Friday, May 2, 2008

Poor Turnout for May Day Protests, but Longshoremen Take Advantage

May Day L.A.

Yesterday' s May Day rallies around the country were much smaller than those held in recent years, as the New York Times indicates:

Thousands of immigrants and their supporters marched in several cities on Thursday to demand civil rights at a time when crackdowns against illegal immigrants are rising.

The May Day demonstrations were significantly smaller than in previous years, and gone were calls for a nationwide boycott of businesses and work, as protest leaders had urged last year. The Spanish-language D.J.’s who had heavily promoted previous marches stuck largely to their regular programming. And disagreements among advocates over the best approach to winning legal status for illegal immigrants had diminished organizing firepower, with many groups turning their attention to voter registration and citizenship drives.

In many cities, including New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, crowds were a small fraction of those in previous years, with few people outside protest areas even aware that marches were under way.

Some supporters said they had lost a rallying cry in the stalled effort in Congress to revamp immigration law. At the same time, with the government stepping up border and immigration enforcement, a cloud of fear has settled over immigrants who were worried that the rallies would lead to more sweeps.

Milwaukee had one of the more robust turnouts, with thousands of people gathering, as they did last year. Protesters called on the presidential candidates, each of whom has supported Congressional efforts to allow a way for certain illegal immigrants to gain legal status, to make immigration issues a priority.

“We want a commitment from the three presidential candidates to pass humane immigration reform in the first 100 days in office,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, the main organization behind the Milwaukee march.

In Los Angeles, where riot police officers beat and shoved demonstrators and journalists last year, some marchers were concerned about trouble, though across the nation the marches were largely peaceful.
So peaceful, in fact, that the West Coast dock workers, who argued for a work stoppage in protest of the war in Iraq, may have in fact took advantage of the nationwide events for some R&R outside of the legal framework on the longshoreman's ongoing labor negotiations.

See the Los Angeles Times, "Dockworkers Take May Day off, Idling All West Coast Ports":

Thousands of dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports took the day off Thursday, effectively shutting down operations at the busy complexes in what the union called a protest of the war in Iraq but employers worried might be a prelude to labor unrest.

The stand-down at ports including Los Angeles and Long Beach -- which combined handle 40% of the imported goods arriving in the United States each year -- idled ships and cranes, stranded thousands of big rigs and halted movement of about 10,000 containers during the eight-hour day shift.

The show of force by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which ended as workers reported for the Thursday night shift at Southern California's twin ports, came two months before its contract expires with the Pacific Maritime Assn., a group of cargo carriers, terminal operators and stevedore companies.

The action also, as one labor historian put it, added significant support for May Day, which has become the preeminent working-class and protest event of the year. The union may have taken a calculated risk that allowing its members to participate was worth potentially aggravating employers in the middle of contract negotiations.

What I found interesting is the longshoreman's union, which boasts some of the highest paid union workers in the country, appeared indifferent to the effects of their walk out on independent contractors and small-time laborers:

Perhaps hardest hit by the job action were the local ports' 16,800 independent truck operators, many of whom were greeted at terminal gates by guards with a blunt message: "We're closed. Turn around."

Among them was Guillermo Castillo, 35, of Calexico, who decided to wait it out near the TraPac Terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. Resting his head on a towel matted against his cab door, Castillo complained: "I heard nothing about this. I'm losing a whole day of work, and about $580."

A mile to the east at the Port of Long Beach, Nelson Hernandez, 25, of Bellflower was among half a dozen short-haulers killing time at a lunch wagon parked outside a terminal gate. Shaking his head in dismay, he said, "No work anyplace around here. Losing $400, at least. I'm going home."
So much for worker solidarity?

Photo Credit: "Flag-waving and placard-carrying marchers crowd Broadway in downtown, L.A.," Los Angeles Times (notice the Che Guevara images of totalitarian chic).