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Maritime Workers Hold May Day Celebration, Rally to Support Alcatraz Cruises Workers

Last Monday morning, a large group of people gathered at the side entrance of Local 10 in San Francisco, home of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). A collection of longshore workers, sailors, and labor activists waited to start a celebration and rally for International Workers’ Day. Better known as May Day, the holiday commemorates the labor martyrs slain during the Haymarket massacre in 1886. The celebration included a march to Pier 33 on the San Francisco Waterfront in support of the Alcatraz Cruises workers fighting for their first contract with the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), the marine division of the ILWU. 

Both the crowd and list of speakers reflected a diverse range of ideologies, backgrounds and organizations. Members of all three ILWU divisions (longshore, warehouse, marine) were joined by representatives of other unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), along with educators unions from Oakland and San Francisco. These union members were joined by activists from the Democratic Socialists of America and local socialist politicians such as District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and Jackie Fielder. 

Brandon Dawkins from SEIU 1021 speaking to the May Day rally crowd at the ILWU Local 10 union hall
Brandon Dawkins from SEIU 1021 speaking to the crowd at the ILWU Local 10 union hall. Photo by Savannah Kuang.

The first speaker, former Local 10 President Trent Willis, began with the importance of May Day, referring to it as the “real workers’ day” and explaining why the longshore division honors it every year. He and several other longshore workers talked about their ongoing contract negotiations, their fight against the Oakland Athletics’ proposed move to Howard Terminal, and their solidarity strike with the Oakland Education Association (OEA). Many of the longshore speakers criticized the Biden Administration, citing his decision to crush the 2022 railroad strike as evidence of the Democratic Party’s disregard for organized labor.

Brandon Dawkins from SEIU Local 1021 and Ellie Gomez of the Democratic Socialists of America spoke about the many significant strides labor has taken in recent months, including prominent nation-wide union drives at Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. Other speakers highlighted the importance of international solidarity and the unacceptable working conditions faced by immigrants. Retired longshoreman and sailor Jack Heyman talked about how we can learn from the history of organized labor, particularly the ILWU’s role in refusing to move cargo for oppressive regimes like Apartheid South Africa and the Pinochet regime in Chile.

Some speakers offered warnings about the challenges we face, such as the struggle of organizing gig workers and taking on corporations like Uber and Lyft. Automation was a frequent topic; speakers from the maritime, service, and many other industries warned about the dangerous implications of their jobs being automated. 

When the speakers wrapped up, the attendees filed out of the union hall and onto North Point Street, following the ILWU drill team. At one point, a car covered in sensors and cameras pulled to the side of the street to make way for the marchers. There was no driver inside.

Person holding up a sign in the May Day crowd, reading, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Photo by Savannah Kuang.

After crossing Embarcadero, the workers massed around Pier 33 to hear speeches from Alcatraz Cruises workers regarding their ongoing contract fight. One worker, Jack Calvin, talked about the company’s refusal to bargain in good faith and its efforts to remove captains from union representation. We spoke with Jack before the rally and asked why they believe companies so often refuse to negotiate with newly unionized workers. “They do it because it works — companies have to negotiate in good faith, but as far as I know, there isn’t a clear definition of what that means or metric [to use] as evidence for that. A company can stonewall every proposal and call that a negotiation.” 

Despite the union winning their election by a 4 to 1 margin, Calvin said the company refused to take them seriously. The May Day rally was one of several planned actions at Alcatraz Cruises, including the workers wearing buttons to show support for the union, giving flyers to passengers and asking them to wear stickers while on the Alcatraz Cruises boats. Calvin said that keeping up morale among the workers can be a challenge, which makes community-focused events like the May Day rally especially important. “We want the workers to know they aren’t forgotten,” he said.  

The May Day rally was the largest planned show of support for the Alcatraz Ferry workers, but organizers were emphatic it wouldn’t be the last. ILWU organizing director Evan McLaughlin and San Francisco IBU Director Robert Estrada closed the event out by leading the crowd in a fitting final chant: “We’ll be back!”

Graham is a 2nd generation union sailor and freelance writer living and working in San Francisco. He covers labor news for SFIJ.

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