Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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West Coast Port Shutdown Tests Occupy Wall Street-Union Relations

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Posted Dec. 21, 2011

Interview with Ian Finkenbinder, activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement in Seattle, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


On the third month anniversary of the launch of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, activists were taking stock of the enormous growth of their movement across the nation and the world – and the subsequent police suppression and eviction of activists from dozens of their camps in public spaces. In New York City, occupiers who had earlier been evicted from Zuccotti Park attempted to re-occupy Duarte Square on Dec. 17, a property owned by Trinity Church, which resulted in some 50 arrests when clergy members and others climbed over the park fence in a symbolic act of civil disobedience.

To date, one of the most ambitious protest actions undertaken by Occupy activists was the Dec. 12 shut down of three of the nation’s major ports – Oakland, Portland and Seattle. The one-day action was organized to draw attention to how the investment firm Goldman Sachs profits from port commerce, as it is a major shareholder in Stevedore Services of America, which is in the midst of a dispute with unionized truck drivers. The action, which was mostly peaceful, but took a violent turn in Seattle, has been criticized as not in tune with the wishes of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose president publicly opposed the Occupy movement’s call for a west coast port shutdown.

Between the Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Ian Finkenbinder, a member of Occupy Seattle, who helped organize the west coast port shutdown. He says that while the ILWU leadership had publicly opposed the port action, many rank and file members supported it, as did many of the non-union truckers who move goods in and out of the port.

IAN FINKENBINDER: I'd like to clarify that it wasn't that we had non-support from the union; we had non-support from the union's officers. The ILWU issued a statement of non-support about the Dec. 12 West Coast port shutdown. And that's great. We understand that. Legally, those officers have to issue that statement. However, the rank and file, we saw a lot of support – not all of them, a lot, I would say a majority. That statement of non-support was not put to the union as something that could be voted on; it was just unilaterally decided on by the leadership. So, we did a lot of outreach with the unions; we talked to a lot of union members, and honestly if we felt it wasn't something the union members, the rank and file could get behind, we wouldn't have done it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And I guess it's true that the union leadership had to do it because it was a breach of contract if they had supported it. They would have been in really big trouble.

IAN FINKENBINDER: Yes, if the union president had said, "Yeah, let's shut down all the ports!" that would have equaled millions of dollars in fines; it would have jeopardized their ability to negotiate better contracts. So honestly, it's what they had to say. Their hands were tied, whereas our hands weren't; we had the option of shutting down the port, and we sure did.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What was the rationale exactly for shutting down the port? It was intended to be a one-day shutdown, right?

IAN FINKENBINDER: It was intended to be a one-day shutdown, and it was in order to send a message to multinational corporations like Goldman Sachs who operate these shipping deals through the terminals. They've been engaging in a lot of union-busting tactics, and so we were attempting to send a message to these companies that the workforce is a lot bigger than them, and honestly, they make their millions – their billions – based on the participation of workers.

BETWEEN THE LINES: There's two related questions I wanted to ask. There was not a lot of violence, as I understand it, and not even a lot of interaction with the police, at least in some places. How was it in Seattle?

IAN FINKENBINDER: It was pretty crazy. The Seattle Police Department actually just received a letter detailing their many, many faults, including violations of the Constitution. There were a lot of port shutdowns where there wasn't a lot of violence, but at ours they actually used tear gas and flash-bang grenades on us in order to break up our blockade. There was violence, but that's pretty common with the Seattle Police Department.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The other question is, I got an email from a person who was supporting the blockade and trying, basically, he said, to keep it non-violent, and he was brutally attacked by the police. He said he went out in the first place – he's a Catholic Worker, a group that's very supportive of the poor.

IAN FINKENBINDER: I met him, and that was horrifying. Basically, he got pushed down by the police while he was standing there shouting, "Keep the peace! Keep the peace!" and they punched him in the face. They ground his face into the dirt. It was horrible.

BETWEEN THE LINES: That's what he said. And he said he went basically at the request of some of the truckers that he knew who said that their working conditions and pay and stuff were terrible, and that they would definitely support this action. Can you say anything about the interaction, if any, between the truckers who are not part of a union and the ILWU?

IAN FINKENBINDER: Well, for one, it creates not just a media narrative, but a working relationship with rank and file union members. So we've shown that we stand with them, and honestly, I think a lot of them are getting involved in an unofficial capacity. So that's great. Also, we're coming up with new ways that we can support working families, at least in the state of Washington where I am, and coming up with new actions and just changing tactics all the time to adapt to the many different problems that address the 99 percent.

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