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Occupy Ports

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Today, the Occupy movement chose to shut down ports in Oakland, Portland, and Longview. But did they do it with the consent of workers? Mike Elk and Andrew Leonard are skeptical and I tend to agree. Elk:

But while the Occupy movement declared solidarity with the port workers, including the truck drivers and members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Longshoreman’s union did not vote to shut down the port.

Ultimately, protesters were successful in shutting down some terminals at ports in Oakland, Portland, and Longview, Wash. Workers in Portland and Longview were sent home with pay, but in Oakland, 150 workers were sent home without any pay, according to ILWU spokesman Craig Mierelles.

But the decision by an outside group to shut down the ports and cause workers to lose a day’s pay without them first getting their consent raises serious questions about the Occupy movements willingness to bypass a labor union’s own democractic decision making process.

Occupy members are claiming that the ILWU leadership isn’t listening to the rank and file, a group they say support their actions. Well, how do we know that? Under Taft-Hartley, a union engaging in a strike action like this would be committing an illegal act, so I don’t know that we could have a vote deciding whether workers support this or not. But there does need to be some kind of concrete support coming from workers and it’s entirely unclear whether that exists.

The Occupy movement has rightly been wary of being co-opted by unions, but is the Occupy movement looking to co-opt labor to its own agenda? If the Occupy movement is about direct democracy and consensus decision-making, don’t they need to established support of workers to shut down their workplace? 150 workers in Oakland were sent home with no pay today. Those are 150 people who probably need the money to feed their kids, pay college tuition, make a car payment, etc. If they choose to walk out, that’s their choice, but they are the only people who should make that choice.

Power is a heady thing and I worry that Occupy members are taking their mission of speaking for the 99% a bit too much to heart. Aaron Bady argues why the port occupation makes sense and notes the complexity of getting direct worker support, but this is a twitchy situation. I believe in workers making choices for themselves and today’s Occupy actions aren’t really consistent with that.

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