Workers Vanguard No. 1117
8 September 2017
ILWU Tops Bury Union Call to Action
Bay Area Anti-Fascist Protests
For Labor/Black Action to Stop the Fascists!
“Alt-right” fascist gangs had long been planning to stage a double-header of provocations in the Bay Area on the weekend of August 26-27. The first was called for Saturday at San Francisco’s Crissy Field by “Patriot Prayer,” which organized a June 4 fascist rally in Portland following the murder of two men who had intervened to stop the racist intimidation of two young women by a white supremacist. At the eleventh hour, its leader, Joey Gibson, called off the Crissy Field rally. Whining that he had been maligned as a white supremacist, Gibson complained that “tons of extremists” were being whipped up against him by Democratic Party city rulers and Democratic Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi.
This was as big an invention as the lie that Patriot Prayer has no ties to the fascists. The Democrats’ aim was to contain outrage against the fascists through the velvet glove of appeals for “peace and love” and the repressive force of the capitalist state. An army of SF cops was mobilized, together with the federal police agencies that control Crissy Field. Their purpose was to disarm and imprison anti-fascist protesters in a massive police pen at Crissy Field, where draconian restrictions banning picket signs and other items were announced. When Gibson said that he would instead hold a three-hour “press conference”—i.e., an alternate rally—at Alamo Square, the cops also threw up fences to barricade the area. Over 1,000 protesters marched on the San Francisco square, where several hundred were initially trapped inside the cops’ pen but later allowed to rally.
It is a victory that the fascists had to call off their SF rally and press conference. However, what mainly took place in San Francisco that day were insipid “unity” rallies. In collaboration with the mayor’s office, the Democrats’ loyal labor statesmen in the San Francisco Labor Council worked to divert any protest against the fascists at Crissy Field into a liberal “anti-hate” event miles away at Civic Center. The politics of this rally were the lie that racist terror is an assault on “American values” and the promotion of the Democrats as the “answer” to the fascists emboldened by Trump’s White House.
In fact, Trump is simply the naked face of the brutal racist reality of American capitalism, which the Democratic Party equally represents. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who joined the howls of outrage against the Patriot Prayer rally, fought to keep up the Confederate flag of slavery at that very same Civic Center in 1984 when she was mayor after we had torn it down.
For all its sniveling complaints about safety, Patriot Prayer was itching to stage a provocation. On August 27, Gibson and his bodyguard turned up in Berkeley for a planned “No to Marxism in America” rally, as did a couple of dozen other right-wing and fascist provocateurs. They were appropriately dealt with by antifa, with Gibson, his bodyguard and others fleeing into the arms of the phalanx of heavily armed cops that had been mobilized to protect them. After warning other anti-fascist protesters, including those who did not want to participate, to safely retreat, the antifas defiantly jumped over the police barricades surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, where the fascists had called their rally.
Mobilize Labor/Black Power to Smash the Fascists!
At the Berkeley protests against the fascists’ “No to Marxism” rally there was only one contingent that actually represented the program and the purpose of Marxism. That was the 40-strong contingent of the Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee. The reformists of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Democratic Socialists of America had linked up with assorted liberals and preachers to organize a “Rally Against Hate” demonstration to celebrate non-violence and diversity blocks away from where the fascists planned to have their provocation. Others had prevailed in actually marching toward the fascists’ rallying site. We joined that march under an SL banner demanding, “Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party! Finish the Civil War! For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!” and a PDC banner declaring, “For Labor/Black Mobilizations to Stop the Fascists!” Standing at the head of the oppressed, and relying on its collective strength, the working class is the only force in society that has the social power to not only stop the fascists but to overturn the whole capitalist system that spawns these vermin.
Against the pro-Democratic Party “dump Trump” reformists, we stood out as a militant and disciplined communist pole. Our chants of “Sweep the Fascists from the Streets! Racist Terror is not Free Speech!” as well as “Remember Hiroshima! Remember Vietnam! Democratic Party We Know Which Side You’re On!” took on those liberal and reformist organizations that promote the capitalist state and the Democratic Party as their protectors from fascist terror. These chants were picked up by others in the crowd.
In the lead-up to the fascist provocations in SF and Berkeley, we had been mobilizing ourselves and others behind the call made in a motion passed unanimously at the August 17 union meeting of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in the Bay Area. That motion resolved that the local would march on San Francisco’s Crissy Field on August 26 “to stop the racist, fascist intimidation” by the Patriot Prayer rally and “invite all unions and antiracist and antifascist organizations to join us defending unions, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and all the oppressed.”
As we wrote in the last issue of WV (“For Labor/Black Mobilizations to Stop the Fascists!” WV No. 1116, 25 August):
“We welcome this call. Other unions and all opponents of racist terror should mobilize with the ILWU on August 26! The Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee will be mobilizing a contingent emphasizing that for labor to bring its power to bear against the fascist terror gangs, it must be mobilized on the basis of its own independent strength—not as an adjunct to the Democratic Party politicians who are trying to get the fascist rally banned by the federal government. Unfortunately, the Local 10 leadership is pushing the efforts of the Democratic Party administration of San Francisco and Democratic Party Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi to get the rally banned, with Local 10 president Ed Ferris telling KPFK on August 18, ‘I am hopeful that they’ll just deny this permit’.”
Such deadly reliance on the forces of the capitalist state and Democratic politicians has long corroded the fighting power of the unions. In this case, it was wielded by the Local 10 bureaucracy to betray the members who voted to mobilize to stop the fascists. No call to action based on the motion was issued by the union misleaders. On the contrary, they did nothing to mobilize the ranks of the union.
The Treachery of the Labor Bureaucracy
In the week leading up to the fascist rally, we did several sales of WV at the ILWU hall. Many Local 10 members did not even know about the motion passed at the August 17 union meeting. Many more were fearful of what might happen in a march to Crissy Field. In particular, black workers who are the majority of the local were understandably worried that they would be targeted by the fascists and the cops. Several told us that they would join the protest if it was a mass, disciplined show of the social power of the ILWU against fascist terror. But they also knew that Local 10’s leadership had no intention of organizing such an action.
Instead of taking responsibility for implementing the motion, reaching out to other unions and mobilizing its own membership, the Local 10 bureaucrats sloughed off any purported organizing to a phony “rank and file” committee. The majority of those who attended the one organizing meeting of this committee were not ILWU members, though there were some members of other unions, especially electricians from IBEW Local 6 who were attempting to mobilize their union based on the ILWU motion (see report above).
Serving as the bureaucracy’s handmaiden in this charade was Jack Heyman, a now retired member of Local 10 who was previously on its executive board. A practiced hand in the bureaucracy’s game of smoke and mirrors, Heyman has a long history of boosting the “militant” credentials of the ILWU while covering for the treacherous policies of the bureaucracy. The only call to action ever issued to the Local 10 membership was signed by Heyman and an active longshoreman, who called themselves “Longshore Workers to Stop the Fascists.” WV was told that this flyer, posted on the website of the Heyman publicists in the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, barely saw the light of day at the union hall, and it was never distributed by the active Local 10 member who co-signed it.
Heyman joined Local 10 president Ed Ferris for the KPFK radio interview, never disagreeing with Ferris’s support for the local Democrats’ attempts to get the Patriot Prayer rally banned. In the interview, Ferris offered the Local 10 dispatch hall as the meeting point for the action, saying, “People can start queuing up at Local 10 and begin the march” to Crissy Field. He claimed details would be firmed up later. Yet when the leaflet of the putative “Longshore Workers to Stop the Fascists” appeared it listed Marina Green, not the Local 10 hall, as the meeting place for the march. This had the effect of further distancing the Local 10 leadership from the action, and it ensured there would be a far smaller longshore turnout.
On the night of August 24 and the morning of August 25, WV supporters distributing literature at the Local 10 hall heard from some workers that the planned march was the work of “outsiders.” Very few longshoremen said they planned to attend. A “Special Memo to the ILWU Local 10 Membership” issued by Ed Ferris did not mention the unanimously passed union motion or the march to Crissy Field. Instead, Ferris advised “rank and file” longshoremen who “may choose to protest the ‘alt-right’ groups” that weekend to “be safe and keep it peaceful.”
This was a treacherous act of demobilization by the Local 10 leadership, allowing a wider hearing to more conservative elements in the union. Fearing a threat to their livelihood, some longshoremen argued that the best strategy was to ignore the fascists. “Why should we make ourselves targets and give the fascists publicity,” they told WV. Many pointed out that the fascists wouldn’t dare to march in black Oakland, or in the SF black neighborhoods of Hunters Point/Bay View.
The growing fascist menace in Trump’s America threatens black people, immigrants and unionists everywhere, as the proliferation of nooses and racist graffiti at the SSA Terminal in the Oakland Port illustrates. The fascist killers, including those who mobilized in Charlottesville, are mainly young, urban, have military training and are out for blood. When they are ignored, they are emboldened. Members of ILWU Local 10 brought their collective strength and solidarity to bear on May 25 when they shut down the SSA terminal to protest the racist noose provocations. In doing so, they gave a glimpse of the social power the multiracial working class can unleash to drive the white supremacists back into their holes. The union’s August 17 motion could have provided the potential for the Bay Area labor movement to flex its muscle. It is a crime that the Local 10 leadership worked to sabotage that potential.
The Cynical Charlatans of the Internationalist Group
Having demobilized longshore workers, the labor tops then used them for a cynical photo op on the morning of August 26 at the Local 10 hall—after Patriot Prayer had announced that it was canceling its Crissy Field rally. Union members who had been told that all rallies were canceled and to come out to get jobs were then asked to pose for a picture in front of a banner reading, “Stop Fascist Terror.” It is an impressive picture of some 50, mainly black, longshore workers looking militant and determined. The reality is that these Local 10 members had gone to the hall for work, not to march against the fascists. We don’t fault them. They were used as pawns by the Local 10 bureaucracy, which after undermining the August 17 union motion, saw the opportunity to burnish their “militant” credentials. Helping perpetrate this fraud were members and supporters of the Internationalist Group (IG) who are also featured in the photo.
A shamelessly cynical August 26 article on the IG’s website prominently features a nearly identical picture under the headline “Fascists Forced to Flee San Francisco—A Significant Victory.” The IG brays: “Key to running off the fascists was the move by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 to shut down the port and march to stop the fascist ‘Patriot Prayer’ rally.” This is a complete fabrication, as anyone with any contact with Local 10 members knows.
The IG’s lies simply gallop along. After claiming that the Patriot Prayer fascists canceled their rally “after the ILWU voted to use its power to stop it,” their article argues that “if the longshore union had taken the next step to bring out the membership in a mass labor-led victory march, it would have really driven home the lesson.” But the ILWU bureaucracy had done nothing to take the first step of mobilizing the union’s power to stop the fascists. And the IG assisted them in the charade that “rank-and-file” longshoremen were organizing for action. At an August 24 meeting for the Berkeley protests, two IG members passed themselves off as speaking for Local 10 longshore workers through the bogus “rank-and-file” committee.
In the aftermath, the IG writes that “not only the fascists, but also the cops and their Democratic Party bosses are well aware that going up against this heavily black powerhouse of Bay Area labor is quite a different matter than attacking loosely organized protesters drawn largely from student and middle-class sectors.” True. But the heavily black ILWU Local 10 workforce was not being mobilized! Rather, they rightly feared what would happen if they went out for a similar “loosely organized” protest headed by the variety of liberals and reformists in the “rank-and-file” committee.
The IG is providing a left cover not only for the putatively more militant leaders of Local 10 but for the ILWU International bureaucracy. The ILWU International ran the photo of Local 10 members in the hall the morning of August 26 on its Longshore and Shipping News website. What is completely disappeared is any mention of the Local 10 motion calling for the union to take the lead in a march to Crissy Field to stop the Patriot Prayer fascists. Instead, the photo is being used to promote a “Statement of Policy on Racism” which simply echoes the rhetoric of the Democratic Party-inspired “love fests” that have been endorsed by labor misleaders in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
Notably Longshore and Shipping News never saw fit to publish a single word about the nooses found on the Oakland docks or Local 10’s May 25 work stoppage to protest them. The ILWU International is using the rise of fascist terror not to mobilize labor’s power against these storm troopers but to further shackle the workers to their capitalist exploiters and oppressors. Joining the IG in providing cover for this treachery are the labor reformists of In These Times, who ran a slightly less delusional article on August 29 titled, “These Dockworkers Just Showed the Labor Movement How to Shut Down Fascists.”
In the face of the union misleaders who have rolled over during the decades-long, one-sided class war against the unions, it is no easy task to mobilize the power of the working class to take on the fascist terror gangs. For that you need a leadership that can inspire the workers with the confidence and consciousness of their social power. The IG, in embellishing the actions of the ILWU misleaders, serves only to corrode the consciousness of the workers, reinforcing a sense of demoralization in the capacity of unions to struggle.
To their credit, the ILWU’s Inland Boatmen’s Union division, which organizes ferry and tug workers, had small contingents at SF’s Alamo Square on August 26 and in Berkeley the next day. But this was the only visible ILWU presence. The real strength of the ILWU lies in its longshore core. Contrary to the myth peddled by Heyman and the IG, the union’s remaining power is not a reflection of its militancy. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that the labor of longshore workers is key to moving the cargo chain of world trade. If mobilized for an actual fight against the fascists that power could ignite the impoverished black masses in the inner cities for combat, driving home the inextricable link between the fight for labor’s emancipation from wage slavery and the fight for black freedom.
The Working Class Is the Key
In the wake of the August 27 Berkeley anti-fascist rally, Democratic mayor Jesse Arreguin is demanding that antifa be branded a “gang”—i.e., criminal outlaws. He is backed by a collective howl from the bourgeois media, grotesquely equating antifa with the violence and terrorism of the fascist gangs. Joining this chorus is the one-time guru of anti-communist anarchism, Noam Chomsky, who describes antifa as a “major gift to the right.” Such grotesque ravings—which echo Trump’s condemnation of “both sides” in Charlottesville—serve to strengthen the powers of the cops, the source of the most lethal racist violence in this society, against anti-fascist activists and anyone else deemed an “enemy of the state.”
We salute the courage of the antifas in driving away the fascists from MLK Park that day, as well as the precautions they took to protect other anti-fascist protesters. But make no mistake: they only got away with it because, particularly in the aftermath of the rampage of fascist terror and murder in Charlottesville, the city rulers and their cops did not want to pay the overhead for mass casualties and arrests that day. The fact that the cops retreated this time should not lull any opponent of fascist or cop terror. The fascist gangs are the reserve army of the bourgeoisie, to be unleashed in times of crisis, when regular state terror does not suffice to enforce capitalist class terror and racist murder against the working class, black people and all the oppressed.
Antifa activists may well be defiant and heroic, but their political outlook is simply the street-fighting face of the “anti-hate” liberals. The fascist menace cannot be eliminated through isolated actions that do nothing to advance the political consciousness of the working class. A serious fight to eradicate fascism must be based on a revolutionary proletarian perspective to do away with the capitalist order that breeds the fascist scum.
In the 1980s and into the ’90s, the SL and PDC initiated mobilizations to stop the KKK and Nazis when they reared their heads in major cities. The aim was to stop the fascists. But it was also to imbue the working class with the consciousness of its social power as well as to arm it with an understanding of the class nature of the capitalist state and the Democratic Party. In building for these actions, we sought the endorsement of unions and their officials in order to be able to mobilize the union ranks, who formed the proletarian core of these mobilizations. These actions demonstrated the possibility of mobilizing the proletariat in defense of itself and all the oppressed. Above all, they underlined the need for a revolutionary proletarian leadership that is steeped in the lessons of the battles of the past and able to arm the workers for the battles to come.
The working class has the numbers, the power and the organization at the point of production not only to defeat the fascist stormtroopers but to win what the ruling class appropriates for itself—health care, quality education and housing, the very ability to lead a decent life. What is lacking is the kind of leadership necessary to fight—a leadership of the unions that doesn’t bow to the bosses’ laws, their political parties and state agencies. We need a workers party that fights for a workers government to rip the means of production from the capitalist class and institute a planned socialist economy that operates not for the profit of a few greedy exploiters but for the working people who produce the wealth.