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Occupy Protesters Seek to Shut US West Coast Ports

Anti-Wall Street protesters up and down the US West Coast are joining an effort to blockade some of the nation's busiest ports from Alaska to California.

Demonstrators are scheduled to gather at 5:30 am to march on the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters successfully shut down in November. Marchers expect to descend even earlier on the sprawling port complex spanning Los Angeles and Long Beach as the work day begins. In Portland, Oregon, the protest will begin at 6 am.

Occupy groups in Seattle, Tacoma and the Canadian city of Vancouver are also planning blockades.

The protests being called action against "Wall Street on the waterfront" are perhaps the Occupy movement's most dramatic gesture since police raids in several cities sent most remaining protest camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming those camps around the US about two months ago to protest what they call corporate greed and economic inequality.

Organizers hope to draw thousands Monday to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they say are being exploited.

"Taking on and blocking the one percent at the port is also taking on the global issue of exploitation by capitalism," said Occupy Oakland blockade organizer Barucha Peller. Protesters say they represent America's 99 percent and target the richest one percent.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, has distanced itself from the shutdown effort. The union's president suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda. Protesters have cited a longstanding dispute between longshoremen at the Port of Longview in Washington and grain exporter EGT as a key reason for the blockades.

Shutdown supporters say they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply asking them to exercise their free speech rights and stay off the job, in keeping with the union's historic tradition of activism.

If protesters muster large enough numbers to block port entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions, which would allow port workers to stay home.

Organized labor appears divided over the port shutdown effort. In Oakland, which saw strong union support for the 2 November 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.

The Port of Oakland has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they say 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.

Officials at West Coast ports say they have been coordinating with law enforcement agencies as they prepare for possible disruptions. Protesters say police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.

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