The following action was organized to support the striking Kaiser Aluminum steelworkers (members of the USWA) in combination with rank & file members of the ILWU and Earth First!:
Tacoma Pier Shut Down!: Sea Diamond, Laden With Kaiser Aluminum Scab Cargo, Idled By MTW-Organized Solidarity Action. By x337969, November 1998
Tacoma, Washington - At sunrise on Monday, November 7th, Puget Sound Marine Transport Workers and other Wobblies set up a picketline at Pier 7 in the Port of Tacoma in solidarity with locked-out Steelworkers from Kaiser Aluminum.
The Sea Diamond, a cargo ship loaded with bauxite destined for Kaiser's Tacoma and Spokane facilities, was delayed for 24 hours, after members of Earth First! (EF!) occupied a crane and a conveyor belt at Pier 7.
The action was called for by members of the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) who have been on strike for the last three months. The strike was prompted by Kaiser Aluminum's refusal to talk to the union over issues such as downsizing, cuts in medical and retirement benefits. Kaiser began moving trailers to house its scabs onto the polluted factory site before negotiations with the union were even set to begin.
Management at Kaisera subsidiary of the infamous Maxxam Corporation, owned by junk bond baron Charles Hurwitz has conducted a determined effort to break the Steelworkers' union through the use of scab labor and strikebreaking goons from the International Management Assistance Corporation (IMAC).
The first ILWU dockworkers began arriving to work the ship at about 7:00 am. Jeremy Read, Branch Organizer of MTW-IWW San Francisco Bay Ports Local 9, explained to a crane operator the nature of the picket. The crane operator, realizing his right not to endanger the health and safety of anyone on the job site, promptly went home.
Longshore workers honored the picketline without hesitation. Many who had not been dispatched to work the Sea Diamond came down, out of both support and curiosity. Many were surprised that EF! had acted in solidarity with union workers, as many had viewed its past actions as opposed to workers' interests particularly in the lumber industry. Other longshore workers grabbed "bulls" (or forklifts), and moved checker shacks around to the picketline so pickets could get out of the rain.
EF! activists scouted Pier 7, and the first two were arrested after attempting to occupy the crane. Fortunately, others had made it up to the crane's boom, and some were posted in the scaffolding of the conveyor belt to the silos150 feet above ground.
As members of the press arrived, crane climbers rappelled from their position aloft in an attempt to unfurl a gigantic banner which read "HURWITZ CUTS JOBS AS FAST AS HE CUTS TREES". The wind ended up whipping the banner and the climbers about, creating a spectacle eagerly filmed by the TV crews. The climbers were cited for criminal trespass, but were not hurt. Climbers descended the crane in the afternoon, and were not cited or arrested.
The Sea Diamond dropped anchor at about 10:00am, and water craft ranging from an Wobbly sailboat to personal boats drifted around the port, preventing the ship from docking. Foss tugboats, operated by Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific members, cruised by to check out the action, as did Coast Guard vessels.
Throughout the action, Steelworkers maintained their legal six-member, informational picketline.
A spokesperson for Kaiser, quoted in Tacoma's daily Spokesman-Review, said that the action confirmed "concerns that the union was working with an extremist organization".
Port of Tacoma officials were caught by total surprise at the action which took place right in front of their corporate offices.
In what newsmedia have called an "unlikely coalition", members of the IWW and EF! took action in support of the Steelworkers. And thanks to solidarity from rank-and-file longshoremen of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 23, the picketline successfully stopped production at the pier for the day.
The action was planned by EF! members from the West Coast, and the picketline was coordinated by IWW Marine Transport Workers in Seattle and Oakland, and the Olympia IWW.
The effort has been a boon for the IWW's ongoing efforts to organize the waterfront in the Puget Sound, as the action resulted in tremendous publicity for the union. Many maritime industry contacts, who will be fast allies in our future activities, have been made. Seattle MTWs continue to meet with militant steelworkers, who have pledged to support the IWW in future organizing drives.
The action has also marked a turning point for Earth First!, which has been criticized as being "anti-labor" by many timber industry workers. Right wing elements have exploited this perception to discredit Earth First! among workers.
Tacoma's Sea Diamond solidarity action proves that radical environmentalists can become allies in workers's struggles. EF! organizers maintained that this was "the Steelworker's show", while at the same time reminded the press of Maxxam subsidiary Pacific Lumber's unsafe, anti-worker practices in northern California's redwoods.