If you can find a good high view, New York harbor is a pretty interesting sight right now. Thanks to the wildcat sympathy strike that began yesterday, there are a dozen loaded barges and at least ten freighters sitting idle between Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty. Over on the Bayonne docks, one of those giant roll-on, roll-off car ferries is waiting out the dispute. A dozen more are packed into the Passaic River outside Port Newark and Elizabeth.
This Still-Life on Water is the result of something else you don’t see much of these days: labor solidarity.
It’s been at least since three decades — maybe more — since anything like it’s happened in the port of New York and New Jersey. That’s because the International Longshoremen’s Association has been pretty much of a roll-on, roll-off, roll-over operation in recent history, with the mob still feeding off the docks in some areas.. Union officials even agreed to a huge cut in starting pay a few years ago that created a two-tier system among its membership and gave employers an incentive to get rid of higher-earning old-timers.
But yesterday, when workers from a Philadelphia local showed up with picket signs, rank and file members in Staten Island, Newark, Bayonne, and even Brooklyn, agreed not to cross. The pleas by the Philly workers struck a chord: One of the largest employers there, Del Monte Fresh Fruit — the pineapple people — has vowed to eliminate 200 union jobs and replace them with nonunion workers at a different port making as little as $8.50 to $10 an hour.
A judge in Newark has issued a back-to-work order so if you want to see some fully flexed labor muscles, better take a look now.
New York’s dailies don’t seem much interested in this, but to get a fix on what’s up, there are a few good stories out there, including at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Newark Star-Ledger, and one from Socialist Worker reporter Lee Sustar. Yes, the Socialist Worker. Who else do you think will give dock workers a fair shake?