Solidarity forever had a hollow sound
The Struggle At The Alameda Labor Council On The Occupy Oakland
December 12 Call For Port Action Call
By Charles T. Smith
AFSCME Local 444 delegate to the Alameda
Solidarity forever had a hollow sound on Monday night (12/5/11) when Executive Secretary Treasurer (EST) Josephine Comacho held court at the monthly delegates’ meeting of the Alameda Labor Council (ALC). The first and most important item on the agenda was a motion submitted by EST Comacho’s husband, Oakland Port Commissioner, Victor Uno. Mr. Uno is also the business manager and financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595 and was supposedly acting in this capacity at the Council.
The proposed motion stated that “the Alameda Labor Council does not endorse a Port Shutdown on December 12.” This motion was moved, seconded and approved by the ALC Executive Committee. Since the delegates only received the news of this motion in their packet shortly before the meeting came to order, they were caught completely off guard. EST Camacho explained to the delegates that because of the failure of Occupy Oakland to communicate with the Council, they should be taught a lesson about how the Union bureaucracy works: that they needed to talk with the Union bureaucrats, not just communicate with the rank and file.
In fact, this spurious rationale wasn’t even true as it was revealed during the course of the ensuing discussion that a Liaison between Organized Labor and the Occupy Movement was sent away and denied the opportunity to speak to the Council just a half an hour before the start of the meeting. This Liaison was the membership secretary of AFSCME Local 444 (EBMUD). He literally pleaded with Council President Connally to be allowed to speak. But Connally, under orders from EST Comacho, told him he could not address the Council because he had not made his request five days in advance.
When the motion was opened for discussion, its author, Port Commissioner Uno, EST Camacho’s husband, made the argument that the proposed December 12 action was not sanctioned by the various stakeholder Unions. He went on to say that the proposed action would be an imposition on the workers. He never mentioned that ILWU members are fighting for their livelihood against EGT Development at the Port of Longview, Washington, nor did he mention that the port truckers’ were fighting against Goldman Sachs for adequate pay, benefits and safety regulations. In fact, Uno’s statement sounded like that of a Port Commissioner or employer rather than a Union member.
As the discussion continued, it was clear that the lines had been drawn between the Council bureaucrats on the one hand and the rank and file delegates on the other. Betty Olson-Jones suggested that it would be better for the ALC to remain silent about the December 12th action than for it to voice active opposition. Michael Eisenscher argued that passing the Executive Committee’s motion would essentially be giving a green light to the police to attack the demonstrators. Bill Balderston, a frequent visitor to the Occupy Oakland General Assemblies, questioned the reasonableness of the motion. Teamster Local 70 Shop Steward Jenna spoke out against the motion. AFSCME Local 444 delegate Charles Smith pointed out that the Occupy movement has done more to energize the Labor movement than the AFL/CIO and that we should be thanking them instead of passing a motion against them. And so it went.
Delegate after delegate questioned the wisdom of the proposed motion. Those speaking in favor of the motion were mostly members of the Executive Committee and they were clearly in the minority.
EST Comacho spoke often and at great length, clearly attempting to use her office and rhetoric to push the motion through. But the efforts of the ALC Executive Committee failed. The delegates overwhelmingly voted in favor of tabling the motion after an ILWU delegate explained how important the December 12th action is to the ILWU rank and file.
This whole course of events is troubling for many reasons not the least of which is the clear conflict of interest involved when the Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council is the wife of a Port Commissioner who acts in his capacity as business agent without acknowledging either his or his wife’s conflict to the Body.
EST Camacho vigorously pushed Executive Committee’s motion without disclosing her conflicting allegiances. To some these events amount to at the least a conflict of interest and possibly even a prima facie case of corruption.
Charles T. Smith
AFSCME Local 444 delegate to the Alameda Labor Council*
( *For identification purposes only)
United Public Workers For Action UPWA Steering Committee Member