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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Anti-Israel protesters prevent Zim ship from unloading in Oakland... for now

For the second day running activists and community members in the Bay Area converged at the gates of the Port of Oakland to prevent an Israeli owned Zim Integrated Shipping Services vessel from unloading its cargo.

Let's go to the videotape.

Here's a report from Monday afternoon San Francisco time:
The activists formed pickets at several Port gates to prevent workers from unloading the Piraeus, a vessel from Zim Integrated Shipping Services, Israel's largest shipping firm. The ship docked at 5 p.m. at the port's Oakland International Container Terminal, and protesters communicating via Twitter said port employees were honoring their picket lines.
"It's my understanding that labor did not report to work for the 7 p.m. shift at the Oakland International Terminal," port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said Sunday evening. "All other port operations are unaffected."
Organizing under the motto "Block the Boat," they first expected the ship to reach Oakland early Saturday morning. Word that the ship's arrival had been delayed led activists to rally at the port Saturday afternoon instead, in a large procession waving Palestinian flags and signs reading "Let Gaza Live."
Then, as the ship neared the Golden Gate on Sunday afternoon, tracked by the online service Marine Traffic, activists returned to the port.
The ship was carrying cargo from Asia and not from Israel. According to former Naval Intelligence Officer Jennifer Dyer, what's enabled the 'activists' to keep the ship away from the port has been cooperation from the local branch of the ILWU - the International Longshoremens' Workers Union. According to Dyer, that cooperation is unlikely to continue for very long.
Under normal circumstances, the port operator and the longshoremen’s union would have an arbiter adjudicate such a situation, since the longshoremen would be bound contractually to show up for work and unload the ZIM Piraeus’s cargo.  There would be a third party imposing some accountability on the union.  But this is one of a handful of reasons why the current BDS triumph is likely to have little impact.  The longshoremen’s contract expired on 1 July, and they’ve been working in the weeks since without one.  That makes their status a gray area – but it’s a condition specific to the present moment.
The ILWU (International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union) does have a unique history of showing solidarity with organized radicals as well as with other unions, a history that has been made largely in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Vancouver.  The ILWU split from the AFL-CIO – at the umbrella body’s request – in 2013, in part because of this very pattern.
But a very big thing has not happened in this latest iteration of BDS anti-cargo activism, and that’s spreading the BDS fever to the port facilities – and union workers – in southern California.  The Oakland port processes a healthy 9% of all the tonnage handled in the major West coast ports.  But the four main southern California ports – the behemoths of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the ports of San Diego and Port Hueneme – between them process 64% of all the West coast tonnage.  Los Angeles and Long Beach alone account for 60%.
The BDS movement doesn’t have a triumph to claim in SoCal.  The very most the Bay-area BDSers are likely to do, if they can manage to hold out long enough, is divert some minute percentage of container traffic to SoCal.  Even if they only succeed in diverting it to other NorCal ports (of which there are several, and all hungry), they will be doing the economy of Oakland no favors.
Shippers are in any case already worried about conditions up and down the coast, given the lack of a current contract for the ILWU workers.  Although it’s possible to make ZIM America take a relatively minor loss in the short run, what the BDSers would do, if they hung in there for days or weeks and made problems for the port, is drive all freight-moving contractors further away from West coast ports, and even, more generally, from the seaborne container shipping on which thousands of American jobs depend.
The other shippers, meanwhile, may or may not have political sympathy for ZIM, but none of the shippers likes the idea of radicals singling out one shipping firm for political reasons.  That could happen to anyone.
Ultimately, whatever the ILWU 10 local may want, the other union leaders up and down the coast have a main priority of keeping their members in good jobs with good benefits.  (The parent union also has purse strings to pull on compensation, for workers in a local that doesn’t work its shift.  ILWU 10 can’t keep this up indefinitely.)
It’s not in the union’s interest to see the Oakland situation develop into a standoff in which SSA Marine has to consider bringing in picket-line crossers.  The “picket line” in question isn’t a labor picket line.  And the ILWU is no longer affiliated with the AFL-CIO, so it lacks that political backing; if politicians got involved with this as a political-economic issue for their constituents, the commitment of even Bay-area stalwarts like Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown to “Palestinian” radicalism would fail the test.
The BDS activists are the most expendable comrades in this mix – and even the most radical-friendly unions can probably be divided from them if push comes to shove. That said, readers will not be surprised to learn that the usual suspects showed up for the protests this weekend.
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