The International Longshore and Warehouse Union made a significant intervention into the national uprising against racism by organizing the Juneteenth West Coast Port Shutdown on June 19, closing down 29 ports in the U.S. and Canada. This act of solidarity is in keeping with the union’s long tradition of fighting racism and for working-class unity.
As many as 10,000 protesters gathered alongside Longshore workers who performed a work stoppage at the Port of Oakland in celebration of Juneteenth and in protest of systemic racism and police brutality. Truck drivers, dock workers and labor leaders came together to lead demonstrators on a march to the Oakland Police Headquarters, and then a rally at Frank H. Ogawa (Oscar Grant) Plaza. Hundreds of cars and bicycles followed the march, which was led by a contingent of motorcycles.
Several speakers including Angela Davis, Danny Glover and a series of ILWU leaders encouraged protesters to contemplate the power of labor and how much can be accomplished through collective action.
Former political prisoner Angela Davis said: “Thank you for all of your contributions to our struggles against racism, capitalism, against racial capitalism. You represent the potential and power of the labor movement. Hopefully, this action will influence other unions to stand up and say no to racism. And yes to abolishing the police as we know them. Yes to re-imagining the meaning of public safety and security.”
She added: “We will not stop until the job is done. … It’s not going to be tomorrow. It’s not going to be the next month. It’s going to be a long process. And we have to continue to protect what we win. And when we win, we can only win when we organize and stay together. The struggle continues.”
Filmmaker and activist Boots Riley told the crowd: “Wherever you work, wherever you are during the day, that’s where you need to be organizing. Because we need to be able to shut this down. We need to show them that we ain’t asking, we’re telling.”
Michael Brown Sr., the father of police brutality victim Mike Brown Jr., said: “Justice is all we want. We’re done dying. We’re done accepting any less than what we deserve. … I strongly believe an eye for an eye, that would make this world a better place. But the human in me just wants real change and justice for all. Until you stop killing and harming us, we’re going to hurt your pockets every chance we get.”
Actor and activist Danny Glover proclaimed: “We have to keep on marching, we have to keep on organizing, we have to tell the truth. We demand justice.” He added: “We have to continue to fight because we’re not free. The fight for freedom is ongoing.”
Rosa Pergams, representing the Party for Socialism and Liberation said: “As we continue this rebellion, it has become increasingly clear that we must end the very system that relies on police to maintain our exploitation and our oppression.”
Several hundred cars plastered with anti-rascist, pro-labor banners followed protesters in a car caravan through the busy streets of Oakland. Traffic was stopped in the busiest parts of the city and some cars not initially involved in the cause joined in to show solidarity.
In Seattle, at least 1,000 ILWU members and their families, other union activists and community members joined together to march from the Local 19 hall to Pier 46 for a rally. This was followed by a second march to the Washington State Department of Corrections office.
The Juneteenth Port Shutdown came just two days after the historic vote to expel the Seattle Police Officers Guild from the Martin Luther King County Labor Council. Spirits were high among those present.
At the rally, speakers included Rich Austin, president of Local 19, and Gabriel Prawl Sr., president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in Seattle, which co-sponsored the event.
Prawl spoke about two things, the moment and the movement. “Today we don’t want this to be a moment, we want this to be a movement. The difference between a moment and a movement is sacrifice.” He went on to say for things to really change, the movement needs to do more than protest. “The ILWU knows how to take action. We call on all labor to join us because we can make it stop.”
Austin started his remarks by reading principle three from the Ten Guiding Principles of the ILWU. “Workers are indivisible. There can be no discrimination because of race, color, creed, national origin, religious or political belief, sex, gender preference, or sexual orientation. Any division among the workers can help no one but the employers. Discrimination of worker against worker is suicide. Discrimination is a weapon of the boss. Its entire history is proof that it has served no other purpose than to pit worker against worker to their own destruction.”
Another important speaker at the rally was Mother Brown, the mother of one of the Reynolds 6, incarcerated workers on work-release who have faced retaliation by being sent back to Shelton prison after advocating for PPE at their work placement.
After the rally at Pier 46, hundreds marched to the Dept. of Corrections. There the union attempted to deliver a letter from the labor movement regarding the Reynolds 6 and incarcerated workers who have faced retaliation during the pandemic. The DOC office locked its doors so the workers taped the letter to the glass window.