by Davey Heller, 20th June 2021
When Israel unleashed its latest murderous rampage on the Palestinian people trapped within the confines of the Gaza strip in May, a combatant entered the field that shook both Israel and its Imperialist paymasters in Washington – the working class. A Palestinian General Strike supported by the Palestinian trade unions was observed across the Occupied Territory and Israel. Palestinian workers organisations called out to trade unions around the world to refuse to handle Israeli good. Workers in Genoa Italy, Durban in South Africa and Oakland in the USA answered the call. All of them took industrial actions against ZIM’s ships, the Israeli state owned shipping company and the 10th largest carrier in the world. Protests against ZIM’s are spreading to other cities in the US including New York. Workers and the Palestinian solidarity movement in Australia have the opportunity to join this rising working class movement against the Apartheid Israeli state as ZIM’s ships profits handsomely from shipping freight to and from the Australian ports of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky made the point that workers in Imperialist countries must support the anti-imperialist struggles of the oppressed, not through their own governments but through “through the methods of the international class struggle”. This means that rather than making demands that any of the various capitalist governments that work to support Israel as part of their subordination to US imperialism, workers need to use the power of their class. The #BlocktheBoats campaign that is gaining momentum around the world is a brilliant example of this strategy in action.
On May 22nd, the major Palestinian Trade Union Federations and other Palestinian workers organisations put out a joint statement that stated:
“This week, Palestinian activists and trade unions held a General Strike across historic Palestine. This is the first strike in recent history to bring together Palestinians no matter where we are located. In order to achieve our liberation, however, we require the solidarity of our comrades and friends in the trade union movement internationally”
Amongst other acts of solidarity the statement asked that “ …..In the spirit of internationalism and solidarity, we are calling on trade unions to “encouraging workers to refuse to handle Israeli goods and/or supporting members refusing to build Israeli weapons”
Palestinian organisations including the trade union federations also issued an open letter on May 14th stating “Palestinian trade unions are calling on our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement internationally to stop handling goods imported from or exported to Israel. The trade union movement has a proud history of direct action against apartheid in South Africa, Let’s build a new anti-apartheid movement to end Israel’s impunity.”
Taken together, these statements are an unequivocal demand for workers to use their industrial power to act collectively in defence of the Palestinian people This is exactly what we have seen occurring around the world with workers refusing to unload ZIM’s ships.
Solidarity from Livorno in Northern Italy
The first action to occur by workers in response to the recent onslaught on Gaza were dockworkers in the Port of Livorno in Northern Italy. The workers organised int Unione Sindacale di Base (USB), an independent trade union organization representing workers in the main commercial port of Tuscany in northern Italy, refused to load a ship that they believed might be carrying weapons destined for Israel. The USB worker issued a statement that they no longer intended to load weapons that were destined to kill civilians, in Gaza or elsewhere. USB member Massimo Mazza told Arab News “
“We have no intention to facilitate the transportation of weapons and explosives that will be used to kill the Palestinian people, who are suffering so much and mourn hundreds of innocent civilian victims, including many children.”
Action in Durban South Africa – the challenges to solidarity
On May 18th, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), issued a statement in calling on dockworkers in Durban to refuse to offload a Zim Shanghai ships in support of the Palestinian struggle. About 100 protestors protested the docking of a Zim’s ship on May 21st. However, although the protestors believed initially that the ship had not been unloaded, the South African government controlled Transnet Port ensured the ship was unloaded and loaded. As Motingoe Lwandle and David Hemson explained in their article, “Palestine: The challenge to union solidarity”, a union bureaucracy issuing a statement is not the same as create a real coalition of rank and file workers and solidarity campaigners on the ground.
Successful “Block the boat” actions Port of Oakland, New Jersey and Seattle
A Block the Boat action occurred at the Port of Oakland on June 5th, when hundreds of activists maintained a picket across six gates of the Port of Oakland to picket the unloading of a ZIM’s ship. When the ILWU Local 10 refused to cross the picket line, the ship was successfully turned around and unable to unload. The President of the ILWU Local 10 Trent Willis stated “Workers’ struggle is worldwide. Worker power, and economic power, is real power. It’s more powerful than those bombs Israel is dropping.” This is not the first time that such action has been taken in Oakland. A similar successful blockade of a ZIM’s ship occurred in 2014.
Elias Al-Jelda, an executive committee member of the PGFTU in Gaza, stated that “It warms our hearts in the besieged occupied Gaza Strip and the rest of occupied Palestine that our comrades led by AROC, and with the solidarity of our fellow workers in ILWU Local 10, achieved this great victory against ZIM in Oakland.”
On June 6th, in a significant escalation of the Block the Boats protests in the US, the first such protest was held at the dock in New Jersery in New York when a ZIM’s ship came to dock.
A ZIM ship has also been successfully blocked by pickets in Seattle on June 12th and actions are planned in other cities. Collectively this spreading movement through creating genuine delays in several ZIM’s ships unloading and having to seek alternate ports on both the East and West coast would be imposing a huge financial impost on the company.
Efforts are being made to spread the Block the Boats into Canada, with a small protest occuring at the Prince Rupert Port against one of the redirected ZIM’s ships, however it did not stop the boat from docking.
WHO ARE ZIMS SHIPPING
ZIM’s ships are the 10th largest freight carrier in the world. They declared a record profit of $524m for 2020. Originally, ZIM’s was an Israeli state owned company but was fully privitised in 2004 when the Israel company bought out the remaining state owned shares. The Israel Company was owned by the billionaire Ofer family who are one of 20 families that control 25% of Israel’s exchange-listed companies.
ZIMS SHIIPS VISIT MELBOURNE, BRISBANE AND SYDNEY – PLENT OF OPPORTUNITY TO BLOCK THE BOATS!
ZIM’s runs freight between Chinese ports and Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. The schedule of when their ships visit Australian ports can be found here.
This means in addition to joining the ongoing solidarity protests in the streets, Australian workers and solidarity activists have the opportunity to do something concrete to impact on the financial interests of Israel to protest its apartheid policies. We can join in this growing internationalist Block the Boat campaign by organising protests and pickets at the ports of Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney when ZIM’s ships are scheduled to dock. Appeals can and must be made to the rank and file workers at the dock, represented by the Maritime Union of Australia to join and respect these pickets, just as their brothers and sister dockworker in Italy and the US have done. Brilliant work has been done by many in building large rallies and to organise the Palestinian solidarity movement in Australia but creating a Block the Boat movement in Australia would be a powerful addition.
Workers and solidarity activists – working together in a United Front
There is a real opportunity for workers, unionists and solidarity activists to work together in a United Front fashion to organise these actions. A united front means groups work together on the central strategy of blocking the boat but maintain their political and organisational independence. In other words we can work together on this central campaign whilst maintaining our political differences and even the right to criticize each others politics, as long as we agree on the central aims of mobilising the working class to Block the Boat and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people against Isreal’s Apartheid policies.
CHALLENGES IN AUSTRALIA
Whilst Australian workers have the opportunity to join the international #Blocktheboat campaign there are challenges to the working class exerting its muscle in support of the Palestinian people.
Firstly, Australia has some of the strictest anti-strike laws in the world. Secondary boycotts and political strikes are outlawed with heavy penalties proscribed. Any actions taken by Australian dockworkers would have to be taken in defiance of these laws. However, this is true of any political strike taken by workers in Australia. There would also be a political cost to employees and the state if they sought to use these laws on behalf of the Israeli Zionist state at a point in time when it has never been so exposed in the eyes of the world.
Whilst the MUA republished a statement from the International Transport Federation from May 19th on their website calling on Israel to halt its attacks on Gaza and the Sydney branch hosted a solidarity meeting, the bureaucrats of the MUA have not responded to the calls from the Palestinian Labor organisations for solidarity from dockworkers around the world with any concrete action. The MUA bureaucracy, like all the unions in the ACTU, are politically subordinate to the ALP. The ALP is bipartisan with the Liberal Government in its support for Zionism and the “right” of the Israeli state to use mass violence to suppress the Palestinian people. Any serious campaign within the unions to take solidarity action with the Palestinians would inevitably involve a conflict with the ALP.
So what can be done to overcome these challenges. As stated, there has never been a moment in time where the Israeli state sounds more exposed and naked its use of chauvinism and violence to maintain its Apartheid rule over millions of Palestinians. The recent marches of millions around the world during the world shocked the Zionist state and its Imperialist backers. Large marches were held in Australia demonstrating the depth of support for the Palestinian struggle. Whilst trade union bureaucracies globally have by and large ignored the call for solidarity from their Palestinian counterparts, ranks and file unionists in the US and elsewhere are passing motions against Israel’s apartheid policies. It is important that such motions are passed by rank and file workers in Australia too, as this will help create the climate where the workers on the docks are more likely to see Palestinian solidarity as a labor issue. Obviously as part of the direct organising for such actions in Australia, efforts will have to be made to build links with the MUA workers at the docks in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Whilst it will not be easy the #Blocktheboat movement can and should be built in Australia.