U.S. government is prepared to send a fully armed Coast
Guard ship to escort an empty grain ship owned by a transnational
corporation up the Columbia River to the port in Longview,
Wash., where it will be loaded with grain by non-union
labor in the next several days or weeks.
ship, owned by EGT, a company owned by several other companies,
including Bunge, is aiming to show members of the International
Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 21 that their agreement
with the port means nothing to the corporation. The ILWU
agreement, like that of other West Coast ports, requires
that the work done in those ports be by union labor.
not the first time in American history that the military
has been called out to protect the interests of capital.
It has rarely, if ever, been called out to protect the
interests of trade unionists, other workers, or the poor.
In today’s climate, however, ordering a Coast Guard escort
for a scab multinational ship is another matter.
are many examples of presidents calling out the military
to protect Corporate America, but in 2012, rank-and-file
citizens should be alarmed and wary. Since September 11,
2001, it has become easier for the powers that be to demonize
workers and other citizens who are expressing their rights
under the First Amendment.
the Bush-Cheney Administration, the use of “free speech
pens” was honed to perfection. These were chain-link-fenced
enclosures near likely protest areas, which effectively
prevented the objects of the protest from having to encounter
the protesters. In fact, often, they were so far away
that they neither could be seen nor heard. If that was
ever found to be legal, it surely violated the spirit
and heart of the First Amendment.
little background is in order. EGT is a joint venture,
but a principal “owner” is Bunge, a giant transnational
corporation that was founded in 1818 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. It is now headquartered
in White Plains,
N.Y. Bunge competes with Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland,
and so it is among the big names in the shipping of food
and feed. The cargo that would be loaded by scabs in Longview would be destined for Asian markets.
in Longview have
engaged in what appears to be a massive assault on the
picket lines and demonstrations of the 225 members of
ILWU Local 21, who have tried to maintain the integrity
of their agreement with the port by demanding that grain
be loaded by union labor. In that process in recent months,
there have been 220 arrests of Local 21 members. The objective
of EGT has been, simply, to break the union.
San Francisco Labor Council has condemned the use of the
military to escort the grain ship and, in a resolution
adopted on Jan. 9, said, “…this is the first known use
of the U.S. military to intervene in a labor dispute on
the side of management in 40 years, not since the great
1970 postal strike when President Nixon called out the
Army and National Guard in an (unsuccessful) attempt to
break the strike. The use of the Armed Forces against
labor unions is something you expect to see in a police
state. This is part of a disturbing trend where the U.S.
military, acting as enforcers for the 1 percent, is poised
to be used against our own people, as exemplified by the
new law allowing the military to imprison U.S. citizens indefinitely
Francisco’s council refers to the National Defense Authorization
Act of 2012, which many see as the opening to the military
to replace the police in certain situations and to hold
indefinitely, without charge, those who would be charged
with threats to the national security. President Obama
has added a statement to his signing of the NDAA of 2012,
saying that he would not use such power against American
citizens, but his “signing statement” (shades of George
W. Bush) will mean nothing to other presidents who choose
to hold people without charge and even send them to Guantanamo
Bay. The law will be there, to be used by anyone who has
little respect for the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of
problem for American citizens, of course, is that, in
the national security state that the U.S.
has become, anyone can be judged to be a “terrorist,”
and can be dealt with in the manner in which one deals
with terrorists. One could be a terrorist on a union (or
non-union) picket line, or in an “Occupy” encampment,
or in a civil rights demonstration. It depends on who
is looking and determining who the terrorist is. That’s
arbitrary and that’s not what a country based on law should
for use of the military against American citizens was
set long ago, but here are a few examples: the Bonus Army
Marchers of 1932, when about 15,000 veterans marched (hitchhiked,
hopped freight trains, or walked) to Washington, D.C.,
to protest the government in its failure to pay their
$1,000 bonuses, a promise which they had waited since
1924 for the U.S. to fulfill, and the Battle of Blair
Mountain that took place in 1921 in Logan County, West
Virginia, between thousands of coal miners and an array
of representatives of the coal operators (deputy sheriffs;
coal company “detectives,” whom the miners called “gun
thugs,” and the Army, including airplanes).
had rewarded the World War I service of the veterans with
certificates that would give them the $1,000 in 1945,
but the Great Depression, which had impoverished most
of the veterans by 1932, asked the government to pay the
money earlier and that’s what they were doing in Washington. They built an encampment (think the “Occupy” movement)
and, in keeping order, the police killed two of the marchers.
There were other deaths, as well. President Hoover, fearing
the influence of communists and anarchists, sent in a
regiment under General Douglas MacArthur, who entered
the scene with troops and tanks, and the marchers fled.
Blair Mountain, the
coal miners and their families and communities were under
the control of the coal companies, which owned company
stores, as well as much of the housing, and they used
that power to control the workers and to keep out union
organizers. Labor strife brought on by maltreatment of
the miners and all of the grievances that such power brings
to the situation, ended with armed confrontation. In the
wake of widespread union organizing efforts through West Virginia coal country for several years, the
fight between the coal operators and the miners and their
supporters broke out in open battle for a few weeks in
August and September of 1921.
of thousands of armed miners came to defend the miners
of Matewan and Logan County
and the battle of Blair Mountain was said to have been the biggest shooting confrontation in
since the Civil War. The Army was dispatched by presidential
order and there were even military reconnaissance aircraft
sent in to give the miners’ positions to the strikebreakers,
police, and the “detective” agencies. The confrontation
ended before any massive casualties could result.
of other ILWU locals and many other supporters, including
“Occupy” groups from other West Coast cities, are prepared
to travel to Longview to protest the military escort of EGT grain ship. It won’t
be anything like Blair Mountain
and it won’t be like the Bonus Army, but it will be a
fight for the living standards of those who work in the
Longview and all other West Coast ports.
a long history, the ILWU has been one of the strongest
unions for its solidarity with other unions, but also
solidarity with others around the world struggling for
social and economic justice. Now, they are fighting for
their own way of life and that of their families and communities.
EGT effort is clear and it is simple: It will try to break
the union contract by force at Longview
and, in doing so, it would pave the way for similar union
busting in other ports. The company is doing what Occupiers
all across the country have said of the actions of Corporate
America. EGT, like other corporations, is paving the way
for the 1 percent to further exploit the 99 percent and
drive them into a low-wage existence, if not into penury.
has wandered far from the path set forth by the founders,
who designed the structure of the country to be a “nation
of laws, not men.” EGT is going to try to show that men,
not laws, rule America.
They are trying to show that wealth and power rule America, not the people, under law. EGT must be
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former
union organizer. His union work started when he became
a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early
1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in
New York State. In
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure
from factory food producers and land developers. Click
to contact Mr. Funiciello.