Longview, Taking in the

An intense labor battle is happening in Longview, Washington, but it is not news so pay no attention.

One of the most determined local union struggles in recent times is unfolding on the waterfront at the Port of Longview. The struggle pits members and supporters of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) against EGT, a multinational consortium that built a $200 million grain terminal in Longview, largely with nonunion, out-of-town labor, and now seeks to operate it without employing ILWU members, in violation of its lease.

On July 11, up to 100 members and supporters of Longview’s 202-member ILWU Local 21 were arrested after demonstrators knocked down a chainlink fence and entered the terminal; arrestees included the presidents of ILWU locals in Vancouver and Portland. Then, after midnight on July 14, as many as 600 demonstrators gathered, and about 200 occupied train tracks to block a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe train from delivering grain to the terminal. That prompted the railroad to say it would suspend deliveries while the dispute continued.

ILWU’s cause appears to have widespread support in Longview, a town of 37,000 with an economy centered on manufacturing, forest products, and the port. An initial print run of 800 support placards ran out in three or four days, said Local 21 President Dan Coffman; more are on the way. As many as 250 local businesses are displaying the signs, which read: “We Support the ILWU in the fight for a decent standard of living in our community.” Hundreds more appear in yards and vehicles.

Pickets and placards are the latest front in a four-year local battle with EGT LLC, the multinational consortium; the dispute is also in federal court.

EGT, which stands for Export Grain Terminal, is a joint venture run by the giant agribusiness multinational Bunge in partnership with Japan-based ITOCHU Corporation and South Korea’s STX Pan Ocean Co. Bunge, which reported a $2.4 billion profit for 2010, has a 51 percent controlling interest in the venture.