Occupy protesters seek to shut US West Coast ports

Occupy protesters seek to shut US West Coast ports

OAKLAND, California - The Associated Press
Occupy protesters seek to shut US West Coast ports

Occupy Seattle protesters stand atop a barricade on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011 in Seattle. AP Photo

Anti-Wall Street protesters tried to shut down ports along the U.S. West Coast on Monday, saying that if they cut off some of the country's busiest hubs, it would cut into corporate profits. Some ports reported disruptions, but most said business continued.

The "Wall Street on the waterfront" was perhaps the Occupy movement's most dramatic gesture since police raids in several cities sent most remaining protest camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming the camps around the U.S. about two months ago to protest what they call economic inequality between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the other 99 percent, whom they claim to represent.

Some of the workers they were trying to support weren't thrilled at the demonstrations.

"This is a joke. What are they protesting?" said Christian Vega, who sat in his truck carrying a load of recycled paper from Pittsburgh, part of a long line of big rigs unable to drive into the port in Oakland, California. 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.

The protesters said American ports have become "economic engines for the elite." They were most upset by giant West Coast port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT, which they said epitomize the big corporations that make up the "1 percent." Goldman Sachs owns a major stake in SSA Marine, and the bank has been a repeated target of Occupy protesters since the movement began.

The two port companies have also engaged in high-profile clashes with union workers lately. The Occupy protesters want to support the dock workers, but the union that represents them is distancing itself from Monday's marches.

Several hundred people began picketing at the Port of Oakland in California before dawn and blocked some trucks from going inside. No major clashes with police were reported. Occupy protesters successfully shut down the port in November.

Port spokesman Robert Bernardo reported some disruptions to truck traffic but said maritime operations continued.

In Southern California, as many as 400 demonstrators gathered to march on the Port of Long Beach — specifically, a dock facility owned by SSA Marine. At least one person was taken into custody.
Port spokesman John Pope said the protesters were in a parking lot and had not crossed into the private port area, so "there haven't been any disruptions to port operations at this point." In Portland, Oregon, a couple of hundred protesters blocked entrances to two terminals, preventing trucks from entering. Workers at the two terminals were told to stay home, the Oregonian newspaper reported.
Police arrested three people and seized a gun and sword from people who said they were on the way to the demonstration.

Occupy groups also planned blockades in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. In Vancouver, Canada, about two dozen protesters set up brief blockades at entrances to the port, proclaiming solidarity with longshore employees.

Organizers of the port demonstrations said they hope to draw thousands to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they said are being exploited.

However, the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda.

Shutdown supporters said they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply are asking them to exercise their free speech rights and stay off the job, in keeping with the union's historic tradition of activism.

Protesters said police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.