News, June 20th

Anti-racist solidarity brought victory for all dock workers in 1934 San Francisco General Strike

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down 29 west coast ports on June 19 in remembrance of George Floyd and to mark Juneteenth.  All along 2,000 miles of coastline, in 29 ports from Seattle to San Diego, not one container was loaded or unloaded.

The ILWU has a long history of anti-racist and international solidarity. It shut down these ports in 1968 after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Union members refused to unload a ship from apartheid South Africa. The union shut the ports to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and earlier this month, held an 8-minute work stoppage to demand for justice for George Floyd.

This tradition of solidarity came from a historic union struggle in 1934, when dock workers struck for 83 days, culminating in a 4-day general strike in San Francisco. Building anti-racist solidarity was key to their win, and to ending some of the worst working conditions in the country.

Did you ever “shape up” looking for work? That’s when you go to a workplace and stand and wait for hours. Eventually the foreman comes out and says “I’ll take you, you and you  ….” and then goes back in; maybe he comes out a few hours later and picks a few more, telling the rest to “go home now, I don’t need you.” This is what life is like for so many undocumented workers today.

This was life on the ship yards in the 1930s for all longshoremen. If you didn’t give the foreman part of your pay when he picked you, or you didn’t buy him a drink when you saw him in a bar, or you if ever complained about anything, you might never get picked for work again.    You might wait all day and then go home hungry and humiliated.

If you were African American and showed up looking for work, the company goons would likely beat you up before sending you home, as the docks were segregated.

In addition to day shape up, when a ship docked, a group of longshoremen was hired to stay on the ship as it went from port to port on the West coast, loading and unloading cargo. The workers ate and slept on board. They had no toilets or bathing facilities. They only got paid for the time actually working cargo. Safety was nonexistent and accidents were common.

The average weekly pay on the docks was only $10.45 a week. Yet competition even for these jobs was fierce during the Depression.   

Strikes in 1919, 1924 and 1926 all failed – the owners overwhelmed each strike with company gangsters, police repression and scabs. Each time the bosses were able to break solidarity and divide the workers. Afraid of being banned from the docks, they soon returned to work. African-American dock workers, subject to Jim Crow discrimination and only allowed to work on two docks, were often forced to replace strikers on the docks.

There was a union, the International Longshoremens Association, but it was a company union and did not fight for the workers. Its leadership was weak and afraid of management, and did their bidding.

But by the 1930s, however, new political winds were blowing. In 1933, despite 25 percent unemployment, nearly 1 million workers went on strike, in 1934 about 2 million.

The first sit-down strike, where workers not only struck but occupied the factory to win their demands, was in 1933 at the Hormel Packing Company in Minnesota. By 1936, there were 48 different sit-down strikes; in 1937 there were 477. In Detroit alone, workers sat down and refused to leave  in every Chrysler factory, in 25 auto part plants, four hotels, nine lumberyards, 10 meat packing plants, 12 laundries and two department stores!

The new mood of the working class was also felt along the West Coast docks. A new union campaign began in 1933. It was led by Harry Bridges, an Australian-born immigrant, a seaman and dock worker, and an open communist. With the active support of the Communist Party, this militant grouping in the union began a bulletin, “The Waterfront Worker,” and filled it with phrases like “rank and file control,” “union democracy,” and explanations of “how racism hurts all workers.”

The organizers knew that to get a raise and better working conditions they had to end shape-up and for the union to control the hiring process.  They strategized that there were two keys to the struggle: Rank and file control and anti-racist solidarity.  

Harry Bridges went to the Black community, to the churches and community centers and asked for a hearing. He encouraged the community to support the coming struggle, and he promised that there would be an end to discrimination on the docks and equality in hiring.   He guaranteed that if the union controlled hiring, “if there were only two longshoremen left working on the docks, one would be Black and one would be white.” He proved to be as good as his word.

This was a big step forward for the union movement. Giving into pressure from  bosses who maintained segregated workplaces, unions at these workplaces were segregated too. They did not strive to include Black workers. Thomas Fleming, the co-founder of San Francisco’s African American weekly, said this about his experiences on the docks: “Before 1934, I had the view that the trade union movement was just formed to continue racial discrimination. But Bridges asked for support, and promised that when the strike ended, African American workers would work on every dock on the West Coast …. When the ILA was recognized by the ship owners, African American workers got the same work as everyone else.”

Many workers were not in the union, as this was an open shop, and union membership was not required. Union organizers learned not only how to talk, but more importantly, how to listen to the grievances of the workers on the docks, and slowly and quietly began to organize small groups of activists at each port.  They were so successful that in six weeks the large majority of longshoremen had signed up with the union.

Despite the active hostility of the officials of the ILA, delegates from the newly formed rank-and-file committees called a convention of the International Longshoremen’s Association.  Such was the strength of the organizing that the ILA officials were excluded from the convention.    Times were changing!

A Joint Strike Committee was formed, demanding:  1.) A union-run hiring hall and an end to shape-up. 2.) A raise 3.)  A coast-wide agreement.  The demands also included an “equalization of work opportunities for all union members regardless of race or religion, protected work hours and improved safety conditions.”

The longshore strike began on May 9, 1934. Workers along the entire West Coast closed 2,000 miles of coastline.  Teamsters refused to handle scab goods despite opposition from their own union president. Of 12,000 longshore workers on the West Coast, only 100 crossed picket lines during the 83-day strike. The company tried to get 1,000 scabs past the picket lines and into the docks, and each day was tense.

The ship owners and their corporate press attacked the strikers with lies and slanders.   The press called the workers “rioters,” “looters,” “rats,” and even a “mob” that was “denying milk to hungry babies” in the same way that the the mass uprising against racism is slandered and attacked today. Police dressed like workers looted and beat up people and blamed it on the strikers. Despite death threats, bribery attempts and red-baiting, nothing could dent the union under the leadership of Harry Bridges, who insisted that, as president of the union, his salary would be the same as what the longshoremen received on the docks.  

The spirit of solidarity was alive on the waterfront. A government agent, a specialist in hiring and arming company goons, was quoted as saying,“I’ve been able to break other strikes … but I can’t crack this one.”

When the workers rejected a secret agreement between owners and the ILA president, the owners tried to open the docks by force. Scabs, police and National Guard armed with machine guns and tanks prepared to break the strike. Thousands of National Guard were deployed to suppress the strike and escorting trucks filled with scabs onto the docks. 

The workers fought back.  The result a pitched battle on July 5, 1934 now known as “Bloody Thursday.” According to the San Francisco Press:

“Police used their clubs freely and mounted officers rode into milling crowds. The strikers fought back, using fists, boards and bricks as weapons….strike pickets broke through the police lines and surged around a pile of bricks. Soon the air was filled with missiles…Police charged the crowd, but it did not move. The officers resorted to tear gas. Members of the mob, coughing and choking, picked up the smoking grenades and hurled them back into the police lines….. police jammed tear gas guns against strikers, then pulled the triggers, blowing away the men’s flesh…  police used the new ‘vomiting gas.’

“Meanwhile, the joint marine strike committee had sent out a plea to all unemployed members of every labor union to come down and join the picket lines, no matter whether they were on strike or not. The committee claimed several thousand answered the call.”

In the ensuing struggle, hundreds of workers were injured or arrested, and two killed—shot in the back.

Repression had the opposite effect than intended. San Francisco’s workers were outraged, and public support for the strikers swelled. The police chief banned people from attending the funeral of the murdered two workers. Yet the crowd there was so big that for 72 hours straight a double line of workers walked past the coffins of the two workers killed, and cops were nowhere to be seen. Some 40,000 workers and families came to the funeral march.

The following day 120 unions in the city voted for a general strike. Union workers were not the only ones who withheld their labor.  Non-union truck drives stayed home. Movies and nightclubs, shops and restaurants closed, and the city shut down. Only emergency services continued.  The strike lasted four days, but when the state threatened to declare martial law, the conservative leadership in the central labor council caved in, and called off the general strike.

The dock workers strike continued for another six weeks. Eventually, they were forced to accept arbitration and return to work. But this was very different from past strikes when the workers went back afraid and divided. When this strike ended, the workers on every dock simultaneously marched back onto the docks and went back to work as one. This solidarity enabled the union to win virtually every demand. For example, even though the contract arrived at through arbitration called for a “joint hiring hall” run by both the union and the company, the momentum of the struggle continued, and within a week after returning to work all hiring was done thru a union hall – a major victory.

Union hiring halls ensured that African American workers would be hired together with white workers. Anti-racist agitation among the white workers, and union-imposed penalties for racist behavior was the order of the day. It was this commitment to equality that built the solidarity needed to win benefits for all dock workers. This was a historic accomplishment during the depths of the Depression, when jobs were scarce and hardship was everywhere.  

The union’s attitude to all the workers on both sides of the strike, including those who scabbed, was ground-breaking: To the white workers who didn’t support the strike and kept working, Bridges had this to say:

“You should be judged by what you do from here on. You didn’t understand, we weren’t able to get to you the right way. You weren’t the guys who came to break the strike, so straighten up and fly right.”  Bridges fought to get the union membership to agree to this, and he said later of those who worked through the strike that “most of them turned out to be the best union men we ever had.”

To the company thugs and scabs from outside, there was no question that they would never work on the docks again.

Most African American workers supported the strike, but for those who did not and took jobs, Bridges supported them. He recognized the long years of Jim Crow shape-up and racist attitudes on the docks. He explained to the white workers, “Look fellas, the only way these guys ever got a job was because of the strike. No one can blame them for that. Let’s right now say: ‘you’ve got a job like a working stiff just like everyone else – no discrimination.’  

In 1936 when the union was again forced to strike, there was solidarity all along the waterfront, and the owners did not try to import scabs or use violence against the strike.

The San Francisco general strike and dock workers victory in 1934 shows that solidarity in the struggle against racism is the way forward for the multinational working class. When working class organizers listen to the voices of the oppressed, listen to the voices of the workers, and from there chart the struggle, there is no obstacle too big to overcome. What once seemed impossible suddenly seems inevitable.

COVID-19 Pakistan Updates

National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Saturday was apprised by the provincial chief secretaries on standard operating procedures (SOPS) compliance and smart lockdown update implemented across the country.

The NCOC meeting chaired by Minister for Planning Development Reforms and Special Initiatives Asad Umar reviewed the update of targeted smart lockdowns implemented across the country, decisions and action points of NCC, oxygen and cylinders import and quantity finalization vis-a-vis disease projections and need assessment of critical medical equipment.

Speaking on the occasion, Asad Umar suggested that the provincial governments should issue notification to private corporations and offices to avoid taking any punitive action against employees living in smart lockdown restricted areas for not attending to offices.

He also added that the efforts and measures taken to contain the pandemic outbreak would show results after 15 days where the provincial governments should make strict compliance of measures adopted.

Chief Secretary KP said around 500,000 population was restricted under the smart lockdowns implemented where the major focus was on urban areas including Peshawar, Malakand, Swat, Haripur, Nowshera and Mardan. There was no activity or increased risk of coronavirus outbreak in other 7 districts including Kohistan and Upper Chitral.

Chief Secretary Punjab said around 8 main cities were under lockdown and less than a million population was restricted.

He added that there was over 80 percent compliance of wearing masks in public places. Strict enforcement drive was going and as many as 12,000 transport vehicles were fined for violating SOPs and health guidelines.

Chief Secretary Sindh told the Forum that almost 24 districts with 5 million population was restricted under smart lockdown.

Chief Secretary Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) said a total of 59 smart lockdowns were imposed in the valley where SOPs compliance had improved. He added that the district administration was providing free masks to masses on violation of SOPs.

Chief Secretary Gilgit Baltistan informed the Forum that the Deputy Commissioners in the provinces were authorized to lockdown the areas reporting maximum coronavirus patients. He added that the general public was complying with SOPs.

Crowded homes, poor neighbourhoods linked to COVID-19: Study

Lower neighbourhood socioeconomic status and greater household crowding increase the risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, warn researchers.

“Our study shows that neighbourhood socioeconomic status and household crowding are strongly associated with risk of infection,” said study lead author Alexander Melamed from Columbia University in the US.

“This may explain why Black and Hispanic people living in these neighbourhoods are disproportionately at risk for contracting the virus,” Melamed added.

For the findings, published in the journal JAMA, the researchers examined the relationships between COVID-19 infection and neighbourhood characteristics in 396 women who gave birth during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak in New York City. Since March 22, all women admitted to the hospitals for delivery have been tested for the virus, which gave the researchers the opportunity to detect all infections — including infections with no symptoms — in a defined population

The strongest predictor of COVID-19 infection among these women was residence in a neighbourhood where households with many people are common.The findings showed that women who lived in a neighbourhood with high household membership were three times more likely to be infected with the virus. Neighbourhood poverty also appeared to be a factor, the researchers said.Women were twice as likely to get COVID-19 if they lived in neighbourhoods with a high poverty rate, although that relationship was not statistically significant due to the small sample size.

The study revealed that there was no association between infection and population density.

“New York City has the highest population density of any city in the US, but our study found that the risks are related more to density in people’s domestic environments rather than density in the city or within neighbourhoods,” says co-author Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman.”

The knowledge that SARS-CoV-2 infection rates are higher in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and among people who live in crowded households could help public health officials target preventive measures,” the authors wrote.

Recently, another study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, showed that dense areas were associated with lower COVID-19 death rates.

New rifts in US relations with allies

US relations with Germany and NATO members have seen new rifts after President Donald Trump made public his plan to withdraw a portion of US troops stationed in Germany.

As confirmed by the White House, this strategic adjustment is not derived from the difficulties of the world’s no. 1 economy, but rather a US message of “punishment” to its allies in Europe, regarding disagreements over trade and the sharing of common responsibilities.

Just days after the intention was revealed by the US media, dismaying European allies, President Trump officially confirmed the news. Accordingly, the Pentagon and relevant agencies were instructed to make a detailed plan to pull 9,500 soldiers out of Germany, bringing the number of US troops in Germany down to 25,000. President Trump did not directly link the US-Germany disagreements to the withdrawal plan, but White House officials said that this is a message sent to Berlin, as Washington was not satisfied with the fact that trade balance between the two countries is detrimental to the US, as well as with Germany’s failure to meet NATO spending commitments on defence.

Indeed, Germany is one of the largest overseas bases of US forces. Along with about 34,500 US soldiers and 17,000 US civilian employees, there are also 12,000 German personnel serving at dozens of bases scattered throughout Germany. Among these facilities are the United States European Command (EUCOM), the central command point of US forces in more than 50 countries; an air base conducting operations in the Middle East and Africa; and the largest NATO training centre in Europe. These forces are determined to play a very important role in both maintaining a “security umbrella” for Germany and Europe and protecting US strategic interests.

Therefore, President Trump’s intention to downplay the role of these important forces in Europe was not only opposed by Germany and NATO allies but was even strongly criticised by US politicians and public too. However, the message of “punishment” mentioned by the White House gave an explanation to what lies behind the controversial plan of the US leader.

For a long time, President Trump has criticised Germany and European allies for their defence spending “well below NATO standards”, stating that Washington could not continue to “overspend” by sharing a bigger part for NATO’s “defence bills”. The US was even more dissatisfied when Germany spent a large sum on gas cooperation projects with Russia, including the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Meanwhile, the trade surplus in favour of Germany is one of the key points causing disagreements. Washington always criticised Berlin for enjoying benefits in an unfair manner. According to the White House, US support and international obligations are no longer systematic, but on a principle of reciprocity. The reduction of troops is a message to remind Germany of the fairness demanded by the US.

However, analysts said it is not yet certain that the “punishment” plan will help President Trump accomplish the goal of pressuring allies, but may in fact damage the transatlantic relationship that has already been in trouble for a long time. Actually, the majority of German people do not appreciate the presence of US forces, as US bases in Germany primarily serve NATO operations and the Pentagon’s main strategic missions, especially in its “deterrent” mission to rivals. The NATO Secretary-General affirmed that the US garrison was not only a bilateral issue between the US and Germany, but also an issue regarding NATO as a whole. In the context of an emerging idea to ​​form a separate defence force in Europe, President Trump’s plan has given further impetus to the “old continent” to reduce its dependence on the “security umbrella” of its ally across the Atlantic Ocean.

It is not clear what the White House’s next steps will be, and moreover, the plan to pull a portion of troops out of Germany also needs approval from the US Congress. However, the US making its intention public has further expanded disagreements between Washington and Berlin, driving the transatlantic alliance to become even more ruptured.

Refugee athletes stay focused on countdown to delayed Olympics

With the Tokyo Olympics delayed until 2021, UN News has spoken to two recipients of Refugee Athlete Scholarships, an initiative of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and UN refugee agency (UNHCR), to find out how COVID-19 lockdown measures are affecting their preparations for the games.

Four years ago at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the world cheered on athletes from the first ever Refugee Olympic Team, competing under the famous five-ringed flag of the organization, in order to raise awareness of the plight of refugees worldwide.

June, when World Refugee Day is celebrated, was supposed to be the month when the IOC would announce the make-up of the team travelling to compete in Tokyo, but, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the Committee and city of Tokyo to postpone the Games, qualifiers are on hold.

But the refugee athletes themselves, are doing their best to stay fit, while complying with lockdown measures across the world.

Jamal Mohammed is a distance runner, specializing in the 10,000 metres. In his early teens, he was forced to leave his mother and siblings, and flee his home in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Eventually, after travelling through Egypt and the Sinai Desert, he reached Israel, where he was granted refugee protection, and settled in Tel Aviv. There, a sports club in Tel Aviv that provides opportunities to underprivileged athletes, helped him get on his feet. He was given the chance to train, as well as help integrating into a new society that he could call home.

“Without the Alley Runners Club, life would have been much harder. When I joined, it helped me to connect with people and make new friends. The club sent in the refugee scholarship application to the IOC, so their support means a lot to me.

When the COVID-19 pandemic spread, I was training in Ethiopia and, when I came back, I had to go into quarantine. I had nowhere to go, but some friends were kind enough to rent a place for me. Now, they have even let me live with them, and stay fit by using a treadmill. They have become my second family!

I feel very lucky to be here, in Israel. Despite the current disruption, I am going to keep working hard, in the hope of making it on the team, and competing in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races.

Although I can’t run under a national flag, I am very proud to be representing the millions of refugees around the world. I had to leave everything behind, including my family, and I hope that, when people see us compete in Tokyo, it will help them to understand what it means to be a refugee, and what we have had to go through.”

Ehsan Naghibzadeh competed for his country in years gone by. He was a member of the Iranian national Taekwondo team for eight years, winning multiple prizes in competitions around the world, including a gold medal at the West Asian Games, a 2nd place at the Asian Club Championships, and at the World University Championship. He also competed in the World Championships in Mexico.

However, in 2015, he fled his homeland, and is now in Switzerland, with refugee status. Since arriving in the country, he has continued to win multiple prizes at international events, including third place at the European University Games.

Although Switzerland is beginning to open up from COVID lockdown, Mr. Naghibzadeh told UN News that, for him, training options remain limited:

“At the height of the pandemic, it was very hard to train, and I could only really work on fitness. More recently, I’ve been able to go to a gym, but there are still limits to what I can do: I’m not allowed to kick targets or, more importantly, spar. This is a big problem, because sparring is essential practice in Taekwondo. So, for now, I concentrate on keeping my fitness levels up.

I live in Appenzell, a rural part of eastern Switzerland and I have to travel to Winterthur or Zurich to use the gym. This means I spend between four and five hours a day in the train. My sister says that I should be in the Guinness Book of Records, for the amount of time I spend travelling by train!

But I don’t mind. It’s worth it. Sport was my life before, in Iran, it’s my life now and will always be the most important thing in my life, whatever happens next year. I go to university two days a week, to studying for a degree in sports management, and I am planning to become a Taekwondo and fitness coach.”

37 Refugee Athlete Scholarship-Holders, originally from Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria, are competing in athletics, badminton, boxing, judo, karate, swimming, taekwondo and weightlifting.

The decision to have an IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Tokyo Games, builds on the legacy of the Team that competed in Rio 2016, which also led to the creation of the Olympic Refuge Foundation.

Working closely with UNHCR, the Foundation supports projects beyond the Games, offering ongoing assistance for refugees and displaced people, by creating safe sports facilities, and developing sporting activities. The aim of the Foundation is for one million forcibly displaced young people to have access to safe sport, by 2024.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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