Labor and Palestine solidarity activists in the San Francisco Bay Area came together again in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning to greet a cargo ship from the Israeli line Zim at the Port of Oakland.
With roughly 75 people, dispersed across the five entrances to the berth, activists hoped to prevent longshore workers from unloading the cargo. Zim Integrated Shipping Services is Israel’s largest cargo shipping company and has become an increasingly popular target around the country among Palestine solidarity activists.
As the sun rose over the small gathering, no workers seemed to be arriving for the shift. Nevertheless, organizers kept the picket lines moving, expecting some workers would eventually arrive.
But as the window for the shift came to an end, Jack Heyman, chair of the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee and a retired member of the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union), made an announcement: only one longshoreman chose to work the shift unloading the Zim line this morning — no other union members wanted to work it.
Every day longshoremen go to the hiring hall in San Francisco to choose the shifts they will work. Organizers for today’s actions spent the last week flyering outside the hiring hall, letting the workers know why they would be picketing on Saturday and asking them to respect their protest.
The ILWU Local 10 has been out of contract since July, which means workers will not get paid if they do not work a shift, regardless whether there is a picket line or a health and safety concern. But it also means union members do not have to defer to the port authority to determine whether or not they do cross a picket line. The ILWU has a long history of lending its union power in solidarity to outside causes.
According to Toby Blome, an activist and organizer with the antiwar group CODEPINK, many workers responded favorably to the flyers and were happy not to take Saturday’s shift working Israel’s Zim line.
While mobilizing efforts for Saturday’s action were last minute, local Palestine solidarity activists have been nurturing their coalition with labor for months.
Earlier this month, the Block the Boat coalition that had staged August’s port shutdown announced plans that they would be holding another action at the port on 25 October. But some members within the coalition wanted to plan an earlier action for September and branched off into a new coalition called Stop Zim Action Committee.
“The momentum that we had going in August should be continued,” Steve Zeltzer, a labor activist and journalist, told The Electronic Intifada. “We have to build a movement to shut down Zim everywhere.”
Zeltzer said that he is currently in conversation with activists in South Africa and Spain about coordinating similar actions against Zim ships.
“This is the most effective action I’ve ever been a part of,” Blome told The Electronic Intifada, referring to last month’s historic four-day shutout of the Zim line. “It taught me that just a few dozen people could hold back a ship, which is just incredible.”
Power of blocking Zim
In August, activists prevented a Zim ship from unloading for four straight days, during which time the ship remained anchored in the Bay trying to wait out the protests. And while the port was able to sneak the vessel in to dock on the night of 19 August, it remained unclear how much cargo had actually been unloaded.
An Al Akhbar investigation revealed that several of the businesses who were waiting for cargo on the Zim ship never received their goods. As a result, some businesses told Al Akhbar that they were ceasing work with Zim and were looking for other shipping companies to use.
There is another opportunity for the Zim ship to unload in Oakland this evening. Organizers are asking people to gather at the West Oakland BART Station at 4:30 PM where there will be carpools taking people to the port.