PRESS RELEASE: Occupy Seattle: A New Phase for the Workers’ Movement
December 13, 2011
[Note: This article was written by several members of Occupy Seattle who were closely involved with organizing for the December 12th West Coast Port Shut Down. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect all of Occupy Seattle.]
Occupy Seattle: A New Phase for the Workers’ Movement
SEATTLE, Wash — Monday, December 12th, Occupy protesters and allies shut down several major ports along the West Coast. In Seattle, we stopped all evening work at Terminals 18 and 5, causing millions in profit loss to major corporations Stevedoring Services of America, American President Line, and Eagle Marine Services.
Yesterday’s actions drew a wide swath of the 99%. Protesters of all ages demonstrated, and people of color turned out in large numbers. The protests included a coordinated city-wide high school walkout, a rally emceed by Hip Hop Occupies, and a three mile march to the ports. The shutdown was organized by members of Occupy Seattle in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and with the struggles of LA, Oakland, and Seattle port truckers and Longview longshore workers. Occupy Seattle’s People of Color caucus produced need-to-know guides for the action.
The shutdown was solidly an Occupy action, funded by the heartfelt donations of occupiers and their supporters, and a hefty donation from Occupy Oakland. We received absolutely no material support from any union. This was a direct action in the truest sense of the term: it was rapid-fire, organized on a shoestring budget, bypassed stalling bureaucracy, and mobilized the energy of an inspired community united against economic injustice.
The actions were planned with special attention to the long tradition of democracy and direct action within the ILWU. We picketed Terminals 18 and 5 in light of the longstanding ILWU principle of respecting other pickets. Union policy dictates that if arbitrators rule that picket lines are too dangerous to cross, ILWU workers will be compensated for the work they missed.
The protests were wildly successful. Truck drivers and port workers repeatedly expressed support for the protesters, waving and honking as they passed.
Terminal 18–the Port of Seattle’s largest and busiest terminal–was the first to be shut down. Protesters took the main intersection, swiftly forming a blockade of roadside debris to stop the incoming shift, while redirecting outgoing traffic onto one lane. This effectively blocked three gates, while the fourth had been shut down by the port in anticipation of the action. The Seattle Police Department, not protesters, temporarily stopped workers and truckers from leaving the port by forming a bike chain as protesters yelled at them to “let the trucks through.”
Under pressure from protesters, police backed away, but later stopped traffic once again, stating that they were trying to clear the road for police convoys to enter. In solidarity with the protesters, the truckers honked their horns loudly and persistently, and the frustrated calls of the crowd forced the cops back off the road. Occupiers then continued to direct traffic out of the port, delivering flyers of Scott Olsen’s statement to drivers as they passed (see below).
At 5pm, reports came through that the union arbitrator had ruled in favor of protesters, deeming the picket too dangerous to cross. The shipping company called off work at Terminal 18 for the evening. In accordance with union contract, dispatched longshore workers were nonetheless paid for their time.
Protesters then proceeded to Terminal 5, the location of the Port’s only other ship that day, chanting “Whose Ports / Our Ports.” Approximately one hundred protesters formed a human barricade and moving picket line at the terminal gate, while another hundred stood by in support.
Some protesters who remained at Terminal 18 were herded onto the sidewalk. When they tried to maintain the blockade, conflict escalated. The police used pepper spray and flash grenades to disperse protesters, in one case forcibly pulling back the head of a protester to spray him in the face. A few protesters flung road flares and a bag of paint at the police in retaliation. In the resulting chaos, a number of protesters were arrested.
The crowd of Terminal 18 dissipated and joined Terminal 5. After two hours of picketing, the union arbitrator once again ruled in favor of protesters, calling off work at the terminal.
The Occupy Movement Strikes Back
Many of us showed up to this action having learned from the experiences we’ve had in the short months since we began assembling together. Having previous engagements with the police, we knew to protect ourselves. Legal observers and medics were interspersed through the crowd, and the majority brought bandannas and scarves to cover their noses against flash bombs and other chemical weapons utilized by the police. Some of us sported the goggles that we learned to use after pepper spray incapacitated activists during the march on Chase Bank.
Occupy Seattle’s action was one of the last in the day, following successful port shutdowns in Longview, Portland, Oakland, and other places. A hundred of our friends in Bellingham continued to break the flow of capital by protesting on the railroads, some locking themselves to the tracks in defiance. Solidarity was extended to us even from Japan, where the International Labor Solidarity Committee of Doro-Chiba made a statement of support.
We send our sincere thanks to Oakland and Portland for extending their protests in response to the police aggression in Seattle that left several of our friends with stinging eyes and ringing ears. We extend our support and love to Houston and San Diego, where the police have used similarly aggressive tactics.
Today, we stand in solidarity with the unemployed, the underemployed, the incarcerated, and the 89% of the working class who don’t belong to unions. We stand in solidarity with students protesting education cutbacks and rising debts, with low-wage workers protesting union-busting, with those facing foreclosure, and with the unemployed. We believe that a workers’ movement does not merely belong to the unionized, nor does it recognize imposed political borders. This is the building of a new movement. We rise from our roots in the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and anticolonial struggles across the world.
For ongoing updates on the West Coast Port Shut Down action:
Truck Drivers Statement:
More information on Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) and Goldman Sachs:
ILWU Guiding Principles (See in particular #4 regarding community picket lines):
Appeal from Scott Olsen to Longshore Workers: