In a historic and unprecedented action today, over 800 labor and community activists blocked the gates of the Oakland docks in the early morning hours, prompting longshore workers to refuse to cross the picket lines where they were scheduled to unload an Israeli ship.
From 5:30 a.m. 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, the apartheid wall is going to fall."
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.
Between 8:30 a.m. 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 measure.
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 Free Palestine Alliance and Richard Becker of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) 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 today 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 30.
With 10 days advance notice of the ship’s arrival, the emergency "Labor/Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People" was set up. On Wednesday, 110 people from unions and community came 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, the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, and the Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice.
This week, 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 apartheid, 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 longshore workers held strong, providing a tremendous boost to the anti-apartheid movement.
Among the many solidarity statements that came in anticipation of the protest were those of Palestinian and Cuban workers. The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions said, "Your action today is a milestone in international solidarity from honest and brave U.S. workers and trade unionists. Greetings to you from the trade unionists and workers of Palestine … from the trade unionists and workers trapped in Gaza."
The Central of Cuban Workers (CTC) wrote: "Our people have lived for 50 years of an unjust and abominable blockade by the U.S. government, so we understand very well how the Palestinian people feel and we will always be in solidarity with their just cause. Today we send you our most sincere support. Long live the solidarity of the working class! End the Blockade of Gaza! Respect and justice for the people of Palestine!"
Today’s 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.
The goal is for a 24-hour shutdown of the docks where the Israeli ship is docked, so the protest is planned again for 4:30 p.m.