Category Archives: Zim – Block the Boat – ILWU

Labor for Palestine Support for UAW 2865 BDS Resolution

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Labor for Palestine Support for UAW 2865 BDS Resolution

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

As trade unionists and anti-apartheid activists, we salute 13,000 University of California graduate student-workers who vote this Thursday, December 4 on UAW 2865’s resolution to join the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This historic moment is the first time that the membership of any major union body in the United States will have a chance to vote on more than six decades of complicity by their government, university and top labor officials in Israeli apartheid.

UAW 2865’s Joint Council BDS resolution was adopted on July 29 by a vote of 40-0. It answered urgent calls from Palestinian trade unions and Labor for Palestine issued amid last summer’s Israeli war on Gaza — armed and funded by the United States government — that ultimately murdered more than 2000 people, including more than 500 children.

Recognizing that this massacre reflects not only the brutal ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza, but its entire colonial-settler regime, the Joint Council embraces BDS demands for decolonization of all historic Palestine: an end to Israeli military occupation of the 1967 territories; full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as affirmed by UN resolution 194.

Thereby respecting the worldwide BDS picket line, the Joint Council joins the Congress of South African Trade Unions and labor organizations around the world, including ILWU Local 10 dockworkers who refuse to handle Israeli Zim line cargo. As UAW 2865 BDS Caucus members explain:

“The success of Oakland’s Block the Boat makes clear the centrality of organized labor to the global movement for Palestinian freedom. This, and the upcoming UAW 2865 vote on BDS, signal a sea change in US labor’s willingness to be complicit in apartheid and ethnic cleansing. As the larger Palestine solidarity movement picks up steam, we can expect the grassroots labor mobilization for Palestine to bear greater and greater fruits, until Israeli apartheid is no more.”

UAW 2865’s BDS resolution also builds on Students for Justice in Palestine’s BDS victories at six of nine UC campuses, and is deeply connected to ongoing battles now being waged by UC students and workers against institutional racism, state violence and attacks on public higher education.

As UAW 2865 leaders point out, these struggles are inextricably linked: “Working people everywhere have a common interest in opposing oppression and exploitation wherever they are found. Working together as a global labor movement to oppose injustice around the world strengthens us all in our individual struggles against anti-labor employers and states and in our collective efforts to build the world that working people deserve. An Injury to One Is an Injury to All.”

In support of UAW 2865’s resolution, the Arab Resources Organizing Center (AROC) similarly observes: “When workers reclaim their power and take a position on the side of justice, they are honoring the legacy of worker-community solidarity, and reminding the world that workers are part and parcel of popular movements.”

As one UAW 2865 “Vote Yes” poster simply states: “Palestina & Ayotinzapa & Ferguson & Mi barrio & Tu barrio. Yes on BDS – Dec 4

During the past fifty years, the Free Speech Movement of 1964, apartheid South Africa divestment in the 1970s-1980s, and numerous other social justice campaigns at the University of California have spoken truth to power, inspired millions, and helped change the course of history.

Today, standing in this proud tradition, you will do the same.


Issued by Labor for Palestine Co-Conveners:

Suzanne Adely, U.S.-MENA Global Labor Solidarity Network; Former Staff, Global Organizing Institute, UAW

Monadel Herzallah, former member, Arab American Union Members Council, San Francisco, CA

Michael Letwin, former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325

Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; Executive Board, ILWU Local 10

Jaime Veve, Transport Workers Union Local 100, NYC (retired)




Dear AROC Community,

We have stopped the largest Israeli shipping line from coming to California indefinitely.  

We blocked the boat.

We challenged state violence and stopped local and federal law enforcement from coming to Oakland to work with international security forces, including Israel, to further police and militarize our communities.

We kicked Urban Shield out of Oakland. 

We defended our community members against deportation, detention, and FBI harassment. After being imprisoned for ten years, faced with deportation to apartheid Israel where he was previously tortured and imprisoned, we got our client released from detention and back with his community in the Bay Area.

We empowered our community. 


AROC’s leadership in organizing the Bay Area Arab community is unique.  

We are the only Arabic speaking organization providing free-of-charge legal services(AALS: Arab American Legal Services) while fighting for immigrant rights, challenging war and militarism, Zionism, and racism. We are the only organization that has an Arab youth-led committee (AYO: Arab Youth Organizing), and an Arab queer immigrant-led committee (QueerOC). We organize our youth and adults to develop new leaders that can represent our cause, with our voice and our vision for the world alongside other impacted communities fighting for justice.

  • Continue the fight and empower our youth, our families, our communities to honor the struggles of our freedom fighters.
  • Help stop FBI harassment, surveillance and state repression.
  • Ensure that we free our beloved Rasmea Odeh.
  • Show the world that Zionism and Israeli apartheid aren’t welcome in our towns by making the Bay Area a model for the BDS movement.
  • Provide free legal services to community members facing deportation, FBI targeting and forced migration from their homelands.
  • We need your help to grow and sustain these kinds of wins and a liberated vision for our people.

Can you help AROC raise $50,000 to grow our staff and be able to meet the demands of our community?

We need to hire a full time community organizer to carry our campaign work forward, to build our membership base and develop our programs. And we need your support to make that happen. Your support will enable us to do the political work we all believe is necessary. We cannot depend so heavily on foundations for funding. Because our work is rooted in our community, we know that we cannot depend on anyone but the community we serve. Our work necessitates grassroots support so that we can truly realize the self-determination we fight for.

Please support AROC today by giving in any of the following ways:

  • Donate  $5,000, $500, or $100. Give so that we can have the capacity to do the work needed.
  • Become a monthly sustainer. Contribute $50, $20 or $10 a month to sustain AROC’s programming.
  • Organize a fundraiser, house party, or creative action to raise funds for Arab organizing.
  • Connect us with potential donors. Do you know of someone who can give, who supports our struggles for liberation and supports community organizing?  Help us broaden our base of support.
  • Spread the word. Encourage your friends and family to support AROC.
  • Get involved and be a part of our community.


Lara Kiswani, Executive Director


BDS: reply to Jack Heyman (Labournet)


BDS: reply to Jack Heyman

Report by Greg Dropkin
Published: 17/11/14

Jack Heyman has written a full account on Counterpunch of the actions against Zim on Oakland docks in August and September, along with his critique of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

From Liverpool, I can’t quarrel with Jack’s account of what actually happened with theZim Piraeus in mid August or the Zim Shanghai in late Sept. From what I know of the second action, Jack is certainly right there. He is also right to say “It’s not easy to build solid links with waterfront unions but Palestinian activists are trying.”

Jack has done great work on Oakland docks to deliver real solidarity with Palestine. But there are several other aspects of his polemic with which I disagree.

First, on what role community pickets have actually played in some of the other Oakland actions. The first para under the heading “Workers’ Action: The Most Powerful Solidarity” gives the impression that the action in June 2010 in response to the slaughter on the Mavi Marmara had nothing to do with a community picket line. Yet as Jack acknowledges only much later on, it was a mass community picket involving the wider trade union movement in the Bay Area, which Oakland longshore workers chose to honor. I wrote about that in Blockade: Dockers respond to Israel’s Flotilla Massacre and Gaza Siege, and here’s a paragraph from that report:

When longshore workers turned up for the day shift a mass demo was in place at four gates chanting “Free, Free Palestine, Don’t You Cross Our Picket Line”. . .“An Injury to One is An Injury to All, Bring Down the Apartheid Wall”. . .“Open the Siege, Close the Gate, Israel is a Terrorist State”. . . As union members spoke to drivers, pickets sat down in front of cars. The San Francisco Labor Council and the Alameda County Labor Council had passed their own resolutions and mobilised hundreds of trade unionists to back the demo called by the Labor Community Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian People. It was an unprecedented show of strength from the local and regional AFL-CIO, affiliated unions and their members side by side with Palestinian and Arab-American activists. The Gaza ships were originally organised by Paul Larudee from San Francisco, and Bay Area residents had sailed with him. Now everyone came together for a united action organised in just two weeks.

That sounds like a mass community and union Palestine solidarity picket. And in fact, a number of other historic actions in Oakland have used similar tactics. For example, here is a report by David Bacon on the action in solidarity with Liverpool, a boycott of the Neptune Jade in Sept 1997. Consider these excerpts:

Starting early Sunday morning, twice each day the Centennial Stevedoring Company called out a crew of longshoremen to work the ship. As each crew arrived at the terminal, it was met by a picketline organized by the Committee for Victory for the Liverpool Dockers. The crews of longshoremen and ships clerks, members of Locals 10, 34 and 91 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, refused to cross the line. As specified in the contract between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, an arbitrator was called down to the terminal to determine whether the workers had to go in to work. On six occasions, the arbitrator ruled that the picketline constituted a health and safety hazard for the dockworkers, and sent them home. Twice he ruled the workers had to go to work. But even on these occasions, the men and women of the waterfront refused.…Some of those new members, who call themselves the Youngbloods, were impatient at the tactic of refusing to cross the picketline because of a supposed health and safety danger. “We should be picketing ourselves,” said Eric Wright, whose father and uncle were longtime dockworkers. “We should just refuse to handle the cargo.”

Longshoreman Jack Heyman responded that while directly refusing might be best, “there’s something to be said for involvement by other unions and community supporters. It makes us stronger.”

And here is Jack’s report on the anti-war action in April 2003. It begins:

Last April 7, just as the morning sun was rising over the hills east of San Francisco Bay, Darth Vader-clad riot police in the port of Oakland opened fire on some 700 people demonstrating peacefully against the war in Iraq. Police fired lead-shot bean bags, wooden dowels, rubber bullets, tear gas and stinger grenades. Dozens were injured. Twenty four demonstrators and one longshore official were arrested.A Bay Area group called Direct Action to Stop the War that organized the “community picket line”, had specified that it was “not a civil disobedience action” and the goal was “not to get arrested”. But the bloody police response turned the demonstration into what The New York Times called “the most violent (clash) between protesters and authorities anywhere in the country since the start of the war” (NYT 4/8/03).

In Sept 2014, turning back the Zim Shanghai was indeed a victory for workers action, pure and simple. But more than once, the community picket line has been an essential ingredient.


The second disagreement begins when Jack moves from Oakland docks to generalities about the BDS movement. I haven’t heard the Palestinian Boycott National Committee demanding an ongoing continuous boycott of all Israeli shipping, which I think is very far from achievable in the current situation. It would have been helpful to know who exactly is making this demand, and what level of real contact with dockworkers they have. But Jack then writes “And what of Palestinians who work for Israeli companies in Israel and in Palestinian territories. Should they quit their jobs or demand the companies close?” Now it gets serious. By Jack’s argument, we should have sided with Scarlet Johansson on behalf of the Sodastream workers in the settlement industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, instead of mobilising the boycott which has resulted in the company quitting the West Bank.

Let’s take a step back. The aim of the BDS movement is to impose a real economic price on Israel’s wide ranging violation of international law and Palestinian human rights. One part of that system of violation is the Occupation. The settlements are illegal. The human rights of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, as a whole, are adversely affected by the presence of the settlements and the brutal military regime which sustains them. The fact that some Palestinians work in the settlements as construction workers or date pickers or for companies in the industrial zones does not rehabilitate the settlements or the firms which profit from them or the wider regime of Occupation. They remain legitimate targets.

Surely, if Scarlet Johansson’s argument, which Jack inadvertently echoes, had any real force then Palestinian unions would have broken from BDS. But far from doing so, they have intensified their appeals to the outside world. Here is what the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions-Gaza, General Union of Palestinian Workers, Union of Professional Associations, and the Federation of Independent Trade Unions wrote on 30 July. Their appeal includes:

We ask you to consider the following actions: Stop handling goods imported from or exported to Israel, Divest your trade union pension – and other – funds from Israel Bonds as well as from corporations and banks that complicit in Israel’s occupation and human rights violations, Dissociate from Israeli trade unions which are complicit in the occupation, Support our call for a military embargo on Israel, Share information with your members about the siege and destruction of Gaza and ask your members to boycott Israeli products and to share their knowledge with family, co-workers, and friends.

Whatever argument Jack is having with Palestine solidarity activists in San Francisco, this is what Palestinian workers organisations are saying, and it does include divestment, consumer boycott, an arms embargo, and breaking links with Israeli trade unions complicit in the occupation.

Jack refers to the Durban dockers boycott of the Israeli ship Johanna Russ which sailed from Haifa in January 2009 at the height of Israeli massacre in Gaza, Cast Lead. Interviewed in Cairo during the Gaza Freedom March in 2010, Zico Tamela, the International Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, the COSATU affiliate which carried out this action, spoke very warmly of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. For example

“I would like to urge all fellow transport workers throughout the world, to assist in the struggle for the liberation of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. One of the things we must do is to support and actively participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. This means the total isolation of Israel in terms of arms embargo, economically, culturally, socially, and otherwise. Just like you fellow workers did with apartheid South Africa. This also means that the Israeli labour movement, which is Zionist to the core, must be kicked out of the progressive international trade union movement.”

Jack says “A serious working class program to end Zionist depredation of the Palestinian people would require Palestinian and Israeli workers linking up in a struggle against their common enemies, the Israeli and Arab capitalists”. But where is the evidence that Israeli workers are even contemplating such an alliance? The fact that dockers in Haifa have struck against port privatization does not imply anything about their attitudes on Palestine. The Histadrut supported Cast Lead and the attack on the Mavi Marmara. The Israeli “social justice” protests over housing and cost of living in 2011 refused to mention the Occupation, let alone equality for Palestinian and Arab citizens of Israel or the Right of Return.

In South Africa, the formation of the independent trade unions which culminated in the birth of COSATU in 1985 was the single most important step towards ending apartheid. The arguments for socialism, now resurfacing in the South African unions, were intense. And what was the attitude of the COSATU unions, including NUMSA, to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against apartheid South Africa? They appealed for it, time and again.

After the General Secretary of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia Ben Ulenga called on Liverpool dockers to target Namibian uranium, Liverpool blockaded containers of uranium hexafluoride derived from Namibian and South African supplies. Japanese electricity companies declared they would not renew contracts, and Rössing Uranium (owned by RTZ) told workers that Ulenga was going to cost them their jobs. Should Liverpool have held back on the grounds that the boycott was threatening miners employment?

And what is the attitude of NUMSA now to BDS against Israeli apartheid? On 16 July 2014 NUMSA issued a press statement on the Gaza massacre, demanding the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from South Africa but going much further and endorsing BDS. I ask everyone to read it.

Jack, please think again.

Greg Dropkin

Israeli shipping giant Zim suspends operations in Long Beach (Hellenic Shipping News)

Hellenic Shipping News


Israeli shipping giant Zim suspends operations in Long Beach

Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., Israel’s largest cargo shipping company, has temporarily suspended operations at the Port of Long Beach, according to an employee in Zim’s Long Beach office.

Though the company has not offered a reason, the decision comes after protests in Long Beach and Oakland by the anti-Israel protest group, Block the Boat, which formed in August and is aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Block the Boat protestors, who felt motivated to organize during this summer’s war in Gaza, have repeatedly made it difficult for Zim to unload its cargo at the ports of Long Beach and Oakland during scheduled unloading days for the past three months.

A Zim employee in Long Beach, who answered a phone call to the office but would not give his name, said that the suspension is “not a long-term thing.” He did not say whether it was the protests that prompted Zim’s decision.

A statement from a company spokesman sent to the Journal did not directly address the issue in Long Beach, stating Zim “never stopped and will continue to serve its loyal customers in the U.S. West Coast.” The spokesman has not yet responded to a follow-up request for clarification.

Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, confirmed that Zim suspended operations at the port, but added that he was not given a reason. He said that in recent months, protestors often would come to the dock on Saturday mornings in anticipation of an arriving Zim shipment — the locations of cargo vessels are easily tracked on the Internet — only to find that the Zim vessel that was en route had changed course at the last minute.

“I could never tell if it impacted the unloading of the vessels,” Wong said. “The protesters would come, but the ship wouldn’t even be there.”

He said shipping companies frequently change their ports of call at the last moment, without offering reasons.

In Oakland, where Block the Boat protestors also have been active, Michael Zampa, a spokesman for the Port of Oakland, wrote in an email, “As far as I know, Zim has no plans for leaving the Port of Oakland.” Asked whether he knows about any temporary suspension of operations at the Port of Oakland, Zampa recommended reaching out to a Zim spokesperson.

Container Management, a shipping industry publication, quoted Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), as saying, “That the Zim vessel can no longer come to Oakland or Long Beach is one of the biggest wins for Palestinian solidarity in the Bay Area in recent history.” In the same piece, Robert Bernardo, another Port of Oakland spokesman, said that the suspension could lead to lost wages for dockworkers and truckers who only work if there is cargo to unload.

AROC, located in San Francisco, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Source: Jewish Journal

Why is Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) a Labor Issue? (Berkeley Graduate)

The Berkeley Graduate, November 14, 2014

Why is Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) a Labor Issue?


Michael Letwin, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society and member of Labor for Palestine discussing the relationship between BDS and Labor organizing.

Pro-Palestinian student groups on the UC Berkeley campus continue their efforts to intensify the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions(BDS) Movement, as many Palestinians are still suffering from the devastation wrought by the Israeli government’s deployment of Operation Protective Edge—the ceaseless 50 day bombardment of Gaza Strip (from July 8th to August 26th) that claimed the lives of over 2,140 Palestinian civilians, injured around 11,000 others, and destroyed approximately 42,000 houses. Israel’s blockade of Gaza Strip renders Palestinians destitute of the resources needed to rebuild their homes, to restore the infrastructure of their livelihoods, and to provide adequate medical care and sustenance for thousands of displaced families.

On Wednesday, November 12th, the UAW 2865 BDS Caucus hosted a panel discussion among graduate student workers and labor union organizers to illuminate the significance of Labor organizing in BDS, to stress the exigencies of worker participation in BDS as part of an international solidarity movement against colonial occupation, and to encourage members of the graduate student union to vote yes on the UAW 2865 Ballot Initiative to join the BDS Movement on December 4th. This resolution calls on the University of California System and UAW International to divest from companies complicit in Israeli occupation of Palestine and calls on the US government to cease aid to Israel until it complies with international law.


Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)

“It’s a good reminder of where and how our struggle began. It was shaped by Labor. It was shaped by peasants, and it was led by workers. Disrupting the economy was the way in which they started the fight.”

Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), provided a historical synopsis of the relationship between organized labor and the Palestinian liberation struggle. She explained how early resistance mobilizations even before the state of Israel was established—such as the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt against British colonial rule—were peasant-led uprisings. As the steady influx of settler immigrants systemically displaced indigenous families and forced them into poverty, peasant workers organized a year-long strike and boycott of British imported goods. According to Kiswani, actions such as this strike reveals the extent to which the historical legacy and continued efficacy of BDS tactics are rooted in organized labor efforts. Kiswani mentions that this historical survey of Palestinian resistance demonstrates the inseparability of labor from liberation politics:


Clarence Thomas, a long time member of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU)

Clarence Thomas, a long time member of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), shared his own insights as a veteran of ILWU solidarity organizing against projects of imperialist conquest and colonial occupation. He explained how the recent Block-the-Boat mobilizations against the Israeli shipping line, Zim, are a continuation of a rich 80 year tradition of labor organizing. He described how a community-organized picket line stopped the shipment of brass and nickel to Italy in 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, and how another community blockade stopped the delivery of scrap iron to Japan In 1939 when Japan invaded Manchuria. Thomas went on to emphasize the significant role of organized Labor in the United States in challenging systems of colonial oppression all around the world.

“When you have international Labor solidarity actions, that means that workers in some part of the world are making a sacrifice, because solidarity is not an empty slogan. It means something.”

Michael Letwin, staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society and member of Labor for Palestine, echoed this sentiment and emphasized how active participation in organized Labor mobilizations – combined with consumer consciousness on the part of people living in the United States – is inextricably linked to the life outcomes of Palestinian people by virtue of the U.S. government’s subsidy of the Israeli military. He states that:

“Palestine clearly is a Labor issue—it’s a union issue—as any anti-colonialist, racial justice, or human rights issue should be. Because the most fundamental principle of Labor is that injury to one is an injury to all. So, it shouldn’t be a big leap to figure out why Palestine is a Labor issue.”

Graduate4In an interview conducted after the discussion segment, David McCleary, graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department and organizer with the UAW BDS Caucus, explained how the UAW 2865 Ballot Initiative to join the BDS movement is an unprecedented gesture of democratization. All that is required for the endorsement to pass is a 50% plus one majority vote by the 83 elected members of the Joint Council, however, the Union has extended the process to a membership vote that will allow for the 13,000 rank-and-file union members across all of the University of California campuses to vote on the issue. David goes on to explain the imperatives for graduate students to vote “yes:”

“It’s about ending our complicity as union workers, as graduate students. It’s [about] ending our complicity with the oppression in Palestine. It’s about ending this global system of oppression, its not just about Palestine. The oppression in Palestine is connected to the oppression in our communities in Oakland and we need to fight this system of oppression in a wholesale way.”

About Gabriel Regalado

2nd year in the African Diaspora Studies Ph.D. Program with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley.

Video: UAW 2865 BDS Caucus Panel Discussion, Nov. 12, 2014

AROC Executive Director Lara Kiswani, ILWU Local 10 longshore worker Clarence Thomas, and Labor for Palestine founder Michael Letwin discuss the role of organized labor in the Palestine solidarity movement. They discuss recent exciting developments including Block The Boat and the upcoming UAW 2865 member vote on BDS on December 4th, 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 9.13.16 PM

The Zim Alabama Has Canceled All Their Scheduled Dockings at the Port of Tampa


After 4 demonstrations at the Port of Tampa against the Zim Alabama, the last one on November 1 which included a direct action hard block that jammed up vehicle traffic coming into the port, the Alabama isn’t coming back to Tampa. Originally scheduled to drop cargo at the Port of Tampa every three weeks through February 2015, after Block the Boat Tampa’s last action at the port on Nov.1, the Alabama was “phased out.” Each action used techniques that escalated from the previous action, culminating in a hard block and arrests that Zim and the Port of Tampa could not ignore.

Organizers of Block the Boat Tampa are calling this is a WIN.

It should be noted that Block the Boat Tampa did not have large numbers, nor was there support from the Longshormen’s Union-ILA Local 1402. What Palestine Solidarity activists with Block the Boat Tampa did have was persistence, passion and courage. They will take these attributes into the next level of actions to stop Zim from unloading Apartheid in Tampa Bay.

Tampa.1 Tampa.2 Tampa.3 Tampa.4

Pro-Palestinian activists declare “victory” as Zim removes Californian ports from schedule (Container Management)

Container Management, November 10, 2014 

BTB demonstrations at American ports are likely to continue

Pro-Palestinian activists declare “victory” as Zim removes Californian ports from schedule

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators based in California are celebrating news that Israeli shipping company, Zim Integrated Shipping Services, will no longer use its vessels to service the Ports of Los Angeles and Oakland.

Zim’s Container Service Pacific (ZCP) route between Asia and North and Central America had previously called at the west coast ports, but they no longer appear on its schedule.

The removal of services follows months of picketing against Zim vessels by hundreds of protestors at ports across the US, in conjunction with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against perceived injustices levelled by Israel to Palestinians.

Known as the Block The Boat (BTB) movement, the pickets appear to have been most successful on the West Coast, with a Zim vessel being delayed for several days at the port of Oakland in September and entirely skipping a scheduled call to move onwards to Russia last month.

Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organising Centre (AROC), one of the organisations running the BTB coalition, said: “The fact that the Zim vessel can no longer come to Oakland or Long Beach is one of the biggest wins for Palestinian solidarity in the Bay Area in recent history. We see our victory as a huge success for the BDS movement against Israel.”

She continued: “When the BTB coalition formed in August, our goal was to stop the Zim ship from coming to the Port of Oakland as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to make a material impact on the state of Israel. Zim realized it was too costly and too difficult to continue docking its ships in our town given the strength of our community organising and mobilising.”

Zim, the tenth largest cargo shipping company in the world, became a target for activists following Israel’s highly controversial Operation Protective Edge this summer, with 2,200 people dying in the conflict.

The shipping line was founded by the Israeli government in 1968 but after privatisation and a recent restructuring, 68% of shares are owned by creditors and bondholders, while the remaining 32% belongs to Kenon Holdings, a spin-off of holding company, Israel Corporation.

Demonstrators have argued that the Israeli government’s ‘golden share’, which gives it a veto over Zim’s decisions and allows its ships to be controlled in times of war, makes the shipping line a legitimate target for protest.

Robert Bernardo, communications manager at the Port of Oakland, claimed the loss of port calls by Zim vessels would hurt the local economy and dock workers in particular. Speaking to CM after one of the picketing incidents, he said: “We power approximately 73,000 jobs in the northern California region. So it’s vital for us to keep the flow of commerce moving so that local jobs are protected.”

He added: “So when dock workers do not work, they lose shifts which result in lost wages for themselves and their families. From dock workers to truckers to people who rely upon the cargo arriving on time and everyone in between, the Port of Oakland supplies an entire supply chain of jobs. That is why what happened is unfortunate.”

Kiswani disputed the claims, saying: “We don’t believe Oakland should be profiting from apartheid. If they’re going to lose profit from apartheid, that’s a loss that is worth losing. We are also continuing our commitment to worker solidarity and do not intend to negatively impact International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) rank and file by regularly disrupting business at the port and targeting other shipping lines.”

While Zim vessels will not service Oakland or Los Angeles, there appear to be no changes to existing schedules at other ports in the US. Furthermore, multiple Zim services which use vessels belonging to other shipping lines will continue to call at Oakland and Los Angeles. Kiswani’s indicated that it is unlikely these vessels will be picketed.

BTB demonstrations at American ports are likely to continue with recent events organised at Tampa Bay, Seattle and Tacoma.

N21: Zim Customer Call In Day (Block the Boat Tampa)


In a continuation of sustained and steadfast pressure on the embattled ZIM Integrated Shipping Services, Block the Boat Tampa is calling for a GLOBAL CALL IN day against ZIM, who is complicit in the continued occupation, murder, theft and oppression of the Palestinian people-

The ZIM Alabama has cancelled all visits to the Port of Tampa for the rest of the year! The Maria Pia, a ship also leased and used by ZIM has also been phased out! We have them on the the ropes, DON’T STOP NOW!!

On November 21st, the day that the smaller replacement ship, the ISAO, will be docking, lets welcome them to Tampa by spending the day sending thousands of calls and emails, coming from EVERY PORT CITY THAT ZIM SHIPS DOCKS IN, this is both ports that have established Block the Boat mobilizations and those who do not, to their global customer base, those they lease the ship from, those who ship product on their ships and anyone else involved in a financial relationship with ZIM, will have their info posted on this event page and we ask for everyone to be prolific! Be steadfast! Let them know that they need to use another company and sever all ties to ZIM!

Unionizing solidarity with Palestine: Support grows for BDS among grassroots labor movement (Mondoweiss)


Unionizing solidarity with Palestine: Support grows for BDS among grassroots labor movement

“We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel.” This call for solidarity was issued in July 2005 by hundreds of Palestinian organizations, including all major trade unions. Systematic land confiscation, mass incarceration, house demolition, and routine attacks that leave hundreds of civilians dead have become part and parcel of daily life in Israel-occupied Palestine. The US-sponsored “peace talks” merely readjusted Israel’s occupation strategy: instead of deploying its army inside Palestinian cities and towns, Israel now surrounds them with checkpoints and walls; hinders Palestinians’ ability to work, study, and travel; and ensures that Palestine remains economically dependent on Israel. Recognizing that Israel has used negotiations to normalize and sustain the occupation, Palestinian civil society adopted the non-violent strategy of Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) against its oppressor.

Compared to its international counterparts, the U.S. labor movement has been slow to embrace BDS. Michael Letwin, co-founder of the solidarity group Labor for Palestine, suggests this is the product of the American labor movement’s historical and continuing institutional support for Israel. The major US trade unions, Letwin says, have hundreds of millions of dollars in pension funds that are invested in Israel. Senior union leaders, in fear of alienating the Democratic Party and other political allies, frequently denounce BDS and criticize their counterparts around the world who support it.

On the grassroots level, however, things look different. This summer, hundreds of US labor leaders and organizers signed on to Labor for Palestine’s BDS statement. To add to these inspiring developments, on December 4th, UAW 2865, a union that represents 13,000 student workers across nine University of California campuses, will become the first U.S. union to hold a membership vote on joining the BDS movement. Similarly encouraging are recent solidarity actions in the San Francisco Bay Area, which show that, despite the ambivalence among some union leadership, rank-and-filers do not hesitate to stand in solidarity with the oppressed.

This August, during five days and four nights of demonstrations at the Port of Oakland, a diverse group of pro-Palestine and social justice activists under the banner of the Block the Boat coalition picketed several berths where the Israeli cargo ship Zim Piraeus attempted to dock. Activists returned to the port whenever workers were dispatched to unload it—in some cases in the middle of the night. Their numbers, which fluctuated between dozens and thousands, were not always sufficient to physically block all entrances to the vessel. Yet the action succeeded due to the support of Oakland’s longshoremen, members of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10, who refused to cross the community picket lines. Even when police surrounded and split protestors on multiple occasions, workers refused to proceed and unload the ship. The ship eventually left port, unable to unload most of its cargo.

Israel’s massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinians this summer enraged Samantha Levens, an ILWU marine division rank-and-file member. Upon hearing that community members were organizing to block the Israeli liner, she prepared information fliers and distributed them to the longshoremen. “We weren’t saying ‘don’t handle the cargo,’” Levens says. “We were just giving information about the issue: what happened during the South African apartheid, the history of ILWU honoring community picket lines, and the position of international unions on the situation in Gaza.” The longshoremen’s reaction was positive. Even on the third and fourth days of picketing, she says, when members were eager to go back to work, “I mostly saw people becoming more supportive.”

Lifelong longshoreman, ILWU member, and activist Clarence Thomas explains: “I can’t be silent on these issues. I’m sure that there are longshoremen in Gaza who haven’t been doing work in decades. Isn’t it ironic that ships can go as they please into ports in Israel, but can’t come into Gaza?” Solidarity, Thomas says, is a key value in labor activism: “Politics is one thing, but the aspiration and the communality of the working class is something else,” he says, citing numerous solidarity actions ILWU has taken since the 1930s against oppressive regimes throughout the world. “As an African American man, I don’t have any difficulty relating to the plight of the Palestinian people,” he says. “I know what it means to be racially profiled and to be targeted by a militarized police. I’ve been pulled over many times. I had police guns pointed at me. I understand this phenomenon.”

The strong parallels between state and racial oppression in Palestine and the US, respectively, are at the foundation of ILWU Local 10’s policy of not crossing community picket lines. “We will not work under armed police escort—not with our experience with the police in this community,” said Local 10 president Melvin MacKay, referring to the police’s violent dispersal of anti-Iraq war pickets in 2003. “This action was always about building worker-community solidarity,” assesses Reem Assil, one of the organizers of the port actions. “We hope to use it as an impetus for us to deepen work in educating workers about the issue and connecting it to their personal conditions.”

Following the successful pickets in August, a second ship, the Zim Shanghai, again encountered community picket lines when it docked at the Port of Oakland on October 25. Once again, ILWU longshoremen stood down. As the first shifts to unload the Zim Shanghai were being met with pickets, all but one longshoremen refused to even take a job working the ship. The Shanghai left port without loading or unloading any cargo, thanks to the decision of ILWU rank-and-file members to once more respect a community picket line. When the Zim Beijing, a third ship scheduled to unload at the Port of Oakland, faced similar plans by the Block The Boat coalition in October, the ship diverted to avoid another humiliating defeat at the hands of a determined coalition of social justice activists and rank-and-file union members. With Block the Boat actions now spreading to other ports, it’s difficult to see how Israel will weather the growing storm of BDS.

Palestine solidarity is gaining traction among academic workers too. This July, UAW Local 2865, which represents over 13,000 University of California student workers, took an important step towards joining the international BDS movement. In a public letter posted on the union’s website, the UAW 2865 Joint Council (which includes 83 elected officers) declared its commitment “to support our Palestinian counterparts.” The joint council pledged to bring a comprehensive BDS proposal to a general membership vote this year, a proposal that would include a call for academic boycott of institutions profiting from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses. In addition to soliciting its members’ commitment to cut contact with such institutions, the union would also call on the UC system and UAW International to divest from companies complicit in the occupation.

This endorsement comes as no surprise: in the past few years, UAW 2865 has joined numerous struggles against oppression, including Occupy protests, UC student protests against fee-hikes, and last year’s strike by UC custodians. Recently, it negotiated unprecedented protections for its undocumented immigrant members, queer and trans members, parents, and others.

In the midst of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, the union’s social justice committee carefully worded the call for BDS, outlining in detail the different dimensions of the Israeli occupation. They cited Israel’s refusal to recognize Palestinian refugees’ rights as indigenous people (specifically, their right to return to their land), the system of apartheid that Israel enforces in the West Bank and Gaza, and the second-class status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The letter also mentions the connection between Israel’s military industry and ethnic cleansing, the suppression of popular movements, and the oppression and criminalization of people all over the world. Concluding by quoting Desmond Tutu’s “hope for a time when there are universal rights for all humans regardless of ethnicity, gender, or national, origin,” the letter emphasizes that BDS does not target the Jewish people but instead targets Israel as “a colonial-apartheid state.” The letter further highlights the unequivocal support BDS receives from Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. In fact, a few days after the letter’s publication, more than forty current and former Jewish UAW 2865 members publicly endorsed this BDS call.

The date for the general UAW 2865 membership vote has been set for December 4th. The official ballot language adopted by the Joint Council includes a single yes or no vote on whether the union should call on the US government to end military aid to Israel, and call on the University of California and UAW International to “divest…from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people”. The ballot also includes a checkbox where members can pledge to refuse to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel”. The Joint Council also adopted several documents to educate members about the issues and explain the rationale for the vote; these include a BDS FAQ page, an academic boycott fact sheet, and a labor movement statement.

As in other social justice struggles, mobilization for BDS concerns not just Palestinian rights, but also the right of workers to act and express themselves politically. Purporting to represent UC Jewish students, several Zionist organizations have petitioned UC President Janet Napolitano, alleging that the Joint Council’s solidarity with Palestine creates “a hostile anti-Semitic environment” for Jewish students. Many Jewish students, however, find such allegations to be spurious and see the claims as dishonest attempts to silence criticism.The BDS movement is a fundamentally anti-racist movement, one that opposes racism in all of its forms, including and especially anti-Semitism. The President’s office has yet to respond to the petition, and one can only hope that Napolitano’s tenure will not add to her abysmal human rights record both as Governor of Arizona and Homeland Security Secretary.

The success of Oakland’s Block the Boat makes clear the centrality of organized labor to the global movement for Palestinian freedom. This, and the upcoming UAW 2865 vote on BDS, signal a sea change in US labor’s willingness to be complicit in apartheid and ethnic cleansing. As the larger Palestine solidarity movement picks up steam, we can expect the grassroots labor mobilization for Palestine to bear greater and greater fruits, until Israeli apartheid is no more.


About Alborz Gandanhari, David McCleary, Kumars Salehi and Tory Webster

Alborz Ghandehari is a graduate student at UC San Diego; Tory Webster is a graduate student at UC Davis; Kumars Salehi and David McCleary are graduate students at UC Berkeley. All are UAW 2865 rank-and-file members and members of the UAW 2865 BDS Caucus. Tory and Alborz are also elected officers of the UAW 2865 Joint Council. Kumars and David participated in the Block the Boat protests in Oakland.

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