Oakland longshoremen say no to Israeli shipments
On Friday June 4, 2021, the Volans, a ship operated by ZIM, an Israeli shipping company, failed to unload its cargo as planned in the port of Oakland, California. In response to a Palestinian call to action, hundreds of community members, organizations and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 members staked out the wharf doors, and the Volans left with its cargo still on board.
“Our monumental victory against Israel’s largest freight company shows that the time has passed when the apartheid state of Israel can expect to do business as usual,” said Lara Kiswani , Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), the group leading the #BlockTheBoat protests. “Just as the successful boycotts against the South African government, businesses and institutions helped mark the end of the apartheid regime, we see communities turning the tide against Israeli occupation, apartheid, racism and violence against the Palestinian people who are fighting for their liberation.
The boycotts played a key role in turning the tide on apartheid-era South Africa, and the AROC campaign – an effort that has more than a hundred supporting organizations – s ‘builds on this tradition. The ILWU, whose members unload cargoes from ships such as the Volans, has taken similar action against apartheid in South Africa, and the independent union has always had a habit of taking militant political action on issues before other unions are ready to publicly take sides. In fact, Friday was the first time ZIM had attempted to unload in Oakland since dockworkers refused to handle the ship’s cargo in 2014. (Although many American unions are unwilling to side with the Palestinians in this latest one. wave of Israeli aggression, there are exceptions, and United Educators of San Francisco last month became the first educators’ union to endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] movement.)
“An injury to one is an injury to everyone. Just as ILWU Local 10 workers refused to unload cargo from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, we honored the community’s picket lines asking us not to unload of cargoes from Israeli ships ZIM, ”said Jimmy Salamy, a Palestinian laborer and member of Local 10.. Salamy stressed that workers in Oakland are not the only ones acting in solidarity with the Palestinians, noting that workers in South Africa and Italy have also recently refused to unload Israeli ZIM ships. As L’Unione Sindacale di Base, an Italian union of port workers, said about the action in Italy, which followed workers in Livorno discovering that a shipment of weapons passing through their port was heading towards Israel, “The port of Livorno is not complicit in the massacre of the Palestinian people.
Such actions respond to the Palestinian labor movement’s calls for solidarity around the world as Palestinians face the latest escalation of evictions in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and a campaign of bombing in the Gaza Strip. The latter killed around 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, last month.
“We urge you to take courageous and courageous positions against the occupation and to support us as we demand freedom, justice and human dignity,” the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) wrote in a May appeal. to their fellow American workers. unions. As bombs rained on Gaza, the Palestinian labor movement called on American workers to “boycott the Israeli occupation and its institutions, and refuse to deal with them in any way, including: not buying any of their own. products, refuse to unload their ships and goods from the sea and airports, and pressure them to stop their racist practices.
Pickets like the Oakland Friday are a response to that call and are part of a week of action across the United States in cities like Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and New York. Although some of these actions have already happened, more to come, such as a rally scheduled for tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET outside the ZIM America offices in Staten Island.
Workers who move commerce through key arteries of the global economy can create immediate pressure when they choose to do so, as members of Local 10 did in Oakland. When dockworkers withdraw their labor, the economic costs are high, making the action an effective means of disruption. Or, as local president Trent Willis said, “The workers’ struggle is global. When the workers of the world understand this and realize that we have to come together to bring about changes, then it will be a better world, including for the Palestinian people. The power of the workers and the economic power is real power – it is more powerful than these bombs that Israel drops.
It is not an easy task to organize against a giant like ZIM. This requires coordinated action at the international level. But each victory creates momentum, while also showing the public the possibilities that arise when workers not only side with the oppressed, but act to support that position. Local 10’s refusal to handle Israeli freight in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, captivated me as a young activist, suggesting the power of organized labor.
Responding to Friday’s blockade in Oakland, Elias Al-Jelda, a member of the PGFTU executive committee in Gaza, said that “it warms our hearts in the besieged occupied Gaza Strip and the rest of occupied Palestine that our comrades led by AROC, and with the solidarity of our colleagues in ILWU Local 10, we achieved this great victory against ZIM in Oakland. Al-Jelda added that the campaign must continue. “We call on all dockworkers around the world to step up the boycott campaign against ZIM ships and all businesses profiting from Israeli apartheid, in solidarity with our people’s struggle for freedom and justice in Palestine.