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Community stands with ILWU as EGT hires ‘private army’

By Jeff Johnson

Last Thursday, Sept. 29, on a beautiful fall evening in the park in front of Longview’s Monticello Hotel, 800 to 1,000 community and labor supporters raised their voices in support of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21.

Community resentment towards EGT, a multinational joint venture between U.S.-based Bunge, Japanese-based Itochu, and Korean-based STX Pan Ocean, has been building ever since the groundbreaking for its state-of-the-art grain export terminal. EGT, which received special state tax incentives as well as favorable lease agreement with the Port of Longview, bypassed local labor in the construction phase of the project and refuses to accept the agreement that the ILWU has with the Port that all work there, loading and unloading ships and barges, is ILWU work. Not a good way to introduce yourself to your new community.

With unemployment at 11.3% in Cowlitz County and with no employment relief in sight, community members expressed their frustration and anger over EGT’s arrogance and continuing disrespect of the community of Longview. This disrespect has sharpened with EGT’s hiring of Special Response Corporation, a specialty security services firm made up of ex-military and law enforcement personnel who are “trained to meet the intensity of a crisis,” according to the SRC website. An advertisement for SRC shows a picture of a uniformed agent, complete with riot shield, with a headline “A Private Army When You Need It Most.”

What the community of Longview needs least of all is a private army of mercenaries preventing ILWU members from standing up for their jobs. Harassment by law enforcement has already gotten out of hand with ILWU members being arrested at their homes and in church parking lots. Last week when ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman was arrested with nine ILWU members’ wives, a 57-year-old longshoreman’s mother suffered a torn rotator cuff while being arrested, and another women’s face was pushed down into the gravel between the railroad tracks. Non-violent civil disobedience should never be met with this type of reaction.

As Thursday’s community rally went on, a rally billed as “A Peaceful Community Rally,” two things became clear.

First, law enforcement and town leaders didn’t get the “peaceful” part of the message, as Town Hall was shut down at 4 p.m., presumably to protect people from the peaceful rally-goers and two helicopters hovered high above the rally.

The second thing that became clear was that the community supporting the ILWU extends well beyond Longview-Kelso. A resolution in support of ILWU 21 was presented from the San Francisco Labor Council, and Ian’s Pizza, the pizza parlor that supplied free pizza to the Madison, Wisc.,  protestors this spring, sent a message of solidarity to the ILWU.

Many trade unionists, local unions and community activists are asking the Washington State Labor Council what they can do to help the ILWU. I want you to know that we have been working closely with the ILWU International and with Local 21 since the beginning of the struggle. At this point in time they are asking that we all follow their lead — they will let us know if they need folks to assist them in various actions.

However, one thing that you can do right now that would be helpful is to get your union, council or organization to pass resolutions in support of ILWU 21 and send copies to Local 21 and to the WSLC. This act will help show the community of Longview how widespread  the support is for ILWU 21.

ILWU Local 21, 617 14th Ave., Longview, WA, 98632
WSLC, 314 First Ave. West, Seattle, WA, 98119.

Thank you all for your continued solidarity.

Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

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