Negotiations over the West Coast dockworkers’ contract broke down over the weekend. This means that over 10,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union may begin work slowdowns as early as tomorrow at some 30 major West Coast ports that handle the booming Pacific Rim trade.
If they do, the shipping lines say they will lock out the dockworkers. The LA Times recently reported the Bush administration has threatened to bring in troops to quell any strike. The ports which would be affected handle more than $300 billion in trade annually.
Labor observers see the dispute as possibly the defining union conflict of the Bush era.
In a recent report for the Inter Press Service, labor journalist David Bacon writes, "The traditional bargaining issues–wages, benefits and working conditions–have been pre-empted by a much more basic one: do dockers have the right to strike at all?
Bacon continues, "Union leaders fear signs that President George W. Bush will attempt to benefit from his ongoing 'war on terror' to label any future strike by the workers a "threat to national security."
- Jack Heyman, officer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.