For International Workers Solidarity Action to Defend the PalestiniansOakland Picket Blocks Israeli Ship!
JUNE 21 – Yesterday mass pickets at the Port of Oakland (California) blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship, the ZIM Shenzhen. They were protesting the May 31 Israeli massacre of activists aboard a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. More than 800 demonstrators showed up before dawn at Pier 58 for the day shift picket lasting from 5:30 until 9:30 a.m. Demonstrators chanted, “Free, free Palestine – Don’t cross the picket line,” and “An injury to one is an injury to all – the Israeli apartheid wall will fall.” Longshoremen refused to cross the line, and after management demanded an immediate arbitration ruling, the arbitrator sided with the workers. Hundreds of protesters returned for the evening shift, but by then the company had given up on calling in a shift. So the picketers succeeded in blocking the unloading of the Zim Lines freighter for 24 hours. This is the first time an Israeli ship was blocked in a U.S. port, and gives a big boost to efforts for international workers actions against the murderous Zionist regime.
The Oakland action was organized by an ad hoc Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the People of Palestine including the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, several Palestinian solidarity groups, the Bay Area ANSWER Coalition and area labor activists. It was formed after the executive board of the San Francisco-Oakland Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) two weeks ago passed a motion condemning Israel’s deadly raid and “call[ing] for unions to protest by any action they choose to take.” The Local 10 motion cited the ILWU’s commendation of the South African dock workers union for its February 2009 action refusing to unload an Israeli ship in the port of Durban, the decision of the Swedish Port Workers Union to refuse to handle Israeli ships and cargo (scheduled to start June 23), and the appeal by the Palestinian Trade Union Movement calling on dock workers worldwide to take action against the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The “labor/community picket” of the Israeli container ship at the Port of Oakland docks was endorsed by the Oakland Education Association, and built by appeals from the San Francisco Labor Council and Alameda County Labor Council who condemned the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and sent out notices urging Bay Area unionists to join the lines. Solidarity statements hailing the Oakland action were received from the Cuban Labor Federation (CTC), Labor for Palestine, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and fired Liverpool dockers, among others. The PGFTU message to the Oakland picket said that this action was “something we have longed for and expected,” recalling the “historic and massive action on the docks in 1984, when you acted to boycott the apartheid regime in South Africa.” The action of ILWU Local 10 longshoremen to boycott the Nedlloyd Kimberley was later cited by Nelson Mandela as a key event propelling solidarity with the South African struggle internationally.
leading chants during June 20 picket of Israeli ZIM line ship in
Oakland. (Photo: John Sebastian Russo/San
The June 20 picket was reported on local television (KTVU) and in articles in today’s San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune, as well as wire service reports. Significantly, news of the picket was picked up by the web site of the right-wing Zionist Jerusalem Post and the popular Israeli Internet news site Ynet News, which also carried a video of the action. It is useful to bring to the attention of the Israeli public that the murderous actions of the Zionist regime have a price. Certainly the Israeli authorities were well aware of it, as the Israeli consul in San Francisco called up the SF Labor Council to complain about its support for the picket.
We have called on unions internationally to carry out labor boycotts of Israeli ships, planes and cargo in protest against the latest massacre by the Zionist butchers. While the action on the Oakland docks was called by labor/community activists, it had wide union support and participation. The Oakland Tribune article noted, “The longshoremen’s union largely cooperated with the picket line. No workers tried to cross it.” San Francisco-Oakland Local 10 of the ILWU has a long history of solidarity action, including boycotting cargo to and from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and the death-squad regime in El Salvador. It also hosted an October 2007 Labor Conference to Stop the War and introduced the motion that led to the historic May Day 2008 Pacific Coast-wide ILWU port shutdown against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of those who marched on the picket yesterday called for a boycott of Israeli goods by consumers, as well as divestment and sanctions. We have noted elsewhere (see our article “Israel’s Gaza Flotilla Massacre: Bloody War Provocation”) that the “BDS” campaign is oriented toward pressuring imperialist governments to take action against Israel. A real struggle against Zionist occupation and oppression of the Palestinians must be directed against the Israeli government, and its imperialist backers who are enemies, not neutrals or potential allies, of the Palestinian people. As ILWU Local 10 executive board member and labor solidarity activist Jack Heyman noted at a June 5 protest against the Israeli attack:
(Photo: Labor Video Project)
“Simply petitioning or pressuring the Obama administration for justice is illusory, it’s not going to work. Every U.S. government since the creation of the state of Israel has given that government a blank check.... And it’s not going to happen by consumer boycotts either.”
“The Swedish dock workers, who stood strong against the apartheid regime, have just announced yesterday, that they will strike against every Israeli ship in Sweden. That is the kind of action that is needed to oppose the oppression by the Zionists against the Palestinian people. Workers have the power. We need to exercise that kind of power today, just as we did in 1984 against the ship from South Africa.”
The Zionist attack on the Gaza aid flotilla and cold-blooded murder of nine activists on the Mavi Marmara provoked disgust around the world. A host of unions and labor federations have issued statements denouncing the Israeli action to one degree or other, including the International Confederation of Trade Unions (the former ICFTU, which was organized to support the imperialists’ anti-communist Cold War against the Soviet Union), which called for an “investigation,” and the World Federation of Trade Unions, which called on unions to carry out a three-day strike in the world’s ports against shipping to and from Israel. But whatever illusions in the reformability of capitalism and “their” governments the labor bureaucrats promote, the boycott of the Israeli ship at the Oakland docks underscored the power of international labor solidarity and pointed to the urgent need for workers action against the Zionist Murder Inc. ■
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