Italian dock strike blocks deadly cargo headed for Saudi Arabia

May 23, 2019
Protesters join unionists on the dock beside the Saudi ship Bahri Yanbu on March 20.

Italian dock workers halted the loading of a deadly cargo of weapons bound for Saudi Arabia in Genoa on March 20 as they demanded Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini “open the ports to people and close them to arms”.

Trade unionists and activists hailed “working-class internationalism” as they stopped the Saudi ship Bahri Yanbu loading drones and other equipment that would be used in its devastating war on Yemen.

They called their action a “historic act of solidarity”.

Members of the CGiL (Italian General Confederation of Labour) union united with activists from Potero al Popolo (PaP, Power to the People) anti-fascist and pacifist groups saying: “We will not be complicit with the civilian deaths in Yemen,” as they blockaded the port.

In the face of the strike action, called by the local branch of the CGiL and mass protest, the Port Authority confirmed the ship would only be allowed to embark with civilian material onboard, leaving a stockpile of deadly equipment unmoved on the dock.

Workers refused to trust the words of the authorities and the strike action went ahead as planned with a blockade preventing the loading of cargo.

In a joint statement the groups said they were making a “small contribution to [tackling] a big problem for a population that is being killed daily”.

It is the second time the ship, whose journey started in the Tilbury dock in Essex, has failed to load its cargo. Earlier this month French activists launched a legal bid to block the ship loading eight CAESAR cannons in the port of Le Havre.

While the challenge was unsuccessful, the vessel left France without the weapons and made its way across the Mediterranean to Santander in Spain.

It was rumoured that the cannons were instead loaded secretly onto a train that made its way to a military base near Genoa, but workers said they were ready to stop this from happening.

France is keen to play down its role in the devastating war on Yemen, with President Emmanuel Macron insisting that French weapons are only used in “defensive circumstances.”

In a shocking bid to silence criticism and an attack on press freedom, three French journalists face five years in jail for exposing the reality of France’s deadly arms trade.

Disclose journalists Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal and Radio France journalist Benoit Collombat face prison for refusing to reveal sources after publishing “secret” reports that showed that 35 civilians died during 52 bombings between March 2016 and December 2018, in operations involving French CAESAR cannon fire.

The devastating Saudi-led war on Yemen, which started in March 2016, has caused more than 50,000 deaths and pushed the country to the brink of the worst famine in a century.

Despite allegations of war crimes, arising from the deliberate targeting of infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, Saudi Arabia continues to be supported militarily and armed to the teeth by Western countries including Britain, France and the United States.

All three have insisted that jobs would be at risk as they face domestic pressure to end their deadly arms trade.

PaP activist Giacomo Marchetti, who works at the docks and is a member of the Unione Sindacale di Base (USB union), told the Morning Star that the action was a “historic moment” for Genoa.

“It is not the first time the workers and activists have denounced what is happening [the bombing of Yemen] but it is the first time that there has been a strike and demonstration,” he said.

“Genoa has a long history of solidarity. It was the first to block United States ships headed to Vietnam and dock workers here also refused to allow war equipment to disembark for the Chile coup or its ships to dock.

“There are so many parts here that will be used for drones in the Yemeni war … this is the first time we have seen this kind of action since the strike before the Iraq war in 2003.”

He said the action sent a message to the racist, Salvini: “Open the port to migrants and close it to arms.

“What happened today in Genoa, what happened in Le Havre and Santander showed the importance of international working-class solidarity, especially in stopping wars. And it showed the strength of the dock workers.

“We are winning because the arms will not be loaded here as was planned.”

[Reprinted from Morning Star.]

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