OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anti-Wall Street protesters along the West Coast joined an effort Monday to blockade some of the nation's busiest ports from Anchorage, Alaska, to San Diego, with the thought that if they cut off the ports, they cut into corporate profits.
Demonstrators were to gather to march on the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters successfully shut down in November. Marchers also descended on the sprawling port complex spanning Los Angeles and Long Beach as the work day begins.
Occupy groups also planned blockades in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., the Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia, and in Portland, Ore.
The protests being billed as action against "Wall Street on the waterfront" are perhaps the Occupy movement's most dramatic gesture since police raids sent most remaining camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming those camps around the country about two months ago to protest what they call corporate greed and economic inequality.
Kari Koch, organizer with Shut Down the Ports Working Group of Occupy Portland, said by shutting down the port, Wall Street will be unable to create profit.
"We will not stand for corporate profits at the expense of working people, we will not stand for attacks on workers, and we will not allow our schools to be closed, social services slashed, and families to be impoverished by your greed!" Koch said Monday in statement.
Organizers hope to draw thousands to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they say are being exploited.
"Taking on and blocking the 1 percent at the port is also taking on the global issue of exploitation by capitalism," said Occupy Oakland blockade organizer Barucha Peller.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, has distanced itself from the shutdown effort. The union's president suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda.
Protesters have cited a longstanding dispute between longshoremen at the Port of Longview in Washington and grain exporter EGT as a key reason for the blockades. Shutdown supporters say they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply asking them to exercise their free speech rights and stay off the job, in keeping with the union's historic tradition of activism.
If protesters muster large enough numbers to block port entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions, which would allow port workers to stay home.
Organized labor appears divided over the port shutdown effort. In Oakland, which saw strong union support for the Nov. 2 general strike that culminated in the closing of the port, the city's teachers union is backing Monday's action, while the county's construction workers have come out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.
The Port of Oakland has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they say could hurt the port's standing among customers and cost local jobs.
"The port is going to do all that it can to keep operations going. Our businesses need to hear that. Our workers need to know that," said Port of Oakland spokesman Isaac Kos-Read.
Officials at West Coast ports say they have been coordinating with law enforcement agencies as they prepare for possible disruptions. Protesters say police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.