“The base must be brought back!” : As West Coast dockers approach two months without a contract, casual workers call for unity

Working on the docks? Fill in the form at the end of this article to tell us what you think about contract expiration, what your working conditions are, and why workers should fight. We will protect your anonymity.

Container cranes at Swanson Dock, Port of Melbourne (photo by Marcus Wong)

Wednesday will mark two full months since the expiration of the contract for 22,000 West Coast dockworkers. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) kept workers on the job without a deal during this time, in maneuvers carried out in close collaboration with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the Biden administration.

Frustration is growing among dockworkers at having been kept at work without a contract as talks go on behind closed doors. Contract negotiations this year, which news reports may have stalled, could have major implications for the future of the workforce. PMA demands for greater automation could threaten to eliminate whole swaths of more highly-skilled, high-tenure jobs.

A particular reservoir of opposition, however, is building among casual workers, who make up around half of the workforce. Casuals are not members of the ILWU and have no contractual rights, including the right to vote on the contract that will determine every aspect of their job. They are forced to work as day laborers for years, sometimes a decade or more, before being hired full time.

A journalist for the World Socialist Website recently interviewed a casual Northern California dock worker. He spoke on condition of anonymity and will be referred to as Luke.

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SWS: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

LUKE: I work from the Port of San Francisco. I’m casual. I’m not in the union right now because I’m not permanent, but I do port work. When all the union members get their jobs and there are jobs left, we get a shift. If they don’t have any, we don’t have a shift. So basically it’s part time.

SWS: How often do you normally work?

LUKE: Well, it depends. They go through the works every day. They will come and say we have 250 qualified and 50 unqualified and it just depends on how many union members show up and how many don’t. If a lot of them show up, you don’t work. If they don’t, you have the option of getting a shift for a day, but that’s not enough work to earn a living and it’s not enough work to not have a job. other job.

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