Historic Victory at Oakland Port—Israeli Ship Blocked from Unloading

The following article is based on a news article released by the Act Now to Stop War and Racism, (A.N.S.W.E.R.) Coalition. It has been updated by Carole Seligman who attended both events.

In a historic action and unprecedented action Sunday, June 20, over 800 labor and community activists blocked the gates of the Oakland docks in the early morning hours, and again in the early evening, prompting two shifts of longshore workers to refuse to cross the picket lines where they were scheduled to unload an Israeli ship.

From 5:30 to 9:30 A.M., a militant and spirited protest was held in front of four gates of the Stevedore Services of America, with people chanting non-stop, “Free, Free Palestine, Don’t Cross the Picket Line,” and “An injury to one is an injury to all, bring down the apartheid wall.”

Citing the health and safety provisions of their contract, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers refused to cross the picket line to report for duty. This same action with the same result took place from 4:00 to 7:00 P.M.

Between 8:30 and 9:00 A.M., an emergency arbitration was conducted at the Maersk parking lot nearby, with an “instant” arbitrator called to the site to rule on whether the workers could refuse to cross the picket line without disciplinary measures.

At 9:15 A.M., after again reviewing the protests of hundreds at each gate, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the union that it was indeed unsafe for the workers to enter the docks.

To loud cheers of “Long Live Palestine!” Jess Ghannam of the Free Palestine Alliance and Richard Becker of the ANSWER Coalition announced the victory. Ghannam said, “This is truly historic, never before has an Israeli ship been blocked in the United States!”

The news that a container ship from the Zim Israeli shipping line was scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area has sparked a tremendous outpouring of solidarity for Palestine, especially in the aftermath of the Israeli massacre of volunteers bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza on May 31.

With ten days advance notice of the ship’s arrival, the emergency “Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People” was set up. On Wednesday, some 110 people from unions and community came together to help organize logistics, outreach and community support. Initiating organizations included the Al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the ANSWER Coalition, the Bay Area Labor Chapter of USLAW and the Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice. Bay Area participants in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla also participated in the organizing.

The week preceding the June 20 picket, the San Francisco Labor Council and Alameda Labor Council passed resounding resolutions denouncing Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Both councils sent out public notices of the dock action.

The ILWU has a proud history of extending its solidarity to struggling peoples the world over. In 1984, as the Black masses of South Africa were engaged in an intense struggle against South African apartheid, the ILWU refused for a record-setting ten days to unload cargo from the South African “Ned Lloyd” ship. Despite million-dollar fines imposed on the union, the longshore workers held strong, providing a tremendous boost to the anti-apartheid movement.

The June 20 Oakland action, in the sixth largest port in the United States, is the first of several protests and work stoppages planned around the world, including Norway, Sweden and South Africa. It is sure to inspire others to do the same. At the end of the evening picket a telegram of solidarity and thanks from the General Union of Palestinian Workers was read to the cheering pickets by Michael Eisenscher of U.S. Labor Against the War.

The goal of the Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People, of a 24-hour shutdown of the docks where the Israeli ship was docked, was a resounding success.