Occupy protesters disrupt West Coast ports
By Mike Pearson
December 12, 2011
(CNN) -- Protesters chanting, "Whose port? Our port!" protested at West Coast ports on Monday, temporarily shutting down some of the facilities in a protest against what they called corporate greed.
The protesters, affiliated with the nationwide "Occupy" movement, set out in the pre-dawn hours in Oakland, California; Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, to shut down ports in an effort to "disrupt the economic machine that benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations," according to organizers.
Long Beach police arrested two people during the demonstration there, police Chief Jim McDonnell said. Port operations were not significantly impacted beyond some traffic delays, he said.
A spokesman for the port in Portland, Oregon, said the protests had partially shut down the port there. In Oakland, the port said in a statement that operations were continuing "with sporadic disruptions for truckers trying to enter and exit marine terminal gates."
About 80 protesters demonstrated outside the gate of San Diego's port, but caused no disruption because, port spokesman Ron Powell said.
"They were there at a time when we really didn't have a lot of truck traffic coming in and out," he said.
Four people who sat down in the road were arrested he said. San Diego police did not immediately return a telephone call seeking information on the arrests.
Protesters were planning a second occupation of the Oakland port Monday afternoon. Protesters in Seattle also were preparing to protest at the port there, according to organizing websites and posts on Twitter.
In addition to the West Coast port blockades, protesters also were planning to demonstrate at the port in Houston, while demonstrators in Salt Lake City and Denver were planning to disrupt operations of Walmart distribution facilities. About 40 to 50 people protested at the Denver facility, CNN affiliate KCNC reported.
The demonstrations were part of a nationwide day of protest called in the aftermath of efforts by cities across the country, including New York, Boston and Oakland, to clear demonstrators from encampments they had set up in public parks and other locations.
"We are occupying the ports as part of a day of action, boycott and march for full legalization and good jobs for all to draw attention to and protest the criminal system of concentrated wealth that depends on local and global exploitation of working people, and the denial of workers' rights to organize for decent pay, working conditions and benefits, in disregard for the environment and the health and safety of surrounding communities," organizers said on their website.
The port protesters are focusing on terminals owned by SSA Marine, saying it is owed by the Goldman Sachs investment firm, which they argue exemplifies corporate greed and is anti-union.
SSA Senior Vice President Bob Watters disputed the protesters' claims, saying Goldman Sachs owns less than 3% of an investment fund that has a minority stake in the company. He also said the company is the largest employer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union members on the West Coast.
That union, which represents 15,000 dock workers, has distanced itself from the effort.
In a letter to members sent last month, union president Robert McEllrath said the organization shares Occupy protesters concerns about what they consider corporate abuses, but he said the union was not sanctioning any shutdown.
Protest organizers said on their website that they were acting independent of organized labor only because the unions are "constrained under reactionary, anti-union federal legislation."
Some port workers are also against the planned blockade.
"I'm just barely getting on my feet again after two years, and now I gotta go a day without pay while somebody else has something to say that I'm not really sure is relevant to the cause," trucker Chuck Baca told CNN affiliate KGO.
Port officials say shutting down their facilities will only cost workers and their communities wages and tax revenue.
"Protesters wanted to send a message to the 1% but they are impacting the 99%," said Portland port spokesman Josh Thomas. The stoppage is resulting in "lost shifts, lost wages and delays," he said.
Port of San Diego board chairman Scott Peters issued an open letter to the community on Sunday asking that protesters not disrupt work.
"The Port of San Diego is made up of working people with families who serve the public each day by helping to bring in goods that are important to the people of the San Diego region," Peters wrote.
"They are the 99 percent, the gardeners, the maintenance workers, the dock workers, the Harbor Police officers, the office workers, the environmental workers -- all working to improve the quality of life in San Diego Bay and on its surrounding lands," he said. "It is these people who would be hurt by a blockade of our Port."