A sea change
In my Anzac Day post I talked about the way that the First World War saw the eventual radicalisation of large numbers of people who had initially been patriotic and pro-war. The recent history of the ILWU is an interesting study in the same dynamic. Like our wharfies and seamen, the US longshoremen have a long history of trade union militancy and progressive stances on important political issues. The weakening of the trade union movement and the left in the 1990s meant that some of that tradition had been lost by 2001, when the union slid from understandable outrage at the 9/11 attacks into vociferous support for Bush's invasion of Afghanistan.
When they took strike action against the threat of casualisation in 2002, West Coast ILWU members soon found that their union's support for Bush's foreign policy had won them no favours from the White House. Alarmed at the prospect of gridlock at busy Californian ports, Bush invoked the McCarthy-era Taft-Hartley Act, which allows the breaking of strikes for reasons of 'national security', and sent in the army against the ILWU.
In the aftermath of this disaster, there appears to have been a sea change in the attitudes of the ILWU rank and file towards Bush's foreign policy. The union opposed the invasion of Iraq, and its San Francisco and Oakland locals have been bastions of the US Labor Against the War organisation, which has highlighted repression of the Iraqi labour movement and brought Iraqi union leaders on speaking tours to the US.
I remember handing out Anti Imperialist Coalition leaflets calling for solidarity with the ILWU against Bush back in 2002, at the same time as that pillar of the left Chris Trotter was using his access to the mass media to attack our little group as 'anti-American' and to defend Bush's War of Terror as an unavoidable response to 9/11 which no sensible person could ever oppose. It's nice to see how some things have changed. The pity is that the radicalisation inside the ILWU hasn't yet been mirrored across the US population, or for that matter the Kiwi population, which seems to find the occupation of Tibet by a distant government more objectionable than its own government's material support for theocracy and terrorist bombs in Afghanistan.