‘No Peace No Work’ May Day Report

By The Editors

“No peace, no work!” was the slogan printed on the buttons distributed to rank-and-file longshoremen and their supporters marching against the war on Iraq and Afghanistan on May 1. And that’s exactly what happened. All West Coast U.S. ports were shutdown tight for eight hours May 1st to protest the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “Operations in Oakland and other West Coast ports ground to a halt Thursday after ILWU workers stayed off the job...and brought cargo operations to a virtual standstill.”

The mobilization for a “No Peace, No Work Holiday” was the result of a resolution passed by the Coast Caucus of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (the rank-and-file decision-making body of the international union) on February 8 this year. The resolution was submitted by San Francisco ILWU local 10. It called for an immediate end to the U.S. wars against Iraq and Afghanistan through the withdrawal of U.S. forces (see page 15, Socialist Viewpoint, March-April, 2008).

Powerful forces tried to stop the action. The bosses, operating through the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), opposed and tried to stop the work action, even getting an arbitrator to try to order the workers to work on May 1. The top union officers tried to water down the words of the action, changing the content from “immediate withdrawal” of U.S. forces to the “safe” withdrawal of forces (a formulation more in line with the Democratic Party officeholders who speak against the war but who vote to continue funding it on the phony grounds of “supporting the troops”). And although this was an unprecedented action by American workers resisting the U.S. military crusade in the Middle East with a work stoppage, the bosses’ media mouthpieces almost completely blocked it out of the news media, even on the West Coast.

But it happened anyway. The ILWU showed the working class of the United States and the world the way forward, reviving the traditions of a labor movement that acts in defense of the working class, and isn’t afraid to show the real power workers have. If longshore workers don’t load the ships, the war materiel won’t be transported. Without war materiel, the U.S. cannot wage war. If the factories that make the weapons and ammunition, the tanks and ATVs, stopped production, the war could not be prosecuted. And no issue is more central to the interests of the working class than the issue of war.

May 1 showed the potential and the power of the working class to act in its own interests. The war could not be carried out if U.S. workers acted collectively at the point of production to stop it. That is the shining example set by the ILWU to the working class. The action showed that the interests of workers in the U.S. are the same as the interests of workers in the very countries being attacked by U.S. imperialism.

Longshoreman crane operator, Jack Heyman, one of authors and main leaders of the May 1st work stoppage, responded to attacks on the action on the internet:

“[E]ver since the 2003 ILWU Convention here in San Francisco, our union has been opposed to the war and for the immediate withdrawal of troops. It was a resolution submitted by my local, Local 10, and passed after lengthy and democratic debate. This May Day antiwar action also passed the Caucus after a full and democratic debate with only a few voting against. It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s consistent with ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles. It just so happens that the majority of people in this country overwhelmingly oppose the war. The Caucus resolution pointed out that both Democrat and Republican politicians continue to fund this war despite popular opinion, and we have a unique opportunity to make a powerful antiwar statement that reflects the will of the majority not only of ILWU members but of working people in this country.

“The resolution calls for bringing the troops out of the Middle East and back to the U.S. It’s interesting to note that French dockworkers also went on strike to get French troops out of the Vietnam War in the ‘50s.”

In response to an attack on the action as one favoring immigrants’ rights, Heyman said, “As far as ‘illegal aliens’ the founder of our union was one. Harry Bridges, a seaman at the time, jumped ship in New Orleans. ILWU defends immigrant workers’ rights, a position we’ve consistently adopted at ILWU Conventions. Last May Day the Caucus was adjourned so delegates could participate in an immigrant workers’ rights rally in front of San Francisco’s City Hall.... As far as May Day, it’s a workers’ holiday that was started in Chicago in the struggle for the 8-hour day. The labor movement in this country needs [to] know its proud history and reclaim its holiday.”

The ILWU’s May Day action had important support from Iraqi dockworkers, U.S. postal workers, and endorsements from unionists in Britain, New Zealand, Canada and other countries. The San Francisco Labor Council passed a motion on March 24th in solidarity with the action, encouraging “other unions to follow ILWU’s call for a ‘No Peace-No Work Holiday’ or other labor actions on May Day, to express their opposition to the U.S. wars and occupations in the Middle East.”

The editors of Socialist Viewpoint applaud the ILWU workers for leading the way forward in building an antiwar movement that can really end the war. In this issue we are printing a transcript of an interview by Amy Goodman, of the Democracy Now! Radio program with ILWU rank and file leader, Jack Heyman as well as two letters from the Port Workers Union of Iraq to the ILWU and to “workers and all peace-loving people of the world,” and the S.F. Labor Council resolution.