International action answers blockade and state piracy
INTERNATIONAL trade unionists are joining peace and solidarity campaigners in response to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the act of state piracy against the freedom flotilla in which nine Turkish citizens were killed.
They are answering Israel's blockade with a blockade against Israel!
In the early hours of Sunday morning more than 500 people blocked the gates of the Oakland docks, across the bay from San Francisco, to protest the expected arrival of an Israeli Zim lines container ship. Dockers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10, refused to cross the picket line.
To counter any move to discipline them, the dockers cited health and safety provisions in their contract. An independent arbitrator called in to rule on whether they were within their rights ruled that they were entitled not to cross.
When the Israeli ship did not show up as expected, the pickets remained on duty just in case, so the afternoon shift was also cancelled.
A small pro-Israel counter demonstration made little impression on the Oakland pickets.
"My grandmother's Jewish. I'm not anti-Semitic," said Larkspur resident Frank McClain, who had joined the picket line. "But what Israel's doing is murdering people. They staged a raid in international waters. If Somalis had done that, they'd be called pirates and we'd have punished and stopped them immediately. Israel does it and our president calls it 'an unfortunate incident.'
"Our view is that the state of Israel can not engage in acts of piracy and kill people on the high seas and still think their cargo can go anywhere in the world," said Richard Becker, an organizer with ANSWER, the peace coalition which backed Sunday's picket.
The Oakland picket was welcomed as "something we have longed for and expected" by the General Federation of Trade Unions of Palestine, in a message recalling how the longshoremen had taken decisive action against Apartheid South African shipping in 1984. Then the ILWU refused for a record-setting 10 days to unload cargo from the South African “Ned Lloyd” ship. Despite million-dollar fines imposed on the union, the workers held strong, providing a tremendous boost to the anti-apartheid movement. Sacked Liverpool dockers also remember the solidarity they received from the ILWU.
Longshoremen also led Bay Area trade unionists protesting America's war on Iraq, and were attacked by riot cops. But Sunday's picket is the first time Israel has faced such action from workers in the United States. It may not be the last. The attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla has definitely proved a turning point.
SWEDEN'S trade unions have announced a blockade of goods going to and from Israel, which started with containers being blocked at midnight. The Swedish unions say they have two specific objectives:
1. Lifting the blockade on Gaza
2. Allowing an independent, international investigation of what happened at
the Israeli boarding of the so called Freedom Flottilla when nine people
were shot to death.
In the port of Gothenburg about ten containers, both Israeli imports and exports were immediately identified in the container terminal. They have been separated and will stand untouched on the docks until the end of the blockade at midnight on June 29.
" Everything has passed very calmly and I believe it will continue to do so until next Wednesday", says Peter Annerback, chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union section 4 (Hamn4an) and member of the unions executive committee. "Since we are not in a conflict with our employers a 'conflict-contained' container that carries any medical equipment will be allowed exemption", Annerback continued.
" We have identified more goods on its way to or from Israel than we had expected. We thought the flow of goods would be much lower considering the blockade has been announced for twenty days", says Hamn4ans trustee Erik Helgeson.
" Our ambition is of course that our action can be one of many grassroots initiatives that will keep the eyes of the world focused on the 800.000 children that lives isolated in Gaza. The Palestinian civilian population must be allowed to rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and freely integrate with the rest of the world. The war on Gaza and Israel's brutal blockade have made all this impossible for over three years now".
The Swedish Dockworkers Union have explained the motives behind the unions
blockade of Israeli goods in two articles:
Could it happen here?
A few years ago at a conference for trades unionists called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, where the boycott of Apartheid South Africa was evoked, I remarked that the most effective boycott actions had been taken by trade unionists, such as the Liverpool dockers who refused to let in a shipload of uranium from then occupied Namibia. But, I pointed out, trade unionism on the docks had been set back when these Liverpool dockers were sacked for refusing to cross a picket line. The Labour government had maintained Tory laws restricting union action and outlawing secondary picketing. Workers at Heathrow were disciplined by the union for striking in support of the Gate Gourmet workers - not only fellow trades unionists but in several cases, family members.
It was not my intention to pour cold water on talk of solidarity but to promote some discussion and hear what some more experienced and prominent trade union figures had to say. Alas I only seemed to provoke some uncomfortable shuffles and exchanged glances. Or maybe that was my imagination. On we went to the rhetoric and speechifying. Still, we may be awakening, however late. to the way fighting for our freedom is necessary if we are really going to help others fight for theirs. We might even take some tips from brothers and sisters in the 'States.