|A union that represents many dockers in the West Coast has distanced itself from the shutdown effort [AFP]|
Occupy Wall Street protesters have begun their “watefront” campaign, which aims to shut down ports up and down the US west coast in another strike at perceived corporate greed.
The protesters, calling for action against “Wall Street on the waterfront”, are attempting to blockade and disrupt traffic at some of the country’s busiest ports from Alaska to California.
They say their agenda is to back the rights of port workers they say are being exploited and to undermine the profits of companies that use the docks for daily operations.
About 1,000 protesters marched on the Port of Oakland, while 300 others rallied at a terminal facility in the Port of Long Beach, which are both cities in California, on Monday.
Around 200 demonstrators were met with opposition from police on motorcycles as they tried to disrupt traffic at a marine terminal in Portland, Oregon.
In Oakland, a crowd, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose ports? Our ports”, gathered at a transit station before sunrise, then marched through the streets to the city’s cargo port, where they were met by police in riot gear.
The “waterfront” campaign is the Occupy movement’s most drastic measure since police raids in several US cities sent most remaining protest camps scattering last month.
Protesting economic inequality
Demonstrators had formed the camps across the US about two months ago to protest what they call economic inequality between the richest one per cent of Americans and the other 99 per cent, whom they claim to represent.
Monday’s demonstrations echoed a recent protest at the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters managed to shut down temporarily in November.
Protests and blockades have also been planned to take place at the sprawling port complex spanning the Californian cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as ports in Portland, Oregon; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington and the Canadian city of Vancouver.
By shutting down ports, Wall Street will be unable to create profit, said Kari Koch, organiser with Shut Down the Ports Working Group of Occupy Portland.
“We will not stand for corporate profits at the expense of working people; we will not stand for attacks on workers, and we will not allow our schools to be closed; social services slashed, and families to be impoverished by your greed,” Koch said in a statement released on Monday.
But the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of dockers up and down the West Coast, has distanced itself from the shutdown effort.
Organised labour divided
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.
The anti-Wall Street protesters say they are not asking dockers to organise a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply are asking them to exercise their free speech rights, in keeping with the union’s historic tradition of activism.
Organised labour appears divided over the port shutdown effort. In Oakland, which saw strong union support for the November general strike that culminated in the closing of the port, the city’s teachers union was backing Monday’s action, while the county’s construction workers came out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers.
The Port of Oakland appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they said 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 said they had been co-ordinating with law enforcement agencies to prepare for possible disruptions.