The Occupy Wall Street movement is expanding its protest against income inequality and corporate greed to West Coast ports, promising to halt international commerce around the region.
While the Port of Vancouver is not on the group’s list, Stephanie Rotondo, an Occupy Vancouver organizer, said Wednesday that the ports of Longview and Portland are.
Occupy members say the demonstrations, slated to launch Monday, are intended to show support for a union’s battle over work at a grain terminal at Longview’s port and to highlight the struggle of port truckers to earn a living while corporations rake in cash off port operations.
News of the Occupy movement’s latest plans prompted mixed reactions locally. Theresa Wagner, chief of communications for the Port of Vancouver, said safety and security are integral parts of the port’s daily business. “Whatever happens on Monday, the goal is keep everyone safe,” she said.
A Port of Portland spokesman said that port is prepared to work with law enforcement agencies to maintain public safety and security.
Meanwhile, leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which the Occupy group says its port demonstrations are meant to support, say they oppose the move.
Brad Clark, president of ILWU Local 4 in Vancouver, said the union supports the broader goals of the Occupy movement but “this tactic does not further anybody’s cause.” He said ports are one of the few employers offering good, middle-class jobs. Ports are publicly owned, he said, adding, “They’re not Wall Street.”
Clark’s position echoes those of ILWU leaders who’ve recently been quoted by other media outlets saying they do not back the Occupy movement’s port initiative.
However, Rotondo said union members may feel restricted in what they may endorse or say publicly about Occupy’s plans. “I know they don’t officially support the shutting down of ports,” she said. “On the other hand, maybe we have to read between the lines.”
Likewise, Kari Koch, an Occupy organizer, told Willamette Week that ILWU could open itself to a lawsuit if it backed the port protests.
“We totally understand that they are not allowed to do that,” she told the alternative weekly. “We are in direct communication with them. We have been working with the rank-and-file.”
Under the banner “West Coast Port Blockade Shut Down Wall Street on the Waterfront!” the Occupy movement plans to launch blockades of at least seven ports. They are Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland.
In a blog post, Occupy Seattle says it will shut down the Port of Seattle “to bypass the corporate-controlled politicians and confront the 1 percent who really call the shots.”
‘No laughing matter’
Rotondo referred The Columbian to a YouTube video (http://bit.ly/vC0jXZ) in which other Occupy members say they want to show solidarity with the ILWU at the Port of Longview.
The Longshore union opposes a decision by EGT, which built a $200 million grain terminal at the Port of Longview, to use members of the Operating Engineers, Local 701 — employed by General Construction Co. of Federal Way — to run the terminal, rather than ILWU workers.
In the YouTube video, Occupy members also say port truckers are barely scraping by while “Goldman Sachs reaps record profits at SSA (Marine) port terminals.”
Rotondo said the move to shut down West Coast ports is “part and parcel” of the Occupy movement’s overall message.
Josh Thomas, a spokesman for the Port of Portland, said 88 percent of the exporters who call the port home are small and medium-size businesses.
“We see this as hurting working people,” Thomas said of the Occupy movement’s port initiative.
“We consider it no laughing matter when there’s a large group of people threatening to either block or enter the terminal,” Thomas added, “and we’d have to work closely with local law enforcement agencies and our own marine security officers and potentially (the U.S) Coast Guard, if it came to that.”