San Francisco Bay Area Palestine activists have declared their first victory in attempting to prevent the offloading of an Israeli cargo vessel at the Oakland Port.
Originally planning to show up at 5:00am Saturday morning to block the ship, activists sent word out late last night that the meeting time had been moved up to 3:00pm, as the ship had delayed its arrival at Oakland in an apparent attempt to avoid the protest.
Activist Mohamed Shehk told The Electronic Intifada that the organizers have been tracking the vessel Zim Piraeus and realized last night that it had stopped before reaching its Oakland destination, spending the night at sea.
“This delay is seen as a victory for us. It shows how much Zim is trying to avoid our protest, and it shows how effective we can be when we can organize these types of actions,” Shehk said.
Zim Integrated Shipping Services is the Israeli international maritime shipping line.
A Zim Lines ship docks every Friday night around 9:00pm at the Oakland port for an early morning offload. Activists have been working with members of the local chapter of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) and hope that port workers will agree not to offload the Israeli cargo.
Of significance, the ILWU Local 10 is currently negotiating a new contract, the previous one having expired 1 July 2014. This means that ILWU Local 10 could potentially engage in a strike without breaking the rules of a contract.
In 2010, when activists successfully prevented the offloading of a Zim Lines ship in an historic first, Local 10 relied on the port’s arbitrator to declare the working conditions unsafe. According to longtime rank and file union member Clarence Thomas, there is currently no contractual language which would allow for an arbitrator to be called in: “I expect the rank and file to respect the picket line, as we have done of picket lines since the 1930s.”
ILWU has a long history of refusing to load ships from countries engaging in gross violations of human rights. In the 1930s, West Coast dockworkers refused to load and offload ships belonging to Italy after they invaded Ethiopia, and Japan after it invaded Manchuria.
In 1978 and 1980, ILWU refused to load military cargo headed for Chile and El Salvador respectively. And in 1984, the union refused to unload a South African ship for eleven straight days.
The terminal at which Zim Lines docks is owned by Stevedoring Services of America — which has been in protracted negotiations with ILWU Local 10 since last May.
Speaking as a rank and file member of the ILWU Local 10, Thomas emphasized that organizing at the ports in solidarity with Palestinians is essential given that Israel has foreclosed on any opportunity for Palestinians to engage in international trade through its ports.
“As a longshoreman, I know how critical international trade is to the economy,” he said. “I think it is an appropriate action against those who have prevented the self-determination of the Palestinian people and to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.”