Occupy Wall Street activists interrupted shipping at some West Coast ports while falling short of a coordinated shutdown aimed at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), which owns a stake in the largest cargo-terminal operator.
Terminals in Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon, and Seattle were blocked at least part of the day by protesters, angering some of the truck drivers and port workers they professed to support with their demonstrations.
“I just lost $400 today,” said Mark Hebert, a long-haul trucker for Salt Lake City-based C.R. England Inc., who was stranded in Oakland with 36,000 pounds of Kansas beef bound for Asia. “These people say they represent the 99 percent. They don’t represent me.”
The protesters, who targeted ports from San Diego to Anchorage, said they wanted to highlight the plight of average Americans who have suffered from home foreclosures and soaring unemployment while the largest U.S. banks have recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. “We are the 99 percent,” their slogan, refers to economist Joseph Stiglitz’s research that found the richest 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the wealth.
“This isn’t about the truckers,” Charles Rachlis, 55, of El Cerrito, California, said in an interview at the Oakland protest. “We have to shut down the wheels of capitalism at the port. This scares the bejesus out of Wall Street.”
The economic value of containerized cargo at West Coast ports is about $705 million a day, according to Martin Associates in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a consulting firm.
No Second Shift
Some demonstrations continued into the night. As a result, no longshoremen were dispatched for second shifts in Oakland or Seattle, said Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“The terminals did not order ILWU labor for the three vessels berthed tonight, due to protest activity,” the Port of Oakland said in a statement late yesterday. “Operations at several of the port’s seven terminals experienced disruptions and delays today, and a few chose to close early to avoid further disruption.”
In Seattle, police used concussion grenades and pepper spray against a crowd blocking a port entrance after flares, rebar and paint were thrown at officers on horseback, Captain Joe Kessler said. At least 11 people were arrested, according to a police statement.
The Port of Long Beach, the second-largest container handler in the U.S., remained open, according to John Pope, a spokesman. So did the ports of San Diego; Tacoma, Washington; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Anchorage, according to their spokesmen.
New York Arrests
In New York City, a demonstration in sympathy with the port protests resulted in 17 arrests for criminal trespass and disorderly conduct in the area of 225 Liberty Street, the World Financial Center, police said.
In Portland, two men who said they were in town for the Occupy demonstration were arrested with a .40-caliber Glock handgun and a samurai sword, according to a police spokesman, Lieutenant Robert King.
About 20 longshoremen in Longview, Washington, were sent home after concerns “for their health and safety” when 50 to 60 protesters blocked the port’s main gate, said Ashley Helenberg, a spokeswoman.
“They are targeting the wrong people,” Mike Gardner, 42, a crane operator from Portland, said in an interview. “The corporations are still making money today. We are not.”
In Oakland, Jairo Osorio, 43, an independent contractor for trucker C.R. England, said he would have to sleep in his truck overnight and make his delivery today.
‘Hurting the Company?’
“They were successful in shutting down the port. Hurting the company? No. All this stuff is waiting to be unloaded tomorrow,” Osorio said.
Opposition wasn't universal. “As we marched down here, there were a lot of thumbs-up and honks of support from the truckers,” said Helen Gilbert, 55, of Seattle, passing out pamphlets for the group Radical Women.
Driver Mulugeta Dawit was stuck on the street for about an hour as he tried to get a truckload of iron to Terminal 5 in Seattle. He said he didn’t mind.
“I’m happy because those people are demanding rights, and we should do the same,” Dawit said. “Truck drivers have the same issues. We barely make any money, but the companies we work for make millions off of us.”
The port protests are the latest action taken by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which formed in New York in September to denounce large financial firms that received taxpayer-funded government rescue packages. The protesters initially erected tent camps from New York to San Francisco that have since been dismantled by police.
The West Coast protests tried to build on the Occupy movement’s success in shutting down the Port of Oakland last month. While that event drew between 7,500 and 10,000 demonstrators, only about 1,500 took part yesterday, according to Cynthia Perkins, a spokeswoman for the Oakland police.
Doug Seaman, 35, an unemployed construction worker from Simi Valley, California, who protested at Long Beach, said demonstrators got there early to disrupt a 7 a.m. shift change.
“It was definitely not business as usual for them,” Seaman said in an interview. “We need to make the public aware that Wall Street’s tentacles have infiltrated every facet of our lives.”
In New York, about 250 protesters congregated at the southeast corner of Goldman Sachs’ headquarters on West Street near the World Trade Center. Police cordoned off the front of the building, admitting only those with identification.
Some demonstrators donned squid hats and carried squid figures made of umbrellas and papier-mache, a reference to Matt Taibbi’s 2009 article in Rolling Stone magazine calling Goldman Sachs a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”
Protesters chanted slogans including, “Everybody pays their tax, everyone but Goldman Sachs,” and “Take the ax to Goldman Sachs.”
Los Angeles protesters circulated a flier -- “Occupy the Ports! A Day Without Goldman Sachs!” -- featuring a caricature of Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein steering a ship loaded with bags of money. The company is part-owner of Carrix Inc., whose SSA Marine provides cargo handling services as the largest U.S.-owned container terminal operator.
Andrea Raphael, a spokeswoman for the New York-based Goldman Sachs, the fifth biggest U.S. bank by assets, declined to comment on the protest.
Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners bought a 49 percent stake in Carrix Inc., a Seattle-based transportation company, in 2007. Carrix owns SSA Marine, which has more than 125 operations worldwide, including in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Mexico, Chile and New Zealand.
“GSIP is primarily made up of pension plans of workers in the United States and Australia, and those groups hire money managers to manage their pension funds,” said Bob Watters, senior vice president at Seattle-based SSA Marine.
“I think they haven’t done their research,” Watters said of the demonstrators in a Dec. 8 telephone interview. “If they had, they would understand that we are a union operation, we support union workers, family-wage projects and make investments to increase those job opportunities.”
Goldman Sachs, the most profitable securities firm in Wall Street history before converting to a bank in 2008, received $10 billion from the U.S.’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, created in 2008 after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. to avert a collapse of the U.S. financial system. Goldman Sachs has since repaid the funds with interest.
To contact the reporters on this story: Alison Vekshin in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org; James Nash in Oakland, California at email@example.com; Susanna Ray in Seattle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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