ILA Longshore Workers' Local 1291 Fights Del Monte Union Busting

John Kalwaic and Bill Bachman

pineapples to the sharksSince last year, the state governments of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, along with Del Monte, a fruit and vegetable company, have tried to break the International Longshoremen's Association. In a move of blatant union busting, Fresh Del Monte Produce, which is owned by business tycoon Leo Holt, moved their business of unloading fruit from the port of Philadelphia to the “less costly” LLC Gloucester port downriver in Gloucester, N.J., which is privately owned by the Holt Family with a low-wage company union Dockworkers Local 1 (this fake union has its offices in a building owned by the Holt family). The workers receive less pay than they do at the plant in Philadelphia, which is publicly owned and unionized with the ILA. Before the company moved, Del Monte demanded that ILA Local 1291 take a 25%+ wage and benefit cut and that the State of New Jersey give it $25 million to improve its Camden, N.J. pier or else they would move  operations. Del Monte gave the state and the union four days to make a decision. Apparently, both the state and the union agreed to the cuts. Despite this agreement Del Monte moved anyway, resulting in the loss of 200+ ILA jobs.In September of 2010 in a rare Labor Day action, the ILA Local 129 launched a protest on the annual Labor Day parade dumping Del Monte pineapples into the Delaware River. It was an unusual Labor Day as mayor Nutter was booed by many of the workers. Longshore and other workers shouted “Boycott Del Monte!” while the ILA and Jobs with Justice begged for a boycott of Del Monte Fruit Company.

On September 28th the ILA Local 129 traveled to Camden and mobilized pickets in the ports of New Jersey. New York workers in the ILA refused to cross the picket line and unload Del Monte fruit from the ships. The New York side of the Port of New York and New Jersey was effectively shut down for two days, a direct and highly effective way of combating the company’s greedy move in Camden. Unfortunately, due to the success of the action, Del Monte took legal action against the Local, and the Local got hit with an injunction, which came from a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that forbids secondary boycotts. The injunction forbids it even to mention that there is a dispute with Del Monte. As a result, the leadership has joined with Philadelphia Jobs with Justice to begin coordinated rallies and marches in Philadelphia and a few other cities.

On November 22nd, 200 to 300 people supporting the ILA Local 1291 along with Jobs with Justice rallied and marched around Center City calling for a boycott of Fresh Del Monte Produce. The rally began in Love Park and featured union leaders and city council people. A large and diverse number of ILA people, some from as far away as New York, came. With no police presence, the rally turned into a march taking all of JFK Street to a nearby Wawa, which was selling Del Monte fresh produce. At the Wawa the march turned into a mill-in, during which dozens of marchers went into and out of the store without buying anything but making sure to leave boycott leaflets all around the fruit. Afterwards, the group marched around City Hall and back to Love Park, taking almost all of Market Street over in the process. By this time the cops had shown up and, while not very friendly, blocked traffic for the demonstration.

The Philadelphia ILA stands as an early model for interracial unions because of the Industrial Workers of the World Local 8 which organized both African-American and white workers on the docks while the ILA was exclusive to whites. The ILA later picked up on the model of interracial unions and adapted it. The ILA continues to battle with Del Monte in the courts but it has lost several times. The boycott continues and a Facebook page supporting Local 1291 has been set up.