For the first time in at least 30 years, the port of New York and New Jersey was shut down today by a wildcat strike.
Several hundred workers have walked off the job in a sympathy strike after pickets from a Philadelphia longshoremen’s union local showed up at work sites throughout the metro area. The picketers are protesting a move by giant fruit importer Del Monte Fresh Fruit to shut down a shipping facility in Camden, New Jersey, where 200 workers are employed. Workers there say the company is pulling up stakes even though they agreed to meet Del Monte’s demand for $5 million in cuts by taking a 25 percent wage cut.
“Just about every area is out,” James McNamara of the International Longshoremen’s Association tells the Voice. “They hit Newark, Port Elizabeth, Staten Island, and Brooklyn.”
The ILA says the walkout is unauthorized but they’re clearly sympathetic. “The demand for the $5 million in cuts sounds like a ploy to shut the place down,” says McNamara. “You can understand why they’re angry.” You can see a copy of a flier put out by the Philadelphia workers calling for a Del Monte boycott on the ILA website.
The New York Shipping Association which has been left high and dry by the walkout is said to be seeking a court order to get the longshoremen back to work.
Those interested in a taste of what it was like in the port back in the “On the Waterfront” days when wildcat strikes were a regular occurrence (usually against the union as much as against the employers) they should check out Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront, by Nathan Ward. It’s the exciting tale of great reporter Malcolm “Mike” Johnson of the old New York Sun who was sent out one day by his editor to cover a murder on the docks — one of dozens back then — and came back with a series of articles that won him a Pulitzer Prize and changed the way shipping operates in New York.