Submitted on Sun, 03/05/2006 - 9:20pm
Disclaimer - The following article is reposted here because it is an issue with some relevance to the IWW. The views of the author do not necessarily agree with those of the IWW and vice versa.
Jack Heyman - San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 2006.
At the start of the war in Iraq three years ago, several hundred demonstrators protested at the Port of Oakland. Oakland police officers opened fire on the protesters and longshoremen going to work with so-called "less-than-lethal" weapons, injuring dozens and arresting 25. Then-Police Chief Richard Word said the riot-gear clad police force was deployed at the behest of the maritime companies. The California Anti-Terrorism Information Center had warned police that "terrorists" could be in the demonstration.
A port safety and security plan for the San Francisco Bay, crafted primarily by the U.S. Coast Guard, didn't distinguish between terrorists, workers or anti-war protesters. The ACLU, the National Lawyers' Guild and even the U.N. Human Rights Commission condemned the action directed at people peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. Now the Oakland City Council, without acknowledging any wrongdoing, is reaching out-of-court settlements with the longshore union and the 59 injured plaintiffs who sued. The settlements in the case, known as ILWU Local 10 vs. City of Oakland, have already reached nearly $2 million. The Oakland Police Department is revising its crowd-control policies, but few believe that will change anything.
Today, "port security" is on the lips of every politician in the rush to bolster the war on terrorism. Both Democratic and Republican parties voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both voted for the "national security" measures, such as the Patriot Act, which President Bush deems necessary to carry out the wars abroad and at home. For dock workers, "port security" means intrusive background checks and cameras in rest areas. Will the next step be to ban port strikes, protests and public access to port parks?
Dock workers, who labor in one of the most dangerous industries, are angered when government officials target them as if they were terrorists. In 2002, then-Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge threatened to mobilize troops against longshore workers if there were a strike. Yet, when maritime employers shut down all U.S. West Coast ports by locking out longshoremen, no action was taken against the companies. The police shooting of longshore workers demonstrating against the war in the Port of Oakland only reinforced the dock workers' anger at being targeted as terrorists.
Despite all of the rhetoric, "port security" remains a pork-barrel issue, and not at all focused on the working people whose lives and livelihood are grounded in and around the ports. Ninety-five percent of the containers unloaded by dockworkers are not checked for hazardous contents, although the technology exists to scan for toxic, radioactive or explosive cargos.
The recent furor over the Dubai-government-owned DP World taking over management of six American ports offers a glimpse of a sideshow. President Bush, whose friends and family have been ensconced in Middle East oil deals, asserts that opposition to the sale will create anti-U.S. views. Yet it is Bush's foreign policy and the war in Iraq that have enflamed the Arab world. The ruling monarchy in Dubai has been so loyal to the United States that it offers its port as a military support base in the U.S. war against Iraq, but anti-Arab sentiment stirred up by the ports debate has questioned its reliability in running American terminals.
Today, most marine terminals in the United States are owned by foreign companies, while ownership and security of the ports in which they operate remains in government hands. The maritime trade has been international since before Columbus accidentally landed in America while seeking a shorter navigational route to the Spice Islands. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are based on global trade.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in seeking to exploit Bush's political bungling of the terminal operations sale and to look "strong" on port security, is proposing legislation that would require terminal operators to be American-owned. A retaliatory trade war launched by other countries could threaten many trade-based jobs and turn back the clock on world trade.
Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, too, who is running for state attorney general on his new "tough on crime" image, has echoed the call for "port security."
Yet, as mayor, his version of "port security" was supporting the police in shooting wooden dowels at longshoremen and anti-war protesters at the terminal gates as the war began.
Real port security means inspecting all containers offloaded and ending imperialist wars abroad that spawn terrorists, not stifling the free-speech rights of those who work in the ports.