Occupy's port protest ends hours after it began

Some of the hundreds of Occupy protesters who blocked an entrance to the Port of Long Beach on Monday morning.
Some of the hundreds of Occupy protesters who blocked an entrance to the Port of Long Beach on Monday morning.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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Although heavy rain dampened the four-hour Occupy protest at the Port of Long Beach, about 200 demonstrators showed up early this morning and briefly blocked traffic at the port. Two arrests were made.

Protesters picketed at the entrance to SSA Marine, a shipping and cargo loading company partially owned by Goldman Sachs, which is among the financial firms the movement has targeted as morally reprehensible. At least one entrance was shut down and one protester arrested by about 8 a.m.

Police also forced demonstrators out of a parking lot but several dozen regrouped and briefly blocked a major roadway, backing up a line of trucks heading to the port.

Police prepared for a large crowd and said they want to make sure protesters stay off private property. But, reports KQED's Krissy Clark, there's been confusion among both protesters and police about where the private property is located in and around the port.

Protesters had said they'd allow transportation in and out of the port, but hoped their numbers would be high enough for the port to be deemed unsafe for workers and be shut down.

The Port of Long Beach is one of the world's largest port complexes and one of many hosting Occupy protests on Monday. Occupy groups in Oakland, Seattle, Portland, Tacoma and the Canadian city of Vancouver were also planning blockades.

The protests being billed as action against "Wall Street on the waterfront" are perhaps the Occupy movement's most dramatic gesture since police raids sent most remaining camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming those camps around the country about two months ago to protest what they call corporate greed and economic inequality.

Organizers hope to draw thousands to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they say are being exploited.

"Taking on and blocking the 1 percent at the port is also taking on the global issue of exploitation by capitalism," said Occupy Oakland blockade organizer Barucha Peller.

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

Protesters have cited a longstanding dispute between longshoremen at the Port of Longview in Washington and grain exporter EGT as a key reason for the blockades. Shutdown supporters say they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply asking them to exercise their free speech rights and stay off the job, in keeping with the union's historic tradition of activism.

If protesters muster large enough numbers to block port entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions, which would allow port workers to stay home.

Clarence Thomas, a longshoreman in Oakland, said the union should adhere to a long tradition of supporting progressive movements – and not cross Occupy picket lines.

In Oakland, which saw strong union support for the Nov. 2 general strike that culminated in the closing of the port, the city's teachers union is backing Monday's action, while the county's construction workers have come out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.

The Port of Oakland has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they say could hurt the port's standing among customers and cost local jobs.

"The port is going to do all that it can to keep operations going. Our businesses need to hear that. Our workers need to know that," said Port of Oakland spokesman Isaac Kos-Read.

Officials at West Coast ports say they have been coordinating with law enforcement agencies as they prepare for possible disruptions. Protesters say police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.

Tweet and photos from the Long Beach port: