Protesters halt efforts at some western ports
Monday, December 12, 2011
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of Wall Street protesters blocked gates at some of the West Coast’s busiest ports on Monday, causing the partial shutdown of several in a day of demonstrations they hope will cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks.
The closures affected some of the terminals at the ports in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Longview, Wash., though it was not immediately clear how much the shutdowns would affect operations and what the economic loss would be.
From California to as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, protesters picketed gates, beating drums, carrying signs such as “Shutdown Wall St. on the Waterfront” and causing longer wait times for trucks.
There were a handful of arrests so far, but no major clashes with police.
While the demonstrations were largely peaceful and isolated to a few gates at each port, local officials in the union that represents longshoremen and, in some cases, port officials, determined that the conditions were unsafe for workers.
In Oakland, shipping companies and the longshoremen’s union agreed to send home about 150 workers, essentially halting operations at two terminals.
In Portland, authorities shuttered two terminals after arresting two people who were carrying weapons.
And in Longview, Wash., workers were sent home out of concerns for their “health and safety.”
The movement, which sprang up this fall against what it sees as corporate greed and economic inequality, is focusing on the ports as the “economic engines for the elite” in its most dramatic gesture since police raids cleared out most remaining Occupy tent camps last month.
It was unclear whether demonstrators could amass in sufficient numbers to significantly disrupt or force more port closures as they did last month during an overnight shift at the Port of Oakland. The union that represents longshoremen says it doesn’t support the shutdowns.
Protesters are most upset by two West Coast companies: port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT. The bank, Goldman Sachs, owns a major stake in SSA Marine and has been a frequent target of protesters.
They say they are standing up for workers against the port companies, which have had high-profile clashes with union workers lately.
In Oakland, officials urged protesters to consider the impact on workers. Port workers and truck drivers say the protests will hurt them.
Several hundred people picketed at the port before dawn and blocked some trucks from going through at least two entrances. A long line of big rigs sat outside one of the entrances, unable to drive into the port.
“This is joke. What are they protesting?” said Christian Vega, 32, who sat in his truck carrying a load of recycled paper from Pittsburg, Calif., on Monday morning. He said the delay was costing him $600.
“It only hurts me and the other drivers. We have jobs and families to support and feed. Most of them don’t,” Vega said.