Today members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters laid down their tools in a work stoppage for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, the precise measure of time that George Floyd, handcuffed and helpless to resist, was forced to endure a policeman’s lethal knee on his neck. Killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, Floyd was buried today in Houston.
Trent Willis, president of ILWU Local 10, Keith Shanklin, president of ILWU Local 34, and Gabriel Prawl, former Secretary/ Treasurer of ILWU Local 52 in Seattle, all members of ILWU’s Committee Against Police Terror, conceived of bringing this powerful gesture into union workplaces as a way of honoring Floyd, who earned his livelihood as a truck driver and security guard. In connecting Floyd’s struggle for his last breath with workers’ struggles for survival in a drastically altered post-pandemic economy, they hope to point the way forward by demonstrating the power of the working class.
“Longshore workers probably understand capitalism better than anyone else,” said ILWU Spokesman Clarence Thomas. “If the cargo doesn’t come off the ship, that’s merchandise not sold. Stopping work for eight minutes and forty-six seconds is not a symbol, it’s an act that demonstrates the leverage of the working class.”
This is an important step because “the only way that we’ve been able to get any kind of concessions from the bosses is through withholding our labor.”