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Occupy protesters seek to shut US West Coast ports

By The Associated Press

OAKLAND, California (AP) ' Anti-Wall Street protesters tried to shut down ports along the U.S. West Coast on Monday, saying that if they cut off some of the country's busiest ports, they cut into corporate profits.

The "Wall Street on the waterfront" is 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 the camps around the U.S. about two months ago to protest what they call economic inequality between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the other 99 percent, whom they claim to represent.

The protesters say American ports have become "economic engines for the elite." They are most upset by giant West Coast port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT, which they say epitomize the big corporations that make up the "1 percent."

Goldman Sachs owns a major stake in SSA Marine, and the bank has been a repeated target of Occupy protesters since the movement began.

The two port companies have also engaged in high-profile clashes with union workers lately. The Occupy protesters want to support the dock workers, but the union that represents them is distancing itself from Monday's marches.

Several hundred people began picketing at the Port of Oakland in California before dawn and blocked some trucks from going inside. No major clashes with police were reported. Occupy protesters successfully shut down the port in November.

In Southern California, as many as 400 demonstrators gathered with plans to march on the Port of Long Beach ' specifically, a dock facility owned by SSA Marine.

About 300 people gathered in Portland, Oregon, and Kari Koch, organizer with Shut Down the Ports Working Group of Occupy Portland, said she expected hundreds more to picket the nearby port. Police arrested three people and seized a gun and sword from people who said they were on the way to the demonstration.

Occupy groups also planned blockades in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. In Vancouver, Canada, about two dozen protesters set up brief blockades at entrances to the port, proclaiming solidarity with longshore employees.

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

Protesters said police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.

Organizers of the port demonstrations said they hope to draw thousands to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they said are being exploited.

However, the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda.

Shutdown supporters said they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply are 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 Nov. 2 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.


Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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