WHAT'S AT STAKE IS ILWU'S COMMITMENT TO LABOR SOLIDARITY

WHAT'S AT STAKE IS ILWU'S COMMITMENT TO LABOR SOLIDARITY

The Journal of Commerce has consistently represented the shipowners' and stevedoring companies' viewpoint - against the maritime unions. This time, in your editorial ''A Winning Approach'' (May 15, Page 7), the old company themes of ''responsibility'' and ''productivity'' have been given an air of bipartisanship by cajoling a couple of newly elected union officials from Los Angeles into joining your chorus.

Apparently, the JOC is pushing the bogus argument that if longshore workers in Los Angeles/Long Beach, the nation's largest port complex, reject ''wildcat strikes over social-justice issues,'' then they will be rewarded with increased growth.Hogwash! There is no quid pro quo in this false equation. Los Angeles has continued to grow and probably will continue to grow because of its immense market; its geographic proximity to Asian ports; its rail and fast road links; and its vast waterfront and nearby acreage for container facilities.

However, what is instructive here is the JOC's aggressive anti-International Longshore and Warehouse Union stance in prodding employers to exploit ''this new attitude'' and then challenging these ILWU locals that ''changing more than 60 years of adversarial tension will not be easy.''

The new ''PMA-cooperative'' Los Angeles leadership is praised while Oakland longshore workers are crucified for daring to take action to achieve working conditions already practiced in other West Coast ports. This is nothing less than a fight for the heart and soul of the ILWU.

The ILWU's rich and proud 66-year history, going back to the 1934 West Coast maritime strike, is one of using its power to forge a unity of maritime unions in the struggle against the shipowners.

The ILWU's power has been used to demonstrate international labor solidarity not only with oppressed workers under the gun of the military dictatorships in Chile and El Salvador and apartheid South Africa, but also with the Farmworkers Union in California and more recently with the Liverpool, England, dockworkers, World Trade Organization protesters in Seattle and black death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Perhaps one of the more controversial stands was last year's coast shutdown for Jamal, a political prisoner framed for his scathing exposes of Philadelphia police brutality, corruption and racism. It was, after all, the police murder of six workers in the 1934 strike that outraged the public and galvanized support behind the striking workers and led to their victory. Yet police brutality, corruption and racism exist today in Los Angeles, as is evident in the Ramparts police station scandal.

Trade unions have a right and a moral responsibility to express themselves on the critical issues of our times. To remain silent would be criminally complicit, which is why the Bill of Rights must not be surrendered at the container terminal gate.

The ILWU's principled record, for the most part, stands out because those who built the union had a working-class perspective which recognized that racism, police brutality, war and unemployment do affect the ability of labor to organize. Had labor unions used their power to stop the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam, millions of lives would have been saved.

The big-business-controlled U.S. government recognizes the power of the labor movement. That's why laws like Taft-Hartley have been imposed which shackle a trade union's right to organize by banning communists from holding union office and outlawing sympathy strikes. Fortunately, the ILWU was able to beat the anti-communist restriction at the Supreme Court and circumvent the ban on solidarity actions.

The shameless hypocrisy of the press, when it comes to labor actions, stands exposed for all to see.

When the struggle of the reactionary Polish trade union Solidarnosc moved from strictly economic demands to the more overtly political general strike to topple the Stalinist government, the U.S. press heaped accolades on that union.

But when the ILWU and other unions want to protest the exploitative, capitalist policies of the WTO, the news media, including the JOC, seem to be saying, ''Not in my back container yard!''

What is at stake here is the ILWU's historic commitment to labor solidarity encapsulated in the 100-year-old syndicalist slogan, ''An injury to one is an injury to all.'' This slogan was born out of a struggle against the narrow-minded, elitist craft or business unionism, what might be called ''yuppie unionism'' today.

These labor aristocrats listened to the bosses' appeals to the ''spirit of cooperation'' and echoed it to the workers, disarming them. Craft unions lost out because they couldn't defend workers against the inevitable employer attacks in a changing industrial world. Industrial unions like the ILWU survived because they were better able to organize a broader working-class unity.

Similarly, the rank and file longshore workers in Los Angeles will stick to the ILWU's tried and true principles as they did so valiantly in the solidarity action in support of the Australian wharfies. It's simply a question of survival in today's increasingly globalized economy.

Finally, because of its militant history, the ILWU has often attracted college-educated youth, some of whom have graduated Stanford and Cal. However, unlike the LA officials mentioned in your editorial, working-class modesty didn't necessitate them parading around their college credentials.

JACK HEYMAN

Oakland, Calif.