Oakland protests block Israeli ship from unloading for four days straight

August 19, 2014
Activists blocked the unloading of an Israeli shipping vessel in Oakland, California on August 18.

San Francisco Bay Area activists have not allowed a vessel from Israel’s largest shipping company to unload in the Oakland Port for four consecutive mornings.

On August 19, at 6:45am, activists declared yet another victory against the Zim Line, which has been trying to make its way into Oakland since August 16.

Lara Kiswani, the executive director of the local Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), told The Electronic Intifada that they are now waiting to hear if the Zim Line will leave the Port of Oakland today with the cargo it brought.

“If not,” Kiswani wrote in an email, “we will continue to mobilise until it does.”

Organisers had initially planned a one-day action for August 16, delaying the weekly, Saturday-scheduled offloading of the Zim ship by just one full work day. That day's success was seamless: the Zim Pireaus avoided the Oakland Port completely, preferring to remain at sea south of Oakland rather than meet the thousands of protesters who had descended onto the docks.

But, fueled off the initial triumph, activists returned to Berth 57 at the Oakland Port the next evening, on August 17.

At 5pm that day, activists released an urgent call for supporters to convene at the port. Within 30 minutes of the call, hundreds of people returned to the docks.

Workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) -- Local 10 honored the picket line, and refused to unload the ship.

No one would cross

Leading up to the August 16 action, organisers had worked hard to gain the support of workers with the local ILWU, whose contracts are currently expired.

While many ILWU members are eager to lend their support to Palestine -- as they did before, in 2010 -- others were still concerned about missing a day of work in the absence of an internal contract agreement.

But Monday August 18 came, and the Zim Line sat at the Oakland Port: no one would cross the picket line, even though the numbers of demonstrators had thinned since the weekend -- and as of August 19, the ship remained full of cargo.

Because the union is out of contract, they are not obliged to defer to a port arbitrator to decide whether or not they must go to work as it is an internal decision.

On August 18, the ILWU issued a statement on their compliance with the picket line, maintaining that it was the “unsafe conditions” that led them to their decision: “The ILWU has taken no position on the issue associated with the demonstration, but in cases when unsafe circumstances arise at the point of entry, the union must protect the safety of its members in the workplace …

“SSA [Stevedoring Services of America], after recognizing the safety situation associated with ingress to their gates, released all ILWU manpower at 7:30 p.m.”

More actions to come

This is the first time that an Israeli ship has been obstructed from docking for more than one day due to protest.

Activists in Oakland are looking forward to the future. In September, an annual weapons convention held in Oakland, Urban Shield, will feature several Israeli companies. The AROC is already mobilising against it.

While the port shutdown was in response to Israel’s current bombardment of Gaza and a direct appeal by Palestinian trade union groups, local groups such as AROC want the action to mark the first of many direct mobilisations against Israel’s decades-long control of Palestinians and US-supported colonization of their land.

[Reprinted from Electronic Intifada.]

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