By JEFF JOHNSON
(Jan. 23, 2015) — In downtown Tacoma last night, about 1,000 union and community members rallied in support of the men and women from the ILWU who are being attacked by the Pacific Maritime Association.
The PMA, in an employer dispute over coast-wide bargaining, has cut night shifts at the ports and laid off over 500 longshore workers causing a huge congestion of vessels lined up in the harbor and containers stacked like cordwood in the yards. This has caused a major disruption of commerce impacting jobs across the economy. The longshore are and have been ready to work from the beginning. The PMA is using an employer slowdown and trying to pin the blame on the union.
In a lively rally and march, no one from the labor movement and the community were buying PMA’s argument. Dean McGrath, President of ILWU Local 23, gave a great speech outlining the impact that PMA was having on the union and the middle class. He was followed by two rank-and-file members who were powerful and elegant.
Dean asked me to speak on behalf of the labor movement and I was honored and proud to do so. Solidarity is the most precious thing we have. Here are my remarks:
Brothers and sisters, I want to thank Dean for the opportunity to say a few words to you tonight. On behalf of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and more than 400,000 union members I want to say that we are standing tall with our brothers and sisters in the ILWU and the IBU.
We stood with you against EGT in Longview, and we won. We stood with you against UGC in Vancouver, and we won. And we are standing with you today against PMA and we will win — because we are on the right side of history and because we support one another.
I want to thank you for standing up for not only your members, but for all working people and for the middle class when you say “no” to corporate greed.
To paraphrase your founding leader Harry Bridges, “Everything is produced by the workers and the minute they try to get something back through their unions, they meet all the opposition that can be mustered by those who now get what they produce.”
While corporate America has come back from the Great Recession, working people still sit around the kitchen table at night balancing their check books and trying to figure out what bills they can pay and which ones have to be put off. Whether the truck payment can be made or the community college tuition check written.
And this is because Corporate America, their right-wing political handmaidens, and wealthy billionaires want to silence the working class. They have waged an all-out war on our wages, job security, pensions, health care and our ability to have a voice at the workplace through extreme “Right to Work for Less” attacks.
But the thing is they can’t silence us. Because the most precious thing we have as working people is solidarity.
When we stand together as a union — we are strong.
When we stand together as many unions — we are stronger.
When unions and the community stand together as the labor movement – we are victorious.
They can never silence us if we stand together. So we are going to raise our voices so that PMA can hear us in Tacoma, in Seattle, and in San Francisco.
Those of you that have heard me before know this chant, those who don’t are about to learn. It is time to exercise your voices.
WE ARE UNION!
WE ARE COMMUNITY!
WE ARE ONE!
This is how we win, sisters and brothers, when we speak and act with one voice.
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.