USA: Occupy movement links with working class

The US ‘Occupy’ movement and its slogans, such as “We are the 99%”, have reflected the huge anger at widening economic and social inequality at a time of recession. On 12 December 2011 the Occupy movement helped organised a successful shutdown of major US ports. Ramy Khalil, Kerry Finnan and Ty Moore from Socialist Alternative report.

Port terminals along the US’s west coast were successfully shut down on 12 December to strike back against systematic police violence when police evicted occupations in cities nationwide.

The port shutdowns also showed solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), that is waging an historic struggle against multinational grain exporter EGT. This blockade marked a significant step forward, shifting the Occupy movement’s strategy and tactics from symbolic occupations of central squares to actively shutting corporations down and cutting into their profits.

The port actions overcame the opposition of a vast array of opponents – city politicians, police, the corporate media, even the combative ILWU’s more conservative national leaders. But the Occupy movement and rank-and-file workers were correct to go forward with the action, which substantially disrupted business at several ports, despite the determined opposition of the richest 1%.

This daring action centred around Occupy Oakland, which is providing a more working-class, racially diverse, and militant face for the Occupy movement. Many rank-and-file longshore workers helped organise and participate in the action which was called in solidarity with the ILWU in Longview, a port town where the EGT multinational is attempting to break its legal contract with the powerful union.

In Oakland 500 protesters set up a picket line at the port. The ILWU later sent home 150 of its 200 members, which generated enthusiastic celebrations among picketers. Marches later in the day attracted 4,000 people that succeeded in shutting down the port’s second shift.

In Seattle, a protest of 500 people grew to over 1,000 who successfully blockaded Terminals 5 and 18, chanting “Shut down the west coast! Hit’em where it hurts most!”

A rank-and file ILWU member in Seattle commented that the labour and Occupy movements need to work together if either is to have any chance of breaking the control of the 1% over our economic and political structures.

The ports shutdown showed the source of the ruling class’s power – their ownership and control of corporations and capital. It also showed the sources of the working class’s power – our ability to refuse to work, our numbers, level of organisation, fighting spirit, and ideas. So it is very positive that the Occupy movement responded to police repression by moving toward strike action and building links with the powerful unions and the working class.

This action boosted the confidence and influence of rank-and-file activists within the ILWU, other unions, and the left within the Occupy movement. The emerging alliance between Occupy and rank-and-file labour union activists is a positive precedent for future community-labour struggles and strikes.