Shipping Companies File Charges over ILWU May Day Antiwar Strike

By Greg Dropkin

U.S. West Coast dockers who struck against the war on May 1, 2008 now face a legal threat from their employers. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has asked the National Labor Relations Board to file charges against the union. The employers’ move, initiated in late May, comes in the midst of ongoing contract talks.

The threat was revealed to several hundred trade unionists at the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) annual conference in London on Saturday. Four delegates from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)—Samantha Levens, from the Inland Boatmen’s Union, Marine Division of the ILWU (IBU), Robert Irminger (IBU), Anthony Leviege (ILWU Local 10) and Jack Heyman (ILWU Local 10)—were greeted with a standing ovation as they entered the hall. In workshops and informal discussion, they explained how their historic strike had been organized.

The NSSN is the first non-party inter-union coordination of rank and file trade unionists in Britain for many years. Initiated by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), it now involves members spread across most major unions in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Platform speakers on Saturday included the RMT General Secretary Bob Crow, Prison Officers Association (POA) General Secretary Brian Caton, and Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) President Janice Goodrich. Interest in the ILWU story was intense. Jack Heyman told the final plenary that imperialist wars abroad meant repression at home, and ending the war would benefit all workers.

The strike had its origins in the Labor Conference to Stop the War, held in San Francisco last October and to which the RMT sent six delegates. The conference called on individual unions to establish policy in favor of industrial action against the war. In February, the ILWU Longshore Caucus debated a resolution from Local 10. Vietnam veterans spoke in that debate, and swung the vote to overwhelming support for workers’ action to stop the war. While the original motion called for a 24-hour stoppage, the union opted for eight hours and then tried to use the normal facility of a monthly stop-work meeting. However, the employers refused to grant this facility and the stoppage went ahead without their permission.

First ever U.S. strike against war

The longshore action on International Workers Day was the first ever U.S. strike against war, closed all 29 West Coast ports and inspired a solidarity stoppage in the Iraqi Port of Basra. The PMA claims it constituted an “unlawful secondary boycott.”

The legal threat may be a ploy in contract talks. The current agreement expired today (1st July). During previous negotiations in 2002, the then Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield warned the union that industrial action would constitute a threat to national security, and threatened to bring troops to occupy the docks in the event of a strike over the contract.

In their submission to the NLRB filed on May 27, the PMA declared:

“On or about February 8, 2008, and at all times thereafter, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has engaged in the planning, coordination and publication of a work stoppage scheduled to occur on or about May 1, 2008 at ports throughout the West Coast. On May 1, 2008, the threatened work stoppage occurred and caused the closure of virtually every major port in California, Oregon and Washington. The ILWU did not have a dispute with PMA, a multi-employer bargaining association, or any of PMAs approximately 70 member stevedoring, terminal and shipping companies, all of whom employ ILWU members. Rather, according to the Union’s public statements, the purpose for the work stoppage was to protest the United States Government and its current military policy, specifically regarding the war in Iraq.

“The ILWUs actions in connection with the May 1, 2008 work stoppage constituted an unlawful secondary boycott in violation of the Section 8 (b) (4) (B) of the Act. The ILWU induced and encouraged its members to refuse to perform their jobs and threatened and restrained PMA and its member companies with the work stoppage. In doing so, the ILWU prevented PMA and its member companies from doing business and dealing with other employers and persons, as well as each other.

“Section 8 (b) (4) (B) bars labor actions aimed to force a boycott of other companies or to compel another employer to recognize a union.”

It is highly debatable whether the action constituted a “secondary boycott.” The ILWU stoppage came after the PMA refused a normal union request that the monthly facility for stop-work meetings be granted for the day shift on May 1.

The NLRB must now decide whether to proceed with charges against the union.

Send solidarity messages to:

Bob McEllrath, International President, ILWU, 1188 Franklin Street, San Francisco, California 94109. Tel: (+1 415) 775 0533 Fax: (+1 415) 775 1302. Email:

Send protests to:

PMA public relations consultant, Steve Getzug, at (310) 633-9444 or

PMA Headquarters

555 Market Street

San Francisco, CA 94105-2800

Phone: (415) 576-3200 Main FAX: (415) 348-8392

and to

NLRB San Francisco

901 Market Street, Suite 400

San Francisco, CA 94103-1735

Regional Director: Joseph P. Norelli Hours of Operation: 8:30 am—5:00 pm (PST)

TEL: 415-356-5130 FAX: 415-356-5156

or use the email form for the NLRB information office:, January 7, 2008