‘The Loudest Voice We Have’: Longshoremen to Shut Down West Coast Ports for Juneteenth

Longshoremen and women across the West Coast are set to use “the loudest voice” they have on Friday to mark Juneteenth and support the national uprising against systemic racism with an eight-hour work stoppage along the western seabord’s 29 ports. 

The action, announced Monday by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), will affect over 10,000 workers in Washington, Oregon, and California and include stoppages at the Ports of Los Angeles and Oakland.

Oakland workers will also take part in a march from the port to city hall, local KPIX 5 reported.

Motherboard described the action, which is set to include over 10,000 workers, as “the largest work stoppage that one of the country’s most powerful unions has undertaken in more than a decade.”

ILWU International president Willie Adams pointed to the importance of Friday’s actions. 

“Juneteenth has long been recognized by the African-American community, but for many others it was unknown until now—as our nation, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, refocuses on ways to address ongoing, systemic racial injustice,” Adams said in a statement. “Thousands of dockworkers will stop work for the first shift on June 19, 2020, to show their commitment to the cause of racial equality and social justice.”

A statement from ILWU Local 13 on Monday drew attention to the union’s long history of standing for justice. 

“We have desegregated our membership, we condemned the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, we appointed the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. honorary membership, we opposed the wars in the East and Middle East, we supported Occupy Wall Street, we fought for immigrant rights, and we have opposed policy brutality,” said the union.

The group framed stoppages over those injustices as their best tactic to advocate for change. “When workers stop working, it is the loudest voice we have,” ILWU Local 13 said.

Friday’s coordinated action is poised to go down in the history books, Gabriel Prawl, past president of ILWU Local 52, told Seattle’s KIRO 7

“This is a historic action because it’s going to be the first time any labor organization has taken any action to stop work on Juneteenth,” said Prawl. 

“There’s a difference between a movement and a moment,” Prawl added. “A moment means we do something for a day and it’s over. A movement requires sacrifice, and that’s what we’re doing as longshoremen. We’re sacrificing our day’s wages to make this happen.”

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