OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Anti-Wall Street protesters tried to shut down ports along the U.S. West Coast on Monday, marching before dawn in another strike at perceived corporate greed. They faced opposition not only from some authorities but from some of the dock workers they were trying to defend.
The "Wall Street on the waterfront" is 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.
Monday's demonstrations echoed a recent one at the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters successfully shut down in November. Protests and blockades also were planned at the sprawling port complex spanning Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as ports in Portland, Oregon; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington and the Canadian city of Vancouver.
By shutting down ports, Wall Street will be unable to create profit, said Kari Koch, organizer with Shut Down the Ports Working Group of Occupy Portland.
"We will not stand for corporate profits at the expense of working people, we will not stand for attacks on workers, and we will not allow our schools to be closed, social services slashed, and families to be impoverished by your greed!" Koch said Monday in statement.
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.
But 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 are 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 mustered large enough numbers to block port entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions, which would allow port workers to stay home.
Organized labor appears divided over the port shutdown effort. 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 was backing Monday's action, while the county's construction workers came out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.
The Port of Oakland appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they said 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 said they had been coordinating with law enforcement agencies to prepare for possible disruptions.
Protesters said police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.
Copyright 2011 The AP.