In Our View: Cutting Off the Nose

Thuggery by Longshoremen serves only to undermine their own cause

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The greatest damage to the interests of union Longshoremen this week has been self-inflicted. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union subverted their own cause by resorting to violence, vandalism and blatant defiance of a court order.

When tensions began to rise in Vancouver on Wednesday morning — as ILWU members for a time blocked a grain train headed for Longview — no one was overly surprised. As Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson was to proclaim the next day, “I have been meeting with local union leadership and business representatives for two months now. I was always assured that things would not get violent toward our police officers. I guess the protesters from out of town didn’t get that message.”

And then early Thursday morning, things got ugly in Longview as 500-plus Longshoremen wielding baseball bats and crowbars stormed the Port of Longview office, broke windows in a guard building, and allegedly held six guards hostage. Protesters also cut brake lines on train cars and dumped grain.

This violence only makes matters worse for everyone, including unions. Sheriff Nelson added in an especially terse press statement: “I’m very concerned about our local folks and have been since this thing started. There are people outside of our community that are pulling the strings here, and our neighbors are the ones getting hurt.” Indeed, and here are a few key points to consider:

First, local and state law enforcement agencies must summon whatever resources are necessary to stop the violence and restore order, beyond the 40 or so officers mustered early Thursday from the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, Longview Police, Kelso Police and Washington State Patrol.

Second, those agencies and the court system must aggressively prosecute violations of the law, not the least of which was contempt of a federal restraining order issued last week, which prohibits blocking entrance to the grain terminal. That order was dispatched after death threats and assaults involving protesters.

The ILWU is angry because the owner of a new grain terminal in Longview — EGT Development — contracted with International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701 in Gladstone, Ore. The validity of the ILWU’s complaint will never be decided by violence. It will be determined by the courts, which ILWU now must enter after undermining its own cause. Weakening its argument even more is the irony that this is not a dispute about if union workers should be hired. They’ve already been hired. ILWU just doesn’t like which union has been hired.

Third, this week’s violence should be denounced by all unions, if they expect any support from the public that has been endangered. Consider: ILWU Longshoremen “are fighting for good middle-class jobs,” said ILWU spokesman Roy San Filippo. We wonder how literally he intends that explanation to be.

Finally, an important labor distinction is worth noting. We see a difference between public and private unions. Public unions negotiate for taxpayer dollars, and it’s a fundamental obligation of the media to be a watchdog over taxpayer dollars and the government that spends those dollars. Private unions should be allowed to cut the best deal they can and let the marketplace be the deciding factor. But regardless if a union is public or private, thuggery is unacceptable. All unions should condemn it. To not do so taints all the unions for such unacceptable behavior.

Frankly, it’s surprising that unions don’t realize how poorly they look to the general public after this kind of behavior. If they are interested at all in trying to get the public behind them, this did unions no favors.