The Coming Rift between OWS and the Unions: Longshoremen Reject Port Blockade
December 9, 2011 - 12:36 pm
Monday December 12 is Armageddon Day for the Occupy movement on the West Coast. Or at least it was supposed to be Armageddon Day until recent events have somewhat dampened prognostications. Well over a month ago, when the whole OWS thing was full of piss and vinegar, Occupy Oakland convinced all the other Occupations from San Diego up to Vancouver to stage a total blockade of all West Coast ports on December 12, bringing (it was hoped) the capitalist system to a sudden crashing halt.
While the plan is still afoot, the intervening weeks changed the political landscape so much that now I’m pretty sure many of the Occupiers wish they hadn’t made such grandiose pronouncements. On the day the plans were made for the overly ambitious port blockage, OWS felt (in its delusional little bubble, at least) that it was on the upswing, that America was joining them, that the revolution had arrived. Now? Not so much. My, what a few short weeks can wreak.
The first and most visible setback was that the Occupation has ceased being an actual “occupation.” In practically every city participating in the blockade, the leftist mayors and liberal municipal governments have evicted the Occupiers from their encampments, leaving the movement with no physical locus, no rallying point, no raison d’être; since they lack specific demands or a coherent worldview, the physical fact of their bodily agglomeration was their only distinguishing characteristic. Now: Oakland? Evicted. San Francisco? Evicted. Los Angeles? Evicted. Portland? Evicted. Seattle? Soon, very soon.
The second, possibly more devastating setback, was when the media stopped putting Occupy news on the front page, while sympathetic academics unwittingly accelerated the demise of the OWS movement by announcing that it had “already won” because it had “changed the terms of the national discourse,” which is what leftists always say whenever one of their schemes goes belly up.
And now this, the final nail in the coffin:
Remember last month’s several-hour shutdown of the Port of Oakland – that “historic and effective action” that “lives in the hearts of people across Oakland and around the country,” according to Occupy Oakland?
Well, on Monday, there’s to be an encore, not just in Oakland, but up and down the West Coast, “in solidarity with longshoremen, port workers and truckers in their struggle against the 1 percent,” says the group.
“We will blockade all of the West Coast Ports on Dec. 12. Together we are unstoppable! Strike while the iron is hot!” it declared in a call to arms.
Trouble is, the folks they purport to be in solidarity with don’t seem hot on the idea to “effectively shutdown the hubs of commerce” at all.
“Any actions organized by outside groups, including the proposed Dec. 12 shutdown of various terminals on the West Coast, have not been vetted by our union’s democratically led process,” the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said. “Any decisions made by groups outside of the union’s democratic process do not hold water, regardless of the intent.”
The Occupy movements that make a fetish of applying direct democracy and near absolute consensus to its own decision making might want to take note of that.
Richard Mead, president of Local 10, which represents dockworkers at the Port of Oakland, said, “Our position is in the international’s press release. We’re not facilitating (Occupy Oakland’s strike call) in any way. We just want that clear.”
Jeff Smith, president of ILWU Local 8 in Portland, Ore., went further, telling the Portland Tribune his union won’t honor picket lines. “This is a third-party strike. We have to go to work,” he said.
As you may remember, the Occupy Wall Street protests were pitiably small at first, and only reached the tipping point of newsworthiness when tens of thousands of union members joined the street marches after the union leadership decided to co-opt the Occupiers’ platform for their own purposes. Even the Longshoremen themselves supported Occupy Oakland’s earlier strike calls.
But that was then. Now, the Longshoremen are retreating from their dalliance with Total Revolution, perhaps realizing that the end of capitalism means no more jobs for port workers. And since the ILWU exists to make port jobs as permanent and as high-paying as possible, it may have dawned on them that the Occupy folks are their enemies, not their allies.
Should physical confrontations erupt on Monday between the pallid noodle-armed Occupunks and the muscle-bound Longshoremen, my money is on the Longshoremen, who after all have a long history of rough-and-tumble violence when it comes to strikes. Ironically, however, in the old days, the union members were the strikers, beating up on the scabs. Now that the roles are reversed, with the Longshoremen for the first time in their history battling against the wildcat strikers, next Monday may prove entertaining after all.
Whether December 12 turns out to be an Epic Fizzle for the Occupiers or blossoms into an internecine Battle Royale on the left, it’s a win-win situation for the rest of us.