THE BATTLE OF ALCATRAZ
October 23, 2006
Copyright © 2006 Marc Norton
Workers rallied in force at the gates of Hornblower's non-union Alcatraz ferry operation at Pier 33 again on Sunday, for the third time in as many weeks. This time, for the first time, labor union officials outside of the maritime unions also showed up in force.
Tim Paulson, Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council pledged support to the out-of-work deckhands and pilots from the Blue and Gold Fleet. So did, among others, Mike Casey from the hotel workers union, UNITE HERE Local 2. San Francisco Supervisor President Aaron Peskin and longtime labor-supporter Supervisor Tom Ammiano also showed up to speechify.
This was a welcome development. The workers the Inlandboatmen's Union and the International Masters' Mates and Pilots have been holding down picket lines ever since Hornblower took over a month ago, on September 25.
(See Between The Rock and a Hard Place, October 10.)
It's time that the San Francisco labor movement and politicos get a move on to hit back at Hornblower's union-busting -- on the very piers and docks where the San Francisco labor movement got its mojo during the Big Strike of 1934.
But it's clearly going to take more than speechifying to win the Battle of Alcatraz. Hornblower not only has the considerable resources of its world-wide marine and ferry operations behind it, but also the full weight of the reactionary Bushites in Washington who, in a deliberate affront to our "union town," handed Hornblower the contract for the Alcatraz ferry operation.
This isn't the first time that the National Park Service has dissed the labor movement in San Francisco. Mike Casey pointed out, for example, that the Argonaut Hotel, described on its website as "a luxury boutique Kimpton Hotel" is operated as a non-union shop "in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf... in a unique partnership with the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park."
Ironically, and insultingly, this non-union hotel also houses the martime park's Visitor Center. There are a lot of historical exhibits in that museum, but you won't find anything about the battles of longshoremen or sailors to bring decent working conditions to the docks.
When Hornblower took over the Alcatraz ferry they raised the fare from $16 to $18.75, despite saving big bucks by cutting union employees out of the loop. They are raising the fare again next month -- to $27, with the active collaboration of the National Park Service.
While picketing at their gates, I have heard stories from tourists about being double-billed on their credit cards by Hornblower. These are the kinds of things that encourage tourists to tell their friends to take a vacation in some other city.
There are also reports of several sewage spills from Hornblower boats -- something that was nearly unheard of when union employees were running the ferries. Step right up, Mr. and Mrs. Tourist, and take a deep breath...
There is a stink in this "union town." Perhaps it is not irrelevant that Local 2 still has 5,000 hotel workers without contracts, despite the victory over the Multi-Employer Group (MEG) hotel bosses last month. Are the other hotel bosses watching the docks to see if the San Francisco labor movement can be beat in the Battle of Alcatraz?
The San Francisco Labor Council is reportedly taking up the question of the fightback against Hornblower and the National Park Service at its meeting on Monday night.
Does the spirit of '34 live on?