OAKLAND, Calif.—Anti-Wall Street protesters tried to shut down ports along the U.S. West Coast on Monday, saying that if they cut off some of the country’s busiest ports, they cut into corporate profits.
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.
The protesters say American ports have become “economic engines for the elite.” They are most upset by giant West Coast port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT, which they say epitomize the big corporations that make up the “1 per cent.”
Goldman Sachs owns a major stake in SSA Marine, and the bank has been a repeated target of Occupy protesters since the movement began.
The two port companies have also engaged in high-profile clashes with union workers lately. The Occupy protesters want to support the dock workers, but the union that represents them is distancing itself from Monday’s marches, suggesting in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union’s cause to advance their own agenda.
Several hundred people began picketing at the Port of Oakland in California before dawn and blocked some trucks from going inside. No major clashes with police were reported. Occupy protesters successfully shut down the port in November.
In Southern California, as many as 400 demonstrators gathered with plans to march on the Port of Long Beach—specifically, a dock facility owned by SSA Marine.
Another 300 people gathered in Portland, Ore. Kari Koch, organizer with Shut Down the Ports Working Group of Occupy Portland, said she expected hundreds more to picket the nearby port.
Occupy groups also planned blockades in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Port of Oakland 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.
“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.
Protesters said police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.
Organized labour 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, while the county’s construction workers have come out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.