Skip to main content

labor Dockworkers to Shut Down West Coast Ports in Memory of George Floyd

One of the most radical antiracist unions in the country makes a show of solidarity with all those threatened by police violence and exploitation

printer friendly  
Workers with signs picketing along the dock.
ILWU members strike in California , Bob Riha Jr / WireImage

On June 19th, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will shut down 29 ports across the West coast in solidarity with ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd. The day of action is slated for Juneteenth, the day celebrating the heralding of the emancipation proclamation to Texan slaves more than two years after the proclamation took effect in 1863.

Since its founding in 1937, the ILWU has endured as one of the most radical antiracist unions in the country. It was one of the first American unions to desegregate work gangs in the 1930s and during the 1940s it publicly agitated against the internment of Japanese Americans. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s the ILWU led organizing drives and even inducted Martin Luther King as an honorary union member after he spoke to members of San Francisco’s Local 10 in 1967.

In recent years the union has protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with similar work stoppages and refused to unload containers from an Israeli-owned ship in protest of the killing of Palestinians at the hands of the IDF. In maintaining its commitment to racial justice, the ILWU also shut down ports in 2010 over the police killing of Oscar Grant.

But despite the ILWU’s recent and historic stance on racial justice, increasingly anti-labor rulings from the National Labor Relations Board have meant that the decision to stop work is always fraught with debates over the legal repercussion of escalation. In March, a Portland judge ruled against the ILWU for millions in damages in response to an extended slowdown campaign against terminal operator ICTSI in Portland, Oregon that began in 2012. The award of $19 million in damages comes to more than twice the ILWU’s total assets and has many worried that it could potentially bankrupt the union, especially as ICTSI seeks a new trial for even more damages.