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Occupy protesters blocking gates at US West Coast ports, halt operations at some
OAKLAND, California (AP) ' Anti-Wall Street protesters blocked gates at some of the largest U.S. ports on the West Coast on Monday and caused partial shutdowns, saying if they cut off some of the country's busiest hubs, it would cut into corporate profits.
It wasn't immediately clear how much the shutdowns at some terminals at three ports in California, Washington state and Oregon would affect operations.
The "Wall Street on the waterfront" was 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.
Some of the port workers they meant to support weren't thrilled at the demonstrations.
"This is a joke. What are they protesting?" said Christian Vega, who sat in his truck carrying a load of recycled paper from Pittsburgh, part of a long line of rigs unable to drive into the port in Oakland, California. He said the delay was costing him $600.
"It only hurts me and the other drivers. We have jobs and families to support and feed. Most of them don't," Vega said.
The protesters said American ports have become "economic engines for the elite." They were most upset by giant West Coast port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT, which they said epitomize big corporations. 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.
In Oakland, shipping companies and the longshoremen's union agreed to send home about 150 workers, essentially halting operations at two terminals.
In Portland, Oregon, authorities closed two terminals after police arrested two people who were carrying weapons and said they were heading to the protest with hundreds of others. Occupy protesters also successfully shut down the port in November.
And in Longview, Washington, workers were sent home out of concerns for their "health and safety."
In Southern California, as many as 400 demonstrators gathered to march on the sprawling Port of Long Beach ' specifically, a dock facility owned by SSA Marine. At least one person was taken into custody.
Port spokesman John Pope said the protesters were in a parking lot and had not crossed into the private port area, so "there haven't been any disruptions to port operations at this point."
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.
Protesters hoped 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 trying to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda.
Shutdown supporters said they were 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.
Associated Press writers Doug Esser in Seattle and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.