On Monday, October 21st, truckers at the Port of Oakland declared a work stoppage and rallied to shut down parts of the port in the morning and afternoon. This is the second work stoppage this year by port truckers, who are legally prevented from joining a union (as they operate as “independent contractors”). Roughly a quarter of the truckers are organized under the “Port of Oakland Truckers Association” and have been fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. East Bay Solidarity Network members and organizers were there in support, along with dozens of community activists, union members and other workers.
The morning picket began at 5am and was small but spirited. Several of the terminals were blocked by picketers for a couple hours, until a veritable army of Oakland Police and Alameda County Sheriffs showed up and physically pushed the picketers onto the sidewalk. As a result of the protest and the aggressive police response, the ILWU called off work for the morning shift. This effectively shut down two large ports for the entire morning shift. A substantial victory for a small, but committed, group of truck drivers and their supporters.
An afternoon rally was then called to attempt to shut down the evening shift. This rally was noticeably larger and about half the crowd were truck drivers. The police were much more ready and the picketers were quickly penned onto the sidewalk and prevented from blocking any trucks or longshoremen from crossing into the port. Most disgustingly, the president of ILWU Local 10 paid us a visit and confronted the truckers and picketers, declaring that “they are not part of a union, and so this isn’t a bona fide picket line. it’s just a protest.” Part of the ILWU contract states that longshoremen do not have to cross certain picket lines (part of the strength of that contract, and partially why actions such as the port shutdowns during Occupy Oakland were possible). Thus, the president of the longshore union worked with the police to ensure that his members could cross the truckers’ picket line, preventing the possibility of another port shutdown.
Regardless of the union presidents scabbing, the action was extremely powerful and has already advanced the truckers movement. According to the Port Truckers Solidarity Facebook page the day after the work stoppage:
“The truckers have agreed to meet with the second largest terminal along with others under the promise of certain concessions from the terminals. They have also been asked to meet with the mayor. They have decided to go to these meetings and hold off on further action at the port until they have a chance to all meet together to discuss the results of that meeting. At that time they will decide whether to continue their strike actions next week. Unless things go surprisingly well for them, they have made it clear that they plan to come back stronger.”
Part of the strength of the truckers’ organizing is the fact that it is completely led by the rank-and-file truckers themselves, not paid union staff who have entrenched interests in the status quo, or connections to politicians. This was evident at the truckers action; decisions about tactics and strategy were made entirely by the truckers, sometimes on the spot. And while this sometimes gave the action a sense of disorganization, it also felt empowering to see a group of workers make decisions for themselves instead of relying on “leaders” for direction. This shows that militant, rank-and-file working-class organizing IS possible, and is in fact the most effective way for us to struggle. Furthermore, the treachery of the ILWU leadership again demonstrates the need for us to organize outside of traditional union models, which for so many reasons have become conservative forces in the working-class movement, stifling solidarity and advancing losing strategies for combating our bosses. Solidarity across the working-class, whether organized or unorganized, employed or unemployed, housed or houseless, waged labor or unwaged labor, documented or undocumented, is what is needed if we are to beat back assaults from the rich. It is exciting to see what will come of the truckers’ struggle, and we encourage all the members and supporters of the East Bay Solidarity Network to continue to show up and support this fight in whatever way you can.
UPDATE: The following day, on Tuesday October 22nd, an even larger contingency of independent truck drivers picketed terminals at the Oakland Port in an attempt to further reiterate their demands for livable working conditions. Their will remains strong and the organizing body grows each week. Make sure to join the organizer truck drivers for a support BBQ on Saturday, November 2 at 2:00PM at Middle Harbor Park. More info on the facebook page below.
For more info on the demands and issues behind the port truckers struggle, read this article: “Five Things You Never Knew You Didn’t Know About Oakland’s Port Truckers.” http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/10/25/18745431.php
For mainstream news coverage of the work stoppage, you can find some here: http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_24353992/some-oakland-port-truckers-stop-working-protest-rising?IADID=Search-www.insidebayarea.com-www.insidebayarea.com
“Like” the Port Truckers Solidarity Facebook page and stay up to date on future solidarity actions and events.https://www.facebook.com/events/485412844905393/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regularHe