from 27 october 2002
blue vol II, #55
Opinion Archive

A Bloody War Coming At Home And Abroad,
The ILUW, The War And Labor

by Steve Zeltzer

The declaration of war handed to Bush by this subservient and servile Congress will open up a whole new chapter in US and world history. The Bush gang has plans in mind a war not only in Iraq but in the US. We should remember early on, that Bush was questioned about the need to rely on Congress. His response was that it would be easier to "have a dictatorship" but this was not a dictatorship. We now in fact have the beginning of dictatorial rule.

Under the US constitution, a declaration of war allows the US government to legally eliminate the right to strike, arrest those it thinks will harm the war effort and to institute the most repressive laws available including the elimination of habeas corpus. It was under war the Roosevelt rounded up over 100,000 Japanese Americans and allowed their property to be looted. The planned occupation of Iraq will also require the institution of the draft and now that the Congress has voted for war, Bush without further discussion can immediately reintroduce the draft. In fact, only one Congress person even raised this issue the issue of the draft, and that was Ron Paul, a former Libertarian and now Republican who voted against the war.

The imposition of the draft, will throw millions of additional young people and their families into battle against this criminal war adventure. This war, has already split the country and as it intensifies the massive opposition to the Vietnam war will seem like small potatoes. Consider that during the Vietnam war, US capitalism was providing jobs and better wages to millions of workers. It was a result of this, that the trade union bureaucracy was able to prevent massive political opposition to the war from within the labor movement. Today, the government must cut wages, retirement benefits, social services and healthcare while it wages war not only in the Middle East but around the world from the Philippines to Columbia.

Acquiescence by Silence

What was most critical about this whole battle in Congress was the total silence by the entire leadership of the AFL-CIO. Not one national union including the ILWU which finds itself at the center of attack by the Bush administration, publicly opposed the act of war by the US Congress. The ILWU International in fact thought that it could blunt the use of the "terrorism" charges be publicly declaring that it would not hold up any military cargo. This naive and useless effort of course had no effect on Bush when he instituted the Taft-Hartley arguing in part that it was disrupting the transportation of military goods.

It was also reported that the war would cost $200 billion and that it would obviously mean major cuts in education, health, human services, retirement and other social spending. It again, was extremely significant that the major public workerıs unions such as AFSCME, SEIU, AFT and AFGE which represent millions of public workers were totally silent. When one realizes that their members will bear the economic brunt of this war, their silence was ominous...

This is also not new for this bureaucracy. During Clintonıs so called "Welfare Reform" fraud, the AFSCME and SEIU national leadership led no campaign to stop this anti-labor legislation despite the fact that it would be their members that would be hit with privatization and elimination under the bill. Their silence in fact helped Clinton pass this anti-labor legislation which was used to displace unionized paid workers with welfare workers at welfare wages.

Coming Home To Roost On The War

The silence of the US trade unions on the war and the debate in Congress is now coming home to roost.

Following the vote in Congress, the Wall Street Journal of 10/11/02 reported that using the new war powers, the Bush government was not only planning to use the Taft-Hartley against the ILWU, but possibly against many unions that might take strike action.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal of October 11, 2002 titled Taft-Hartley Could Bloody Labor and Bush the real meaning of the "War At Home" comes into focus.

"By identifying the war on terrorism as one of its justifications for securing an injunction under Taft-Hartley against labor or management disruptions, the White House could be laying the basis for much broader interventions.

"For instance, the United Auto Workers' contract with the Big Three auto makers expire next fall, and both sides are gearing up for intense negotiations... Taft-Hartley has never been used against the auto unions, and most legal experts-and even the White House-say it would be difficult to make a case that shutting down General Motors Corp.'s assembly line threatens the nation's "health and safety," since there are so many alternative sources for the same materials. But Mr. Rehmus, using history and the behavior of former White Houses as his guide, predicts that "if we do get into a war in Iraq and companies like General Motors are supplying, directly or indirectly, essential war commodities, they would not hesitate to act."

As many know, the Wall Street Journal has been the bell weather of where this White House cabal is going and now we are getting an clearer look at their plans for labor.

Where was AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Secretary Treasurers Richard Trumka and the rest of the AFL-CIO leadership when this was being discussed and debated in Congress? Not one word. Yet in the closing paragraph we now discover that Trumka is concerned that the bosses will no longer want to play ball.

Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the umbrella labor organization, fears Mr. Bush's decision to revive Taft-Hartley will encourage other employers to lobby the administration to help quell strike.

"If all employers know the administration will rush in with Taft-Hartley to give them what they want, they'll plot and scheme together, theyıll figure out what to do, and then the [collective bargaining] process will be gutted," Mr. Trumka said. "The employer wonıt come and bargain in good faith, because there is no incentive to."

Of course what should be clear to all is that Bush and the bosses are laying down the gauntlet to organized or "disorganized" labor. The failure of Trumka and his associates to have anything to say about this before and during the debate in Congress says volumes about how they are protecting the interests of US workers.

It also shows their fear of a mobilization of US workers. When millions of US worker start to march and mobilize, the ability to these corporate unionists to control the rank and file goes out the window. In fact, not only are they concerned about their being under undermined by Bush but they are up to their necks in the Global Crossing scandal. Many of the AFL-CIO leaders voted to allow insider trading at ULICO and some benefited personally from these financial shenanigans. The government now is preparing charges against UBC president McCarron and others for corruption and misuse of union funds.

Plan Of Action To Defend the ILWU and All Of Organized Labor

A clear plan of action is needed now to confront this new period if the ILWU and all other trade unionists are going to be defended.

A national emergency labor conference against the Taft-Hartley and Union Busting is being called initially by the ILWU Local 10 and the Portworkers Solidarity Committee . It will bring together trade unionists from throughout the US and internationally to begin a national and international campaign against union busting with a focus on the Taft-Hartley.

At the same time, a planned Northern California transportation workers rally is being planned to unite all transportation workers from rail, bus, sea and airlines. The Taft-Hartley is most directly aimed at transportation workers and they are the key to take direct action on the job when and if the Bush crew starts to arrest, jail and fine the ILUW members and union.

This must also be replicated around the country. In New York, 30,000 transit workers face a contract deadline on December 14, and the New York state anti-labor Taylor law like the Taft Hartley will be used to force the union to either take concessions or face the legal apparatus of the government. The historic budget deficits of state and city and counties throughout the United States cannot be put off anymore and again public workers will be confronted with wage cuts, layoffs and attacks on their benefits. These workers need to be united with the fight of the ILWU. A victory for the ILWU will allow other unions to go on the offensive.

The organized working class in the cities also have the power to shut them down and take up the challenge that this union busting government has laid at the foot of labor.

What Bush needs is another PATCO defeat. The defeat of the ILWU would be used as a hammer against the rest of the labor movement to bust unions and go on the offensive.

At the same time, a defeat for Bush by the ILWU and the rest of labor would put this government on the defensive everywhere and would strengthen the fight of workers in every industry from the airlines to public workers. There is no other choice and this is why Trumka is bemoaning the collapse of "collective bargaining". This is a war and a struggle for power and only those who are prepared for this struggle will survive. Victory will not come by back room deals and relying on the corporate controlled Democrats.

The ILWU along with the rest of the labor movement must now unite with the growing anti-war movement. Labor's natural allies are with the youth, students, communities and activists who are leading the fight against the war and of course the working class has the power to stop the war by direct working class action. The war of course, is also aimed at union busting abroad through imposition of the IMF and the World Bank policies. When these policies fail and the US controlled puppets can no longer implement them is is time for troops.

ILWU Local 10 has taken the fight against the war by participating in the anti-war rallies and clearly connecting the war against the union with the war against the people of Iraq and the Palestinians people is part and parcel of organizing the fightback.

These confrontations are obviously unavoidable and the key question for every working person is to prepare now for this upcoming battle.

- In Solidarity:

Steve Zeltzer


The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has approximately 42,000 members in over 60 local unions in the states of California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. An additional 3,500 members belong to the Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific, which constitutes the Union's Marine Division. Another 14,000 members belong to the autonomous ILWU Canada.

Send mail to with questions or comments about ILWU or this web site.

In the Public Interest
The Taft-Hartley Act
By Ralph Nader
July 18, 2002

This year marks the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, one of the great blows to American democracy.

The Act, which was drafted by employers, fundamentally infringed on workers' human rights. Legally, it impeded employees' right to join together in labor unions, it undermined the power of unions to represent workers' interests effectively, and it authorized an array of anti-union activities by employers.

Among its key provisions, Taft-Hartley:

  • Authorized states to enact so-called right-to-work laws. These laws undermine the ability to build effective unions by creating a free-rider problem -- workers can enjoy the benefits of union membership in a workplace without actually joining the union or paying union dues. Right-to-work laws increase employer leverage to resist unions by enabling them to benefit from free riders; and vastly decrease union membership, thus dramatically diminishing unions' bargaining power
  • Outlawed the closed shop, which required that persons join the union before being eligible for employment with the unionized employer. (Still permitted are provisions which require any member of a bargaining unit to pay a portion of dues to that union)
  • Defined "employee" for purposes of the Act as excluding supervisors and independent contractors. This diminished the pool of workers eligible to be unionized. The exclusion of supervisors from union organizing activity meant they would be used as management's "front line" in anti-organizing efforts
  • Permitted employers to petition for a union certification election, thus undermining the ability of workers and unions to control the timing of an election during the sensitive organizing stage, forcing an election before the union is ready
  • Required that election hearings on matters of dispute be held before a union recognition election, thus delaying the election. Delay generally benefits management, giving the employer time to coerce workers
  • Established the "right" of management to campaign against a union organizing drive, thereby scuttling the principle of employer neutrality
  • Prohibited secondary boycotts -- boycotts directed to encourage neutral employers to pressure the employer with which the union has a dispute. Secondary boycotts had been one of organized labor's most potent tools, for organizing, negotiating and dispute settlement

The political damage of Taft-Hartley was just as severe. In addition to starting an era of red-baiting with the American labor movement which led to harmful internal division (a now-invalidated provision of Taft-Hartley required union leaders to sign anti-communist affidavits), the Act sent a message to employers: It was OK to bust unions and deny workers their rights to collectively bargain.

In short, Taft-Hartley entrenched significant executive tyranny in the workplace, with ramifications that are more severe today than ever. Union membership is at historic 60-year lows, with only 10 percent of the private economy's workforce unionized. Employer violations of labor rights are routine, and illegal firings of union supporters in labor organizing drives are at epidemic levels.

It is past time for the repeal of Taft-Hartley. That would be one important step in restoring workers right to organize into unions, achieve a living wage in the Wal-Marts, McDonald's and other workplaces, and in revitalizing American democracy.

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