25,000 dockers at all 29 ports across the West Coast of the USA staged an 8-hour strike on 1 May calling for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. The action was not only supported by significant demonstrations in the USA but also by a solidarity strike staged by Iraqi port workers in Umm Qasr and Khor Alzubair.
When the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) called the strike in February it was widely reported that it was a mere demonstration, and that the union had one day at its disposal each month for its own purposes. In fact the Pacific Maritime Association tried to use the courts to stop the strike, while trucks and port traffic (10,000 cargo containers are unloaded per shift) were brought to an absolute standstill for the whole shift. The dockers have a powerful union and are in a strong position to defy management.
Of course, we should not give carte blanche credit to the politics of the ILWU leadership. In a typical move to channel working-class radicalism into bourgeois politicking, the union is supporting millionaire lawyer Barack Obama in the upcoming election. And at the strike rally on 1 May the ILWU President McEllrath stressed his American patriotism, “Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren’t loyal or accountable to any country. For them it’s all about making money. But longshore workers are different. We’re loyal to America, and we won’t stand by while our country, our troops and our economy are destroyed by a war that’s bankrupting us to the tune of three trillion dollars” in a speech full of the same “Bring our boys home” effluent spouted by the SWP-led Stop the War Coalition in the UK.
But the Iraqi dockers took heart from the strike, and staged their own action to demand the withdrawal of troops in an excellent display of international working-class solidarity. Indeed, on 1 May the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions and the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions and Iraq published a joint May Day address calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops, new laws guaranteeing workers’ right to organise and an end to IMF diktats. Similarly, the FWCUI-affiliated General Union of Port Workers in Iraq wrote a letter to the American ILWU welcoming their strike, exalting the principle of working class unity and denouncing both the sectarian gangs and the occupying troops.
The strike shows the possibility of international working-class action against the imperialist occupation of Iraq and offers an important glimmer of hope for the building of a “third camp” independent of both the US-UK armies and the Islamist militias.