Anti-capitalist activists clash with police at US ports
Monday 12 December 2011
Anti-Wall Street demonstrators, confronted by police in riot gear,
marched on several West Coast ports on Monday seeking to disrupt cargo
traffic and re-energize their protest movement.
By trying to hamper port operations from California to Alaska, organizers hoped to call attention to US economic inequalities, high unemployment and a financial system they complain is unfairly tilted toward the wealthy.
In Oakland, roughly 1,000 protesters chanting, "Whose ports? Our ports!" gathered at a transit station before dawn, then paraded through the streets to the city's cargo port and split into groups to try blocking the three main entrances.
Tractor-trailers en route into the facility, the nation's fourth busiest container port by volume, were backed up and idle at one entrance where protesters formed a picket line in front of police.
Two longshoremen who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity outside the gate said they would refuse to cross picket lines to get to their jobs and assumed others would follow suit.
A smaller group of demonstrators, 250 to 300, rallied at a terminal facility in the Port of Long Beach, where they scuffled in the rain with helmeted police officers who shoved t hem with batons in an effort to keep the entryway clear.
At least one protester was taken away in handcuffs after the skirmish, and demonstrators later left the area to block traffic along a main thoroughfare through the port. But as rains grew heavier and police converged in force threatening arrests, protesters began to disperse on their own.
In Portland, Oregon, motorcycle police confronted some 200 demonstrators who tried to disrupt traffic outside a terminal there. Officers later stood aside and let protesters march to the terminal entrance. But the gate was closed with a sign posted saying the terminal was shut down for security reasons.
A spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 8 in Portland said shippers had decided to quit hiring for the day at two terminals effectively blocked by the protests.
Seeking to regain momentum
The actions come after the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York in September saw its tent camps there and in most big West Coast cities dismantled by authorities, leaving
activists looking for new avenues to voice their discontent.
Efforts to force a simultaneous shutdown of multiple ports could prove difficult because some of the facilities are in massive complexes with numerous entrances that would be hard to fully block, even if protesters turn out in large numbers.
Activists aligned with the Occupy movement did briefly succeed in shuttering Oakland's port on Nov. 2. Oakland, long an Occupy hot spot, was expected to be center stage again on Monday in a day of protest seen as a test of the movement's momentum.
Besides Oakland, Portland and the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - the two busiest U.S. cargo container hubs - protests were targeting Seattle, Tacoma and Houston.
"The objective of the day is to shut down the port through mass action," said Mike King, a graduate student who acts as a media liaison for Occupy Oakland. "The Occupy movement is attacking the one percent at their point of profit."
Among those expected to take part in the port protests was Scott Olsen, a US Marine veteran critically wounded in October clashes with police in Oakland in an incident that gave fresh impetus to the Occupy movement.
The Port of Oakland mounted a public relations campaign to dissuade protesters from joining the effort, while two of the largest labor unions involved have split - with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union opposed to the blockade and Teamsters taking a neutral stance.
The protests were focusing in part on truck drivers who earn low wages and cannot join unions because they are classified as independent, and must provide their own trucks.
Among the companies at which protesters directed their ire was SSA Marine, which loads and unloads cargo ships. It was outside of SSA's terminal that protesters in Long Beach first rallied on Monday.
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