Occupy protesters seek to shut West Coast ports

Posted Dec. 12, 2011, at 8:08 a.m.
In this Nov. 2, 2011, occupy Oakland protester Alfredo Coronado waves a flag while standing atop a big rig truck at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif. Protesters want to shut down ports up and down the U.S. West Coast on Monday, Dec.12,2011, to gum up the engines of global commerce. But organizers who are partly billing this effort as a show of solidarity with longshoremen have not won the support of the powerful union representing thousands of dock workers.
Noah Berger | AP
In this Nov. 2, 2011, occupy Oakland protester Alfredo Coronado waves a flag while standing atop a big rig truck at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif. Protesters want to shut down ports up and down the U.S. West Coast on Monday, Dec.12,2011, to gum up the engines of global commerce. But organizers who are partly billing this effort as a show of solidarity with longshoremen have not won the support of the powerful union representing thousands of dock workers.

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anti-Wall Street protesters up and down the West Coast are joining an effort to blockade some of the nation’s busiest ports from Anchorage to San Diego.

Demonstrators were scheduled to gather at 5:30 a.m. Monday to march on the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters successfully shut down in November. Marchers expected to descend even earlier on the sprawling port complex spanning Los Angeles and Long Beach as the work day begins. In Portland, Ore., the protest was to get under way at 6 a.m.

Occupy groups in Seattle, Tacoma and the Canadian city of Vancouver are also planning blockades.

The protests being billed as action against “Wall Street on the waterfront” are perhaps the Occupy movement’s most dramatic gesture since police raids sent most remaining camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming those camps around the country about two months ago to protest what they call corporate greed and economic inequality.

Organizers hope to draw thousands Monday to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they say are being exploited.

“Taking on and blocking the 1 percent at the port is also taking on the global issue of exploitation by capitalism,” said Occupy Oakland blockade organizer Barucha Peller.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, has distanced itself from the shutdown effort. The union’s president suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union’s cause to advance their own agenda.

Protesters have cited a longstanding dispute between longshoremen at the Port of Longview in Washington and grain exporter EGT as a key reason for the blockades. Shutdown supporters say they’re not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply asking them to exercise their free speech rights and stay off the job, in keeping with the union’s historic tradition of activism.

If protesters muster large enough numbers to block port entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions, which would allow port workers to stay home.

Organized labor appears divided over the port shutdown effort. In Oakland, which saw strong union support for the Nov. 2 general strike that culminated in the closing of the port, the city’s teachers union is backing Monday’s action, while the county’s construction workers have come out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.

The Port of Oakland has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they say could hurt the port’s standing among customers and cost local jobs.

“The port is going to do all that it can to keep operations going. Our businesses need to hear that. Our workers need to know that,” said Port of Oakland spokesman Isaac Kos-Read.

Officials at West Coast ports say they have been coordinating with law enforcement agencies as they prepare for possible disruptions. Protesters say police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.

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