Putting Our Labor Where Our Mouth Is

The average longshoreman on the west coast earns somewhere around $30 an hour.
For the long hours and grueling manual labor the job entails, many might argue that
even that isn’t enough and, with the inflated cost of living on the west coast, those
naysayers may very well be correct. Given the current minimum wage and compensation laws, the contrast between the wages of the longshoreman and similar hourly paid labor is stark. This disparity is due entirely to the unionization of the longshoreman under the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the way they have effectively leveraged their collective bargaining power over the last several decades.

The ILWU has time and again proven that they have little to no hesitance to bring maritime trade to a grinding haltand their strikes are an example of some of the most effective collective bargaining in the history of labor in the United States. At the cost of approximately $2 billion a day, a shut down of the west coast shipyards has an undeniable global ripple effect. In the past ILWU strikes have seen the waters crowded with ships weighted down with millions of dollars of stagnated merchandise, sparking an outcryfrom international as well as domestic mega corporations. Indeed, the rapid fire turn around and shelf life of products in the United States further compounds the impact as businesses rarely have more than a day or two’s worth of goods in reserve and are entirely reliant on a constant influx of merchandise. Given this common business practice, it doesn’t take long until even your average small business retailer in the middle of the country starts to see the impact of a shipyard strike on their bottom line.

For these very simple reasons, when the ILWU speaks, leaders in both government and commerce are forced to listen.
Recently, the ILWU made the historical decision to put their substantial weight behind an issue other than compensation and fair work practices, joining with millions of voices nationwide in speaking out against unjust policing on June 19, 2020. In a statement made prior to the day long shutdown, ILWULocal 10 President Trent WIllis declared “We’re sending a clear statement to the powers that be, our government. We’re sending a clear statement
to the corporate bosses that we intend to use our labor, put our labor where our mouth is. We intend to take economic action if our demands are not met” in reference to the demands to end unjust and unlawful policing nationwide. It is worth noting that ILWU bylaws explicitly ban police membership among their ranks, pointing to the long held belief that police have always been used as tools of the wealthy in the fight against working people.

It remains to be seen whether this unprecedented step by the massive labor group into the realm of civil protest will set further similar actions of solidarity
into motion, but there is no denying the weight of the power that is wielded by a united group of workers.

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