Occupy protesters take fight to West Coast ports
Thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters blocked access to several major West Coast ports Monday in synchronized demonstrations that slowed business but fell short of what some protesters hoped would be a complete shutdown of coastal shipping.
The protests stretched from San Diego to Anchorage, brought work to a standstill in Oakland and Longview, Wash., and led to the closure of a major marine terminal in Portland, Ore. Demonstrators caused smaller disruptions in Seattle and in Long Beach, where a driving rain and threats of arrest put a damper on an early morning picket line.
In many cities, protesters targeted terminals operated by SSA Marine, a shipping company that is locked in a labor dispute with some port truckers, and is partly owned by Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Organizers said Monday’s actions were also an expression of support for union workers in Longview, where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been fighting to ensure its members get jobs at a new shipping facility.
But Monday’s protests were not endorsed by ILWU or the other major unions operating at the ports. A spokesman for ILWU, Craig Merrilees, said the union has specific rules about when it can agree to support a protest. “This was not a picket line under the legal terms of the current labor agreement,” he said.
Still, the union’s president said dockworkers agreed with the goals of the Occupy protesters, who assert that the economic system benefits the richest 1% of Americans at the cost of the other 99%.
“Most of us are tired of seeing a handful of the richest corporations and executives behave as though they’re entitled to live like kings at everyone’s expense,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a statement.
Others complained that the port protests hurt the working- and middle-class wage-earners the Occupy movement purports to represent.
In Oakland, where shipping terminal operators decided not to call workers in for a scheduled evening shift after a morning of protests, Mayor Jean Quan implored demonstrators to “respect the rights of the 99%" working at the port.
Occupy Oakland protesters shut down the port on Nov. 2 in a demonstration that involved about 10,000 people. Monday’s crowd peaked at several thousand.
Demonstrators claim that withholding labor sends a strong message to the 1% and is a meaningful way for the movement to telegraph its power and potential. A number of truckers who lost their day’s wages, however, expressed anger that the decision was made without them.
Two shipping facilities in Portland closed early in the day when about 200 protesters marched in at dawn, setting up a tent and portable toilets. Occupy Portland organizer David Osborn said many port workers refused to cross their picket lines.
One protester waved a sign that apologized for the delay: “Sorry for any inconvenience while we fix our democracy.”
The protests affected at least five ships and hundreds of trucks poised to load or offload goods at the docks, said Josh Thomas, a spokesman for Portland’s shipyards.
Southern California protesters made a much smaller dent with their demonstration in Long Beach, where about 300 protesters gathered at 5 a.m. outside the SSA terminal.
For about 30 minutes, protesters blocked a roadway to an SSA pier, snarling traffic until police wielding batons ushered them into a nearby park. Protester Ami Todd was among them.
Todd said she thinks Occupy Wall Street appeals to a larger audience than anti-globalization protests of the 1990s because more Americans now are suffering financial hardships. “In the ‘90s I had a job, I had healthcare,” she said, citing two things she no longer can claim.
In Seattle, police used pepper spray and stun grenades to disperse protesters, and several hundred anti-corporate demonstrators briefly blockaded a major shipping terminal and then swarmed toward another. Port officials said the demonstration had minimal effect on port operations because most goods had been moved earlier in the day.
On Monday a spokesman for SSA Marine said it had been inaccurately portrayed by the Occupy movement, adding the majority of the company is family-owned, not held by Goldman Sachs.
“They’re also claiming that we are unfair to our workers,” said SSA Vice President Bob Watters. “We are the largest employer of ILWU members on the West Coast. We are a union shop, and we’re proud we’re providing them with family-wage jobs.”
Times staff writer Ron White contributed to this report.