Occupy Wall Street: Protesters block shipping ports

Occupy Wall Street protesters blocked gates at some of the busiest ports on the West Coast on Monday. The "Occupy ports" demonstrations are the Occupy Wall Street movement's biggest actions since being evicted from most of their tent camps nationwide.

Andrew Burton/Reuters
Protestors affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement hang a banner over a hand rail inside Winter Garden Atrium, in Three World Financial Center in New York, December 12, 2011. "Occupy" protesters blocked major shipping ports in several West Coast cities Monday.

Hundreds of Wall Street protesters blocked gates at some of the busiest ports on the West Coast on Monday, delaying truck traffic in a day of demonstrations that organizers hope will cut into the profits of the corporations that run the docks.

Protesters picketing at some gates at ports in California and as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, caused longer wait times for trucks. Authorities said, however, there were limited disruptions and no major clashes with police so far.

The movement, which sprang up this fall against what it sees as corporate greed and economic inequality, is targeting what it calls "Wall Street on the waterfront" in its most dramatic gesture since police raids sent most remaining Occupy tent camps scattering last month.

Similar blockades were also under way at ports elsewhere, including in Oregon.

It was unclear whether demonstrators could amass in sufficient numbers to significantly disrupt or force the closing of the ports as they did last month for the duration of an overnight shift at the Port of Oakland. The union that represents longshoremen says it doesn't support the shutdowns.

Protesters are most upset by two West Coast companies — port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT. The bank, Goldman Sachs, owns a major stake in SSA Marine and has been a frequent target of protesters.

Demonstrators say they are standing up for workers against the port companies, which have had high-profile clashes with union workers lately.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who opposes a port shutdown, urged protesters to consider the impact on workers. Port workers and truck drivers have said the protests will hurt their incomes.

"Thousands of people work at the Port of Oakland every day," Quan said. "Thousands more in agriculture and other industries also depend on the Port of Oakland for their daily wages."

Several hundred people picketed at the port before dawn and blocked some trucks from going through at least two entrances. A long line of big rigs sat outside one of the entrances, unable to drive into the port.

Police in riot gear monitored the scene as protesters marched in an oval and carried signs with messages such as "Shutdown Wall St. on the Waterfront." No major clashes were reported.

Port spokesman Robert Bernardo reported some disruptions to truck traffic but that maritime operations continue there. The port has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they said could hurt the port's standing among customers and cost local jobs.

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 is backing Monday's action. Construction workers oppose the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.

In Southern California, as many as 400 demonstrators gathered in a park, then marched on the Port of Long Beach. Occupy protesters targeted a dock facility leased by SSA Marine, a shipping company that's partially owned by Goldman Sachs.

Dozens of protesters, some beating drums and waving flags, gathered outside a fenced area at the port, which is part of a sprawling complex that covers both Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Police in face shields warned them that they faced arrest if they crossed the area. At least one person was taken into custody.

Port spokesman John Pope said the protesters were in a parking lot and had not yet crossed into the private port area, so "there haven't been any disruptions to port operations at this point."

In Portland, Ore., a couple of hundred protesters blocked entrances to two terminals at the port, preventing trucks from entering. Police in riot gear were on hand, but there were no immediate confrontations or arrests.

Workers at the two terminals were told to stay home, the Oregonian reported ( ). Spokesman Josh Thomas said an unspecified number of workers at the terminals wouldn't be paid.

Before the protest began, police made three arrests and seized a gun and a sword from people who said they were on the way to protests. A spokeswoman for Occupy Portland said the armed men are not associated with the group.

"We do not send out folks with guns," Kari Koch said. "We don't plan anything illegal."

In Vancouver, British Columbia, demonstrators briefly blocked two gates at Port Metro Vancouver. The Canadian Press reported demonstrators held up a large banner proclaiming solidarity with Longshore union members involved in a dispute at the Port of Longview, Wash.

The disruption lasted for about an hour before the protest moved to a second gate, blocking it for less than 30 minutes before moving on.

Organizers of the port demonstrations said they hope to draw thousands to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they said are being exploited. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, however, 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.

Protesters have cited a longstanding dispute between longshoremen at the Port of Longview in Washington and EGT as a key reason for the blockades. Shutdown supporters said they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract.

They said they are 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 entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions. That would allow port workers to stay home.

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

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