Port Workers Spend
by Tim Wheeler
"It was just a social gathering, a day of rest," he added, but with a strong dose of "multi-union" solidarity fired up by the struggle with EGT.
"We have such great union and community support here. We have over 300 businesses in the Longview-Kelso area displaying our sign in their front window: 'We Support the ILWU.'"
He added, "The community knows who has been here for 80 years. We've provided so much charity, given so much. EGT rode into town on their white horse with all these promises. But they hired outside the community, hired outside the state, even hired outside the country to build this terminal. The local businesses got nothing."
That union-community solidarity was on full display last July 14, he said, when 700 ILWU members and their union allies sat down on the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad stopping a mile long train loaded with wheat and blocking delivery of the first load of grain for the EGT elevators.
"We stopped that train dead in its tracks," Coffman said. "We had hundreds standing with us, men, women and children."
The railroad has since suspended all deliveries and the grain elevators stand empty awaiting the outcome of the struggle.
"Since 1934, the ILWU has represented grain elevator workers at all the Pacific Northwest ports," Coffman said. EGT, a multi-billion dollar outfit that includes St. Louis-based, Bunge International, demanded the port allow them to subcontract with non-union General Construction, a Seattle-based company which in turn would employ members of Local 701 of the Operating Engineers based in Oregon to handle the grain.
"EGT wanted to bring Local 701 in through the back door," said Coffman. "Its one union raiding another and it is unacceptable."
Prominent among the picket signs blasting EGT union busting are placards that proclaim "701 Scabs."
He pointed out that Local 612 of the Operating Engineers in Tacoma and Local 302 in Seattle have sharply denounced Local 701. The president of the Tacoma local said, "Never would we think that members of the Operating Engineers would do another craft's work."
EGT went to the federal court in Tacoma requesting a restraining order prohibiting picketing of the grain terminal.
"They wanted all unions, all people, removed from the site," Coffman said. "The judge refused all of it. He did not remove us from the site. We've got a ton of people walking with us. Other locals of the ILWU, United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Machinists, the Washington State Employees Association. It's very diverse. We have retirees coming down to join us, great support from the ILWU locals in Vancouver, Washington and Portland."
A member of the ILWU since 1974, Coffman said his hero is ILWU founder Harry Bridges, whose portrait adorns the wall of the Local 21 hiring
"I thank Harry Bridges every day when I walk in the hall for what he has given us," Coffman said. "Here is a man who faced deportation back to Australia. He was fighting deportation, and he succeeded because ILWU members gave him such strong support. We're facing the same thing today. Collective bargaining is under attack by corporate America and the rich. We have to stand together and fight back."
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