Daggett's Grenades

Harold Daggett fired up his troops with a pugnacious inaugural speech after his election last week as president of the International Longshoremen’s Association. Now the industry is wondering what’s ahead.

While rejecting the term “militant,” Daggett promised a tough line on automation, chassis repair jurisdiction and other issues. Clearly his election signals a more confrontational tone to Atlantic and Gulf port labor relations.

Some perspective, however, is in order. Daggett is a tough negotiator but no fool. We can expect some of his positions to be tempered by the give-and-take of bargaining and the influence of the union’s moderate elements.

Although the ILA retains a monopoly on the Port of New York and New Jersey, it’s a different world farther down the coast, especially in Gulf and South Atlantic ports. There open-shop “right to work” laws prevail and the union has waged a 25-year battle against non-ILA competition for breakbulk and other cargoes.

Daggett’s convention speech contained plenty of red meat for the union’s more militant elements but that’s what convention speeches do. It’s usually a mistake to accept such orations as gospel.

Some of the speech’s loudest cheers followed Daggett’s account of an early 1990s trip to Rotterdam, where he was appalled to see an automated terminal being run by a small crew in a control tower.

If he’d had a hand grenade, Daggett said, he’d have thrown it into the tower. It was a great applause line, but it wasn’t meant to be taken literally … I think.

-- Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com. Follow him on Twitter @josephbonney.

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