Open letter: Unions should be on same side as climate change protesters

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Editor's note: ILWU Canada president Mark Gordienko has written a response to the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group's open letter.

The Vancouver Ecosocialist Group has issued the following open letter regarding the aftermath of a December 16 anti-coal protest at Port Metro Vancouver offices:

ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko announced December 20th on the waterfront union's website and in the mainstream media the offer of a "$2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of masked intruders who violently occupied Port Metro Vancouver’s office on Monday December 16 and intimidated office staff."

This action by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has tarnished its own proud history of peaceful civil disobedience by refusing to load ships in support of progressive struggles. Only four years ago a sizable march of ILWU members, supporters, and international guests erected a plaque in Vancouver to the outcome of one such refusal. That one led to a massive lockout and to the 1935 Battle of Ballantyne Pier, where hundreds of dock workers fought police for hours in an attempt to stop scabbing.

Last month's reward offer also gives credence, intended or not, to a growing international, right-wing campaign to make peaceful protest illegal.

We urge the ILWU to abandon this course, and we call on the rest of the labour movement to remind the ILWU of labour's long history of peaceful protest and civil disobedience actions.

Brother Gordienko said the move reflects the union's desire to deter repetition of the action by a half-dozen "anti-capitalist" Santa Claus impersonators. They were opposing the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export project. That and planned expansion of the North Vancouver's Neptune Terminal would make the port of Vancouver into North America's largest coal exporter. The costumed activists—members of Rising Tide Vancouver Coast Salish Territories—entered the office in an attempt to hand out lumps of coal, the traditional symbol of Santa's displeasure with bad behaviour, to Port Metro officials.

A Vancouver Sun story quotes Brother Gordienko saying the protesters used violent "scare tactics," against the mostly female staff, including throwing the pieces of coal. More than a dozen pictures of the action are on the Vancouver Media Co-op website. Some show jostling among the protesters and male officials trying to evict them from the office. An eyewitness told the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group that the only female staffer on the scene as protesters arrived, quickly and calmly retired, untroubled by the Santas, to another part of the office complex. The same source says the pieces of coal, unable to be delivered as intended, were not thrown, but dumped carefully from Santa bags onto the floor in a couple of spots. A statement was read, a song was sung, the protesters departed.

While no one should argue with union officers' defense of members, in this case there was in fact no danger to those members. Brother Gordienko's alarmist rationale for the ILWU reward is instead an effort to further intervene in the currently intense public debate over whether we should massively expand coal exports. He was one of four British Columbia union leaders co-signing a November 27 op-ed piece in the Vancouver Sun that defended job-creating coal exports against environmentalists' opposition, as if job-holders don't also need a livable environment.

But regardless of the ongoing jobs/climate/environment debates, it is glaringly self-defeating for a union to support and legitimize the use of ever-harsher legal penalties for protests and civil disobedience tactics. Canadians have witnessed the growing suppression of dissent. In 2010 police rioted and arrested more than one thousand protesters during the G20 summit in Toronto. Two years later, Quebec's student-led mass protests were criminalized and attacked by police. Last year, large-scale police deployment and arrests unsuccessfully tried to force First Nations protesters in New Brunswick to give up the struggle to stop fracking on their lands. Most recently, people in Oklahoma saw criminalization carried to a chilling extent, when peaceful climate protesters were charged with perpetrating a "terrorism hoax" because a drop-banner shed some glitter onto a corporate lobby floor.

Union marches and picket lines will be obvious targets for such escalating right-wing government suppression in coming years. In the federal public sector, the right to strike was effectively eliminated in 2011 by back-to-work laws against postal workers and the threat of the same for Air Canada flight attendants. We have seen draconian injunctions in BC to stop strikes by teachers and other public sector workers. A new Alberta law, as of December 5, virtually abolishes legal public sector strikes and imposes million-dollar fines for even talking about holding an illegal strike.

A reward supposedly aimed at defending union members from peaceful action by climate change protesters could very well help normalize much more serious dangers to those same members. And this mistake is compounded by the fact that the ILWU and the whole labour movement should be on the same side as the protesters—defending members, their families and their communities from the horrific impacts of climate change that are hurtling toward us all.

Sincerely,

The Vancouver Ecosocialist Group, including the following members (organizations cited for identification purposes only):

Bill Burgess, member, Local 5, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE)
Kathryn Cholette, member, B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU)
Anne Grant, retired member, B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU)
Brad Hornick, past member, Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) at Simon Fraser University
Jill Ineson, member, B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU)
Carol Jerde, retired member, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees
Doug McCorquodale, member, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBCJA)
Anne McDonald, retired member, Surrey Teachers Association (STA)
Gene McGuckin, retired member, Local 1129, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP)
Will Offley, member, B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU)
Larry Tallman, member, Local 15, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Comments (6) Add New Comment
FYI
If I entered any of the homes or places of business or employment of those above, and acted as they did, under the auspices of protesting agaisnt factionalism in the eco-socialist movement, can I expect to be welcomed as you expect you should have been?

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Confused Random
Factionalism? You mean, having opinions at all? Honestly, you have to try pretty hard not to see the connections here between the resource development mega-projects and what the environmentalists are saying. That's always these kids were doing by the way, is forcing a dialogue. Lets not completely exhaust all the sanctimonious indignation in the province before things even get started.
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G
Ridiculous. The first and only duty of unions is to their workers but as we have seen all too often workers are here last concern of union management. When "ecosocialist," laughing so hard at that word that I can barely type, concerns conflict with the jobs of union workers any union that does not stand behind its workers is guilty of failure to represent.
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zlop
Compromised Fascist Union leaders own the rights of their members.
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Mark Murphy
Murray, is that the best picture you've EVER TAKEN? Wow. Great Pic.
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Murray W. Bush (no relation to George)
@Mark Murphy - I know right? I'm one of those guys that believe if you take enough photos you'll eventually get something interesting - even if i doesn't actually reflect the reality of the event. That's why there's only photos and not video of the inside during the invasion...er...I mean "peaceful protest" LOLz.
I mean with video it's a lot tougher to hide the truth.

Actually, the funny part is that the video that the rest of the group took from the outside and posted on YouTube does show the truth - which is that the masked Santas were illegally trying to access a secured federal building. So funny!

Even when the Port managers were using soft tactics to keep them out and saying "you are trespassing! " repeatedly they still shoved their way in! Hilarious!

But yes, the best part is that one deceiving photo. I mean what actually happened was that the first Santa had just violently broken free from one of the managers and was actually lunging at the fellow in the glasses who was only trying to get photos of the masked invaders...er...I mean peaceful protester.

So the guy who looks like he threw a punch was actually just trying to get out of harm's way. So funny! You can actually see that if you look at the photo which was taken just a split second before! Check it out!

Http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/sites/mediacoop.ca/files2/mc/imagecache/bigimg/aport3.jpg

See how in that photo you can clearly see the mask and sunglasses? And the employee has his hand open to try and protect himself from the clearly lunging and agressive Santarchist? Er...I mean peaceful protester...

But, you know, the truth never sells newspapers! LOLz



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