Vol. 77/No. 33 September 23, 2013
West Coast longshore union
disaffiliates from AFL-CIO
BY SETH GALINSKY
“It is with regret but resolve that we have come to the point where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) must cut formal ties with the AFL-CIO,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath announced in an Aug. 29 letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
In the letter McEllrath points out that unions affiliated to the AFL-CIO labor federation over the last several years have crossed ILWU picket lines when the longshore workers had been locked out by the shipping bosses, as well as used the courts to “sabotage our bargaining.”
In the 1950s during the McCarthyite witch hunt, the ILWU was kicked out of the Congress of Industrial Unions, which it had helped found. The ILWU did not join the merged AFL-CIO until 1988.
A “particularly outrageous raid” took place in 2011, McEllrath writes, when the union was locked in battle with EGT shipping company, which wanted to open the first ever non-ILWU-organized terminal on the West Coast in Longview, Wash.
The Operating Engineers Local 701 acted as replacement workers during ILWU Local 21’s eight-month-long fight against EGT’s lockout. The national AFL-CIO instructed the Oregon State Federation to withdraw support for the embattled ILWU workers, who nonetheless won a contract and forced the company to back down.
Crossing of ILWU picket lines and other actions against the longshore union by AFL-CIO affiliates have increased in recent years, McEllrath said.
McEllrath also said the AFL-CIO’s backing of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which imposes steep taxes on many union-won health insurance plans, as well its positions on immigration, labor law reform and international labor issues, were “a great disservice to the labor movement and all working people.”
“The immigration bill you recently asked us to support imposes extremely long waiting periods on the path to citizenship and favors workers with higher education and profitability to corporations, as opposed to the undocumented workers such as janitors and farmworkers,” McEllrath noted.
The longshore union “will continue to provide whatever aid and support we can for our fellow trade unionists and workers everywhere,” McEllrath wrote. “We are committed to working in solidarity with all unions and labor groups, including the Federation and its affiliates, for the advancement of workers, worker rights, and progressive issues everywhere.”
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