Human Shields at the West Coast Port Shutdown

Chip Johnson has another OO hatchet job in his column today, blaming Occupy Oakland for the city’s budget woes and adding the attendant claim that OO hurts the people of the city. It’s been a familiar refrain as the port shutdown—an unprecedented strike against corruption and misplaced priorities—has geared up, and as Oakland has led the way in several regions including the gulf coast.

The position may seem attractive to some liberals and progressives who want substantive change, but were hoping that the Occupy movement could deliver it by magic, in silence and without effort. Now that municipal reactions throughout the nation have forced liberals to choose sides—between empty rhetoric from age-old establishment enablers, and actual action from the so-called city-harming radicals—the movement appears less palatable to some.

The agreement on the harm that Occupy Oakland does probably has a lot to do with the media’s clarion call over the past months of Occupy actions to see Occupiers as a lot of hippies and trust fund revolutionaries shattering the collective and symbolic windows of financially debilitated cities. Its a fantastical and absurd view of reality that may satisfy people who want to pretend that they woke up yesterday to find their cities and states on fire, but shouldn’t confuse anyone who’s had their eyes open for the past decade.

For years, corporations and their corrupt government cronies have positioned their underpaid workers between their coffers and the threat of mass actions. Arguments typical of that tradition have emerged, for example, around the most vulnerable members of the Oakland Port ecosystem, truck drivers. They’ve been described as near indentured servants, working without benefits and for fixed salaries against traffic and the clock. And this is true. Port spokespeople, the media, and even liberal supporters of the occupied movement, have bemoaned the effect on these non-union workers by the previous port shutdown. Its a message that fits in well with recent communiques [and even personal “missions” to OO committees] from the ILWU international office in DC, arguing that the Occupy Port Shutdown is an unauthorized attempt to force ILWU workers into an illegal strike.

These arguments obscure reality, allowing corporations, their city hall minions and institutional union leadership to make human shields out of the vulnerable corpus of low paid, and under represented workers. Using this gambit as a way to deflect criticism of their own policies and behavior should resonate instantly as an intelligence-insulting hoax. The idea that corporations that effectively bar union representation and create a life of indentured servitude for truckers are not responsible for the misery such workers endure–but rather it is two month demonstrations suddenly causing them to experience insecurity and poverty–is absurd.

Likewise, the city and port management’s claim that the day long actions rob the people of vital resources and trade is also laughable. As Michael Siegel notes, the city is obligated to use port profits on the city’s welfare. But the city allows the port commission to regularly find new ways of investing the money in the port, while city schools and other priorities shutter their doors one after the other—vital services that would be saved with even the merest scraps from the billion dollar generating capital engine of the port.

And while the ILWU has been more militant than most unions, its clear that like every other institution that exists today with a claim of representation of popular will, they are aligned first and foremost with the welfare of the 1%. Calcified elections and representation schemes open to gaming by elites in distant capital offices do not represent the will of union membership; rather, they represent the exhausted logic of settling for the least of evils available. The claim by unions that their members are locked into boilerplate contracts cast in iron before many were even born, is typical of the kind of thinking that has kept a flailing labor colossus on its back for generations.

And, of course, it has become conventional wisdom that “labor” itself, exists only when it is unionized, and that all of the sectors ignored by unions for generations are somehow not deserving of that empowering seat at the table. The argument that tiny administrative bodies claiming to represent less than 10% of the working population are in charge of charting the economic landscape for the other 93%, is itself everything that our Yanqi Autumn movement emerged to protest.

But for some odd reason, all of these arguments work! The city’s liberals and centrists don’t, in fact, blame unscrupulous corporations for keeping truckers in poverty–they blame protesters working toward social justice for that. They don’t blame the city for squandering port funds that could revive a city budget in dire straits due to years of corrupt mismanagement—they blame protesters seeking an end to crony capitalism, instead.

And of course, protesters thus criminalized, are made into easy targets of violent police reprisals. If, in fact, these meddlers are responsible for hurting union and non-union working people, then by all means, the city should exercise a rough hand in controlling them. Because our very well-being as a city is at stake! They are hurting our corrupt structures’ ability to throw us ever-diminishing scraps while they run our cities out on a rail and into the sea.

It doesn’t matter that Occupy Oakland is composed of the very union members that the city and police claim to be protecting; that an army of non-union labor and jobless Americans have, for the first time, joined their ranks in a solidarity prevented by traditional top-down union organizing. All of that must be ignored.

Its then an easy task for OPD administrators to claim they have no other recourse but to fire sub-lethal ammunition into large crowds—this same uncontrollable municipal emirate that’s squandered the city’s money in corrupt overtime schemes and civil judgment pay-outs for their uncontrollable brutality and ignorance of the law and civil liberties.

It’s that absurd. Not sure why, then, there are so many people who believe it.  Perhaps it’s easier for some who’d rather ignore the Occupy movement until it goes away to pretend that they’re the villains, than actually put their theories of social justice to the test.


7 thoughts on “Human Shields at the West Coast Port Shutdown

  1. The same thing is happening up here; the big unions at Port of Portland are all denouncing the shutdown, even ILWU, which is as we speak being f*cked over by some international conglomerate in Longview, WA, just a few dozen miles away. The local media, naturally, only interview union bosses and business types, creating a FOX-like choir of angels appropriate for the season.
    The rank and file, I’m beginning to gather, feel a bit differently. Good for them. Unfortunately, here the port is way out in North Portland and inaccessible (at least by walking or transit), so I doubt it will be occupied in the traditional sense, no matter what. I’m hoping that a hell of a lot of people call in sick.

  2. Thanks for your writing, Jaime. You’re damned eloquent, and long-winded in a way I admire. I was at the hospital visiting a friend when the news was on this evening, the local Ch. 7 broadcast. I could not stop myself from scoffing at the one-sidedness of the reporting, and the patient on the other side of the curtain and his companion chimed in with their agreement. We are surrounded by people who understand and support us – and I would expect this kind of granfaloon from the network news, but to hear the local news media toeing the corporate line is baffling.

  3. Allright, disregarding the rest of the specific questions about the parts of your movement that you don’t acknowledge and the lack of outreach to the community that you affect, etc, here’s my main question to OO:

    OK, so you got the world to listen. Fantastic, that’s a very difficult thing to do, and you deserve credit for it!

    Now comes the hard part: do you now have any realistic and useful alternatives to propose as ways of addressing the undeniable unfairness and corruption inherent in the current system? My mother says that the Occupy Movement in London is pushing for a tax on stock trades, an activity that only the wealthiest 10-20% of people engage in. Awesome! That’s a constructive, well-defined platform for social change.

    Does Occupy Oakland have ANYTHING like that??? Or are you just going to organize lots of marches and whine about how the world isn’t fair, whilst offering nothing constructive as an alternative? Please let me know if you do-have been talking to Occupiers for months now trying to ascertain some constructive message!!!

    But I have yet to hear a realistic and well-thought out answer. And if you don’t have anything useful to say, then I, at least, feel justified in blaming you for wasting my tax money on police and cleaning crews-I would much rather you drifted off on your boat and let my money go towards keeping schools open.

    • Lets start with the assumption you claim needs no evidence. What is your evidence that OO does no outreach into the community “it affects”. Seriously, is that just pulled out of the media ether and treated as fact because it enables your ability to ignore what’s going on?

    • The tax on stock trades which you mention (also called the Robin Hood tax) would be a great thing to implement initially. But unfortunately it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

      What the occupy movement means to me is this: It’s the beginning of a moral evolution. It is a collective awakening of thousands maybe millions worldwide of individuals that see the utter un-sustainability of our civilization and the insanity of our culture.

      So the constructive message that occupy should be providing is one of hope towards a sustainable and liveable planet.

  4. “let my money go towards keeping schools open”–Ben

    Your snot filled comment makes me wonder if you read the post which you claim to be replying to. What changes do you propose to see to it that your money will go toward keeping schools open? Whom do you propose to beg to make those changes come to fruition? You haven’t noticed that the oligarchy controls the money and where the money goes? And that that is the problem? But, heavens sakes!…let’s please not muss their hair trying to put some fear into them. And if their hair should get mussed, well, those doing the mussing – on your and everyone’s behalf – deserve every rubber bullet, every baton blow, every pepper spay attack that they are in the line of fire to take on. Right, Ben?

    Ben? Are you for real?

  5. “If, in fact, these meddlers are responsible for hurting union and non-union working people, then by all means, the city should exercise a rough hand in controlling them. Because our very well-being as a city is at stake! They are hurting our corrupt structures’ ability to throw us ever-diminishing scraps while they run our cities out on a rail and into the sea.”

    Well put Jaime!

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