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Seventy-four years ago, longshoremen on the West Coast walked off the job to protest the imposition of an "open shop" by shipping and stevedoring firms.  The strike, known variously as the West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike and the West Coast Waterfront Strike, soon sparked a sympathy strike from sailors and then a general strike in San Francisco that shut down the city for four days and culminated with "Bloody Thursday".

On Thursday, July 5th, the owners tried to forcibly open the ports.  Police fired tear gas into the crowd of picketers, then charged in on horseback where they were met with rocks and spent gas canisters.  Both sides retreated and regrouped several times. In the evening, after strikers tipped over a squad car, police opened fire, killing a striker and sympathizer. July 5th remains a holiday for West Coast longshoremen to this day.

The strike was a watershed event in labor history. The West Coast longshoremen, under the leadership of Harry Bridges, split from the more conservative, East Coast-based International Longshoremen’s Association and formed the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).  

The strike, along with similar strikes in Minneapolis and Toledo that year, also helped to bring about the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

While unions have seen their clout wane in recent years, the ILWU remains a potent force for labor and often a thorn in the side for the ruling class.  In 2002, they forced Bush to invoke the dreaded Taft-Hartley Act to force an end to a union slow down and this past May Day they stayed home to protest the War.  

A big part of the reason that the ILWU can ensure a high standard of living for its members and maintain its often militant independence is that it doesn’t face the same threats as many unionized workers  -- you can’t move ports oversees.  Or can you?

The ILWU’s strike of 1971 brought the union face-to-face with a new reality of the modern world – containers.  Container shipping made it easier to simply transfer US-bound cargo to ports in Canada or Mexico, where they could be unloaded and trucked to the US.

The union won a partial victory in the strike, however, because Canadian ILWU longshoremen refused to unload ships heading for the US and American teamsters refused to ship goods from Mexican ports.

But Rome marches on.    

A provision of NAFTA requires that all roads in the US, Mexico and Canada are open to truckers from all three nations.  Because of opposition by teamsters and many in Congress, the full implementation of this provision was delayed for several years. (In 2001 Bush vetoed, incredibly, a bill that would require Mexican trucks to meet the same safety standards as American and Canadian trucks).  While Canadian trucks were allowed full access to American highways, Mexican trucks were limited to within twenty miles of the border.  Loads destined beyond this area were transferred to American trucks.  

In September of last year, the Bush Administration launched a one-year pilot program to allow full access for Mexican trucks.  The Senate immediately voted to withhold money need for the program from the Department of Transportation.

The use of Mexican truckers will, of course, result in huge savings for shippers.  This passage from the investment website,, gives you a good idea:

The average US driver earns $.40 per mile, while the average. Mexican driver earns $.18 per mile. Based on 2007 results, I estimate that CLDN (a shipping company ~ eds) could realize a maximum of roughly $25 million annually by using all Mexican drivers for freight originating in Mexico. Even if CLDN is only able to recognize half of the potential savings, a $12.5m perpetuity discounted by their cost of capital (~12%) is worth $104m which, compared to the market cap of $218m, is significant.

But beside the immediate impact to the earning power of American (or even Canadian) truckers, is the long-term impact on longshoremen and the ILWU.  

The Kansas City SmartPort is a state-of-the-art transshipment hub located in the heart of North America.  The SmartPort is at the center of rail lines and highways that spread to all North American ports, including the recently upgraded port of Lazaro Cardenas (which has an exclusive rail access with Kansas City Southern Railroad) and the planned Punta Colonet in Mexico.

Nobody, save a few nuts who endlessly worry about "American sovereignty", expects teamsters and ILWU’ers to be supplanted overnight.  But the implementation of NAFTA and the slow motion re-orientation of our nations shipment grid – away from coastal cities, to Mexico and up through Texas should give every working person pause.  


Originally posted to Oswald on Thu May 08, 2008 at 06:44 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  nitpick. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ohcanada, Statusquomustgo, dconrad

    In 2001 Bush vetoed, incredibly, a bill that would require Mexican trucks to meet the same safety standards as American and Canadian trucks

    Bush didn't veto a bill until the stem cell bill in 2006.  

    "[G]lobalization is...increasing the efficiency of resource allocation through stronger capital markets" - Barack Obama

    by burrow owl on Thu May 08, 2008 at 06:53:09 PM PDT

  •  Winter driving in Canada (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the thought of Mexican trucks barreling along the Trans Canada Highway laden with whatever, two lanes through the mountains in some places, in the middle of blizzards that shut down highways because of avalanches and slides for days on end, boggles the mind.

    It is not something I have seen in any newspaper but Harper thinks Bush is doing a good job and the three amigos are silly enough to try it..

    They seem to forget that the Peace and Prosperity partnership they are cooking up has no legitimate legal legs. Who are these people that promote this new America?

    Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

    by ohcanada on Thu May 08, 2008 at 07:16:03 PM PDT

    •  Uh, it is very unlikely (0+ / 0-)

      that those Mexicans are delivering that far. And if they were, why do you think they are less capable than a trucker from Florida? Long haul truckers are driving rigs that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, no matter their nationality. The Mexican trucks are required to adhere to the same standards as US and Canadian trucks.

      •  Mariachi Mama (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I was rather thinking not of the cost of the rigs but of the different driving experience necessary to drive in terrible winter conditions.

        The  security peace prosperity conferences remain an issue for me.

        Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

        by ohcanada on Thu May 08, 2008 at 08:06:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  There is a lot of misinformation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burrow owl, balancedscales

    about this program.

    Mexico doesn't care. Mexico already has a judgement from the NAFTA/WTO courts which will allow Mexico to enact tarrifs on US goods in retaliation.

    •  So what. (0+ / 0-)

      Who cares what about the squabble between plutocrat-dominated governments of Mexico and the US?

      If you see this as a Mexico vs. US fight then you've already been brainwashed.  Go away.

      •  exactly (0+ / 0-)

        The commenter does this on all threads related to the mexican trucks and sends up flares of racism because someone refers to the trucks as Mexican trucks.  Of course, she doesn't say it when Canadian and American trucks are also noted, just Mexican.

        The driving experiences are different and worse, the rules for each are different from rest times to maintenance.  Canadians have better trucking laws than we do and ours are better than Mexico's, but I'm not sure I'd like any truck driver on the road who isn't resting enough or maintaining the trucks to a US minimum (which is still lower than Canadian standards).  I simply don't feel safe no matter who that driver is. I wouldn't want to be sharing the road with these drivers and I can't imagine who would.

        PS, great diary and mind if I cross post it on my site?  And, I added tags, much too late, but I usually note the union and LABOR when I do these diaries.  Also, people do search for NAFTA, so if it's NAFTA or CAFTA related, note those in the tags too.  It might get you a few more readers.

        Join the One Day Strike to Protest the war

        by Bendygirl on Sun May 11, 2008 at 11:00:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Solution is in plain sight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just as the Canadians have branches of the ILWU and the Teamsters, the Mexican workers need that organizing too. Full parity. no lingering racism of a downtrodden unorganized  desperate pool.

    When those workers have the Master Freight agreement telling the shippers that it will cost them just as much to ship thru Mexico, except for fuel costs as anywhere else, the rationalizing and logic of shipping  will be to push the East coast and West coast and Southern ports flow to where it should go, not bypassing the union ports because there will be no advantage to doing that. There is enough work for all the ports.

    How about it?  In partnership with the Mexican government and the shippers  and the deal to allow the cheapest nonorganized drivers free range is the Trojan horse promoted by the Bushies to break the US  unions. The answer is to boost the efforts in Mexico, to bring those workers in under the same rules and rates and pay scales that all the other North American freight handlers and drivers get.

    McCain: Unlike most Repub licans, he HAS dropped bombs on a people and country that did not attack America. It fits: Warmonger

    by Pete Rock on Thu May 08, 2008 at 08:41:05 PM PDT

  •  AFTA and OOIDA also against it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    AFTA and OOIDA are also against the provisions to allow Mexican trucking companies greater access to the US. It's a bizarre sign where big companies, small companies, and the US worker have similar goals. (So why the push? Two words: Wal. Mart.)

    Now if only the Teamsters had much clout over OTR trucking. They seem mainly based in LTL and local work.

    Interesting that these things came to a confluence in your journal. I picked up a load in Kansas City today. About a block from a GM plant that is closed up due to a strike. Kudos to those workers.

    (BTW, 40 cpm might be average, but there's a ton of guys making way less than that. Starting wages at some of the lesser companies are in the 28 cpm range. I'm at 34, but should be at 41 in another 10.5 months)

    •  does that include fuel costs? (0+ / 0-)

      Those big rigs couldn't get very good gas milage; your diesel must cost close to .40 a mile

      Rich people: God bless us. -HRC

      by DFH on Sat May 10, 2008 at 12:50:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No idea (0+ / 0-)

        I'm a company driver, so I don't directly pay for fuel. According to the on board computer, I get 5.5 to 6 miles per gallon.

        $4.20/gallon divided by 6mpg gives you 70 cpm in fuel costs. Not counting buying the truck, maintenance, tires, insurance, etc.

  •  Hooray for Harry Bridges! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    skywriter, mango, DFH

    His name still evokes strong feelings in Hawaii, almost two decades since his death.

    One other footnote about Bridge: he and his wife (who was Japanese American) successfully sued the state of Nevada for the right to marry in the late 1950s (after being denied a marriage license by a Nevada clerk), and their lawsuit was the reason anti-miscegenation laws were overturned by 1959 in that state.

    Clearly, as another well and better stated than I, the solution is unionizing Mexican workers.  Unions need to be truly international in order to successfully respond to the exploitive effects of globalization and treaties like NAFTA.

  •  Off topic, but it really gets my goat (0+ / 0-)

    is that for all of this SmartPort capability, with rail and truck lines, they still can't manage a passenger rail service to the suburbs or DeSoto or Lawrence or Wichita.  You also can't take a passenger train to Oklahoma city.  Why is that?  Is it against the rules for passengers and freight to be on the same line, or what?

    In Lawrence, there is a plan to pave over a valuable wetland that also happens to be a sacred Indian ground, containing the bones of many children who were transplanted from their families during the "Mission" days.  The new wetland-destroying bypass is supposed to help allieviate traffic congestion. But there's a goddamn rail line that stretches to KC, and criss-crosses Olathe and Lenexa.  

    "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

    by Reepicheep on Sat May 10, 2008 at 02:00:53 PM PDT

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