stood in formations in front of the gates weilding batons and teargas launchers, though protesters had no intention of entering the gates and only sought to block them. Alameda County Sheriff buses circled the area as well.

Around 7 a.m., when the morning shift would have typically started, two ILWU dockworkers (who declined to give their names) stood near the Hanjin Shipping gate at berths 55 and 56, surveying the picket line. Past the gate, a cargo vessel which had likely come from Japan was berthed and waiting to unload.

"Ain't nobody going to cross it," one of the men offered. The other gestured toward protesters and said, "These are Americans wanting American jobs." Asked how he felt about the picket, he responded, "We don't support it, because it's not in our contract -- but I do see some issues, like we're hurting, too." The ILWU members said longshoremen turned away because of the picket line wouldn't be paid for the day, because they're only registered as having reported to work if they're physically on the terminal. They also noted that there was a relatively light workload at Oakland terminals on this particular day.

The official objectives of the port blockade, aside from showing resistance against crackdowns on Occupy encampments, were to demonstrate Occupy's solidarity with longshore workers and port truckers. The International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 21, based in Longview, Wash., has been locked in a legal dispute with Export Grain Terminal (EGT) stemming from what workers characterize as union-busting practices.

Port truckers, particularly in Los Angeles, have been unable to unionize due to their employment classification as independent contractors, and protesters sought to highlight their struggle as well. Picketers held signs declaring solidarity with the ILWU and truckers against the one percent -- global shipping companies owned in part by agribusiness giant Bunge, Ltd. and Goldman Sachs, respectively, who profit from their labor.

Speaking into a megaphone, organizer Barucha Peller announced that occupiers in southern Washington had shut down the Port of Longview, according to a text message from ILWU Local 21. Union members wanted to thank the movement for the show of support.

By around 10 a.m., an independent arbitrator had ruled that the picket posed a health and safety risk to longshore workers, so the dockworkers were sent home, effectively halting port activity for the first part of the day. "I'm really impressed that so many people got up at five o'clock in the morning," Anthony Lavierge, a steward with ILWU, said into the megaphone. "It's officially shut down. The longhshore labor is officially going home." However, protesters planned to return to the port later on to prevent the start of an evening shift.

Following the announcement that workers had gone home for the day, protesters marched back to West Oakland BART station. A second march to the port is planned for 4 p.m., leaving from 14th and Broadway streets in downtown Oakland following a 3 p.m. rally. A third march to the port is scheduled to leave the West Oakland BART station at 5 p.m.