Oakland, 1 May 2015—Workers organized by International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 voted two weeks ago to shut down the Port of Oakland on 1 May in protest of the recent wave of racist police killings of black and brown people across America. This bold reassertion of May Day as a celebration of workers’ struggle and solidarity is a direct response to the growing list of widely-publicized murders: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott – as well as countless lesser-known victims of racist cop terror in “the land of the free.” The timeliness of this labor action was sharply illustrated in the week leading up to May Day as Baltimore erupted in fury and flames in response to the brutal killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody.
ILWU Local 10’s action is a very important initiative. While shutting down the Port of Oakland for a day will not solve the systemic problem, it points the way forward through the intervention of organized labor in defense of the oppressed. An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
The May Day 2015 port shutdown is the latest in a long series of waterfront actions, including the August and September 2014 blockades of Israeli ZIM Lines ships in the Port of Oakland in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian masses; the 23 October 2010 shutdown of Bay Area ports to demand justice for Oscar Grant; the 20 June 2010 labor/community picket against the Zim Shenzhen; the May Day 2008 West Coast port shutdown protesting the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the 24 April 1999 West Coast port shutdown in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and the historic 1984 11-day strike against South African Apartheid cargo (initiated by IBT supporter Howard Keylor).
Local 10’s work stoppage comes at a time when we are witnessing what may turn out to be a revival of combativeness in the U.S. working class, spearheaded by a campaign by fast-food and other precarious workers – many of them women and people of color – demanding a $15 minimum wage. It also comes in the context of increased attacks on the ILWU by the bosses and the concessionary bargaining of the union leadership. While the rank and file of the unions and unorganized workers are clearly willing to fight, the conservative labor bureaucracy pursues a strategy of narrow business unionism, at best seeking a few meager improvements in working conditions and wages.
The political strategy of the union leaders is to pour millions of dollars of membership dues into the coffers of “friendly” Democratic politicians. In the 2016 “race for the White House,” rightwing hawk Hillary Clinton appears to have locked up the job of Wall Street’s Democratic Party challenger to its Republican twin. In order to advance their historic interests, as well as win real gains – whether higher wages, immigrants’ rights, combating racist police attacks or preventing the launch of another imperialist war – working poeole need their own independent political organization committed to fighting for the interests of the exploited against the Democratic and Republican machines.
A class-struggle leadership of the labor movement would seek to turn the campaign for a minimum wage of $15 an hour into an offensive to win substantial wage gains for all and to end unemployment with a 30-hour work week and a sliding scale of wages and hours. Instead of begging the Republicrats to create a “path to citizenship” for millions of undocumented workers, it would champion full and immediate citizenship rights for all immigrants. It would expand on the example provided by ILWU Local 10 and advance the perspective of labor action against police violence. And in place of utopian calls for a less aggressive U.S. foreign policy, it would – once again building on steps taken by the ILWU – organize workers’ actions against the imperialist war machine.
A political fight today to forge the nucleus of a class-struggle leadership can lead tomorrow to the creation of a mass revolutionary party committed to the perspective of a workers’ government. Only a workers’ revolution can consign the horrors of the capitalist system to the history books and open the road to a socialist future of peace, prosperity and equality.