Longshore workers say "Thanks for the support"

By Jeff Smith of Portland, Oregon. Jeff is a longshore worker and the president of the International Longshore Workers Union Local 8.

As a longshore worker, I have been loading and unloading cars, steel, lumber, containers and “you name it” at the Port of Portland since 1980. I am proud to be a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and to serve as the president of ILWU Local 8 here in Portland. And I have to say that today is a great day to be a Longshore worker in this country. My friends up and down the coast are still surprised by the enormous support we experienced when we took a stand on May 1 against the war in Iraq. I’d like to tell BlueOregon readers a little more about it.

In case you missed it, my 850 Portland-area union brothers and sisters in the ILWU honored our troops by refusing to work for 8 hours on May 1 and instead called for an end to the war in Iraq. We were among the 25,000 longshore workers in 29 ports from Washington to California who stood together to call an end to the war and demand that the troops be able to come home to their families.

We keep getting phone calls from people who are thanking us for taking this stand. I knew that this would get the media’s attention, but I had no idea that this would mean so much to so many people. Even the Iraqi dock workers shut down their ports for two hours to say thanks for what we were doing. I would like to share all of these thanks from across the country and across the globe with everyone in Portland and Vancouver and surrounding towns who joined us and supported us in events throughout the day.

A BlueOregon piece Thursday had some mean-spirited posts about our members’ decision to make this statement to end the war and bring the troops home. I understand this is a place where people have different opinions, and I understand you have people you call “trolls” who just like to come here and cause trouble. Those people are everywhere, on the playground and on the Internet, and I try not to get caught up in it. I feel that it was time to do the right thing, and we did it.

We stood together as workers, but we also had our personal reasons to call for an end to this war.

Many of us are veterans who know the horrors of war. Many of us have brothers and sisters, kids and spouses fighting overseas right now. We believe that when someone decides to put their life at risk to serve their country, their service should be given the highest respect. I mean, however you feel about the military, these people are putting their lives on the line in the best way they know how to serve their country. But that respect seems to be missing in our politicians. Instead of supporting the troops, we see them squabbling over whether to pay for their health care after they get mangled in battle. We see that more than 4,000 American soldiers have been killed, and so many thousands of Iraqi civilians that no one even knows for sure. We have run out of patience with the endless excuses for why this war goes on and on with “goals” that seem to change all the time. It’s time to thank those people for their service by bringing them home so they can raise their kids. Exactly how we do that, and leave the Iraqis in better shape, we need to figure that out. Keeping troops in a war with no end in sight is like throwing bad money after good. Except this time, we are talking about people’s lives.

Also, our economy is suffering. Politicians need to stop throwing $250 million every single day at this war. I can think of a lot of things that we could do with even part of that money. I know plenty of families who do not have health insurance. I myself have gone without health insurance, and it is scary to think that all you’ve worked for can disappear because of an injury. A lot of us longshore workers grew up without insurance and have family and friends who are uninsured. We want to change that. We know we are lucky to be together in a union, because we can bargain to make sure that the companies we work for provide health insurance for our families. That’s only fair; we work hard at a dangerous job to make those companies profitable. But we also believe that every American should be able to have health insurance whether they have a union or not. We work to improve our nation’s health care system for that reason. We see so many families count their nickels and dimes to take their kids to the doctor, but meanwhile the spigot that funds the war in Iraq is on full-blast, day and night, to the tune of $250 million every day. That’s wrong, and it’s gone on for too long.

We all had our reasons for taking a stand against the war. But we all stood strong together. Thanks again, everyone, for coming out and supporting us, and for your many phone calls and emails that you sent to say you were with us. It helped make a great day even better. Let’s hope it makes a difference.

Comments

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    Thanks, Jeff, and to all the longshoremen for taking this stand against a destructive and burdensome war!

  • iris (unverified)
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    I was proud to be able to support your event here in Portland, and to stand together by the waterfront with veterans, union members, activists, remembering the soldiers who died for this " rich man's war", carrying my sign covered with paper flowers, stating " Flowers for one million plus dead Iraqis" Let all of us pull our resources and support each other in this increasingly more desperate struggle for peace and justice for all. Thank you ILWU organizers and members for pulling this off!

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    This support of the troops by the ILWU in the great tradition of Harry Bridges stands in sharp contrast to the tales of betrayal by KBR and other war profiteers as revealed by whistleblowers before a committee chaired recently by Senator Dorgan. I hope that if the Democrats get control of the White House and the Senate they will pursue these criminals all the way.

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    Trolls will always find a way to denigrate what is not the easy thing to do. Having grown up in a region with little to no union presence (Texas) and having gotten to know numerous folks up here who belong to unions, I much prefer the energy and conviction of a union-supportive culture. It's that energy and subsequent action that brings about the change and improvement that we are always going on about. Keep it up, and thank you.

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    Jeff, from good dems statewide, thank you and your union for fighting the good fight. We support you.

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    Iris speaks for me too.

    And Jeff, I would like to thank Local 8 and the ILWU all up and down the coast for supporting and leading the rest of us.

    After the ILWU commemoration I went to PSU for a set of events there that may lead to the formation of an anti-war organization.

    The most powerful parts of those events I saw and heard were testimonies from student-veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, from members of military families, and from veterans, who had all come out to speak for ending this double-damned occupation war and for peace.

    These men and women and their families have been bearing a huge weight, on a narrow basis because the military relies on an economic and poverty draft for recruitment now, manipulating hopes for education, as well as the cruelties of multiple deployments and "stop-loss."

    The actions of you and all your Local 8 and ILWU brothers and sisters were a tremendous support for them. It is a kind of support, in many forms, that more of us need to figure out how to give.

    Also I was profoundly grateful for the straightforward way your action called us to think of the costs of it all for millions and millions of Iraqis.

    Finally, thanks for publishing this thoughtful reflection here.

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    Jeff,

    The members of Veterans For Peace Chapter 72 were honored to stand with you and support your actions. It was a great day of solidarity.

    Wage peace.

    Grant Remington President Emeritus VFP Ch 72

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    Jeff,

    After reading through the comments so far I realize that there is nothing new I can add other than to add my voice to their voices.

    Thank you!!

  • Ron (unverified)
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    Thanks to Jeff and his fellow union members. Your post literally brought tears to my eyes knowing that people from all backgrounds, faiths, socioeconomic status, and races can stand together for peace.

  • Bill (unverified)
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    I understand why you did what you did on that day, but I personally think it was a waste of time and caused disruptions that didn't need to be. I read that the Union leaders asked MTC for permission to take the day off in protest, but were refused for business reasons. This was MTC's right in the contract you signed with them. The Union leaders said they would abide by MTC's refusal, as it is your contractural obligation to go to work that day. However, union workers took the day off anyway, supported by the union leadership. This seems like the wrong thing to do, agree not to take the day off, but then do it anyway. The Port of Portland, and I am sure most of the affected Ports, had to reschedule the work that was supposed to happen on that day to other days/shifts. this is unfair to the other thousands of workers who rely on your work being done first.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Bill,

    Your comment would warrant serious consideration if ILWU had struck over some trivial issue, and not the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands, the subversion of the republic, and the bankrupting of our nation.

    The Shrubbery shit on the Constitution and international treaties designed to prevent war crimes and atrocities in order to invade and occupy Iraq. You are concerned about the sanctity of a goddamn labor contract?

  • Jeff Smith (unverified)
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    I just want to say thanks again, folks. Your support means a lot. I hope the troops get the message that so many Americans are with them and working to bring them back safely.

    It's everywhere, the support for ending this war. The stakes are so high for our country. I think this has given everyone a shot of energy to keep going and keep saying we should end this war. Keep it up!!!

  • Bill (unverified)
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    Come on, do you REALLY think that walkout did a dang thing other than give the union some good PR??? The lawmakers did not wince at the walkout. The President did not miss one beat that day in his schedule that I am sure was filled with War Briefings, and other matters related to our country that is in a war. That was heavy sarcasm in case you missed it. The President has his agenda, and that walkout did not do anything to alter it one bit. I am not if favor of keeping our troops over their one day longer than needed, and I didn't want the damn war to start in the first place. It is a complete waste of resources, our country's standing in the world, and of course most importantly a waste of our young men and women. This war will hurt our military, and especially our National Guard and Reserves for probably a generation. And by the way, that goddamn labor contract is what gives the laborers a job, so don't forget it. Without it, they may be forced to join the military just to make ends meet, like so many other young men and women. Then we will be really proud of them for doing their job, not for staying home for the day.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Bill,

    The revolution begins when one person says "hell, no" and starts organizing.

  • michelle (unverified)
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    Sooooooo.....I guess MTC rather than being opposed, is actually for the slatuering of our American and colition soldiers??? That's very American, yeah?

  • Bill (unverified)
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    How do you stretch what I said to come any where near "I guess MTC rather than being opposed, is actually for the Slatuering(sic) of our American and colition (sic) soldiers"? Really?? That is what you got from what I said? Well, then I guess you are one of those people who can't read another person's opinion and really try to understand that opinion. It is your way or no way.

    I have no problem with one person, or EVERY PERSON, standing up and saying HELL NO!! I do it myself. I just try not to hurt others when I am doing it. That's all.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Bill,

    You are right to be concerned with the consequences of your actions, as we all should. We also need to weigh the consequences of action against the consequences of inaction. The US Iraq adventure presents these problems:

    • The invasion was an illegal preemptive attack. Destimgmatizing such action makes the world a much more dangerous place.

    • The invasion was sold to the American people with a well-developed program of fabricated evidence and propaganda. Allowing the administration to continue its p;policy after this dishonesty has been revealed normalizes government dishonesty.

    • Thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and maimed. US service people will deal with lifelong mental, emotional, and physical health problems. Iraqis will continue to suffer from a devastated physical infrastructure, a destroyed economy, political chaos, and social dislocation.

    • The US occupation continues to alienate the rest of the world, particularly Moslems, toward the US. We are making our energy future less secure this way. We are aiding the radicalization of people who may end up using terrorism to strike out against us.

    • The invasion and occupation have drained our economy of vital resources at a time our economy is already in difficult straits.

    -As part of an over hyped "war on terror", the occupation is used as pretext for limiting long established civil liberties of US citizens and treating foreign individuals in violation of international accords.

    This is all seriously bad stuff, yet our political system has been woefully unable to take substantial corrective action. Weighing consequences, I believe much more forceful action than a one-day work stoppage by a single labor union is not only justified, but imperative.

  • Bill (unverified)
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    I completely agree with you on your above points. Only the hard-core Republicans will argue your points. They are also the ones who stand behind every decision their Republican President makes, no matter how foolish or dangerous. It is too bad they can't think for themselves. However, I still can not see how the work stoppage did any good. The politicians didn't blink, but many non-ILWU people missed pay or work opportunity. I think the work stoppage hurt too many other people/businesses that rely on the work getting done on the docks first (truckers, nearby mom/pop businesses that rely on the large number of workers coming to/from work, etc) to say the stoppage was a success.

  • observaton (unverified)
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    Well she can't spell, but she has a heart!

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Judge Backs US Conscientious Objector, Portland native Michael Barnes.

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