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Monday, June 21, 2010


Historic day in Oakland: Israeli ship blocked from unloading

In an unprecedented action yesterday at the Port of Oakland, hundreds of activists succeeded in preventing the offloading of an Israeli cargo ship for 24-hours, in protest against the massacre of participants of the Freedom Flotilla and the blockade of Gaza in general. This was the first time such an action had been carried out against an Israeli ship in the United States, and the first time in the world such an action had occurred since the Freedom Flotilla massacre. In coming days, other actions, these initiated by unions, will occur in Norway, Sweden, and South Africa.

At 5:00 a.m., somewhere between 800 and 1000 activists began a spirited 5-hour picket in front of the four different gates of Berth 58 of the Port of Oakland. Workers of the ILWU who were expecting to offload the Israeli ship that day refused to cross the picket line, and at 9:00 an arbitrator ruled in favor of the union that attempting to cross the picket line would be unsafe for union members. Because the workers had been called in to work by the company, the workers were paid even though they did not work, and it is reported that this cost the company $20,000.

As a result, the company did not call the workers back in for the afternoon/evening shift, fearing a repetition. Approximately 300 activists returned (or, like myself, came for the first time) at 4 p.m. to begin a second picket of the four gates. Information had it that the company could still call the workers back in as late as 7 p.m., so the picket continued until that time, at which point complete victory in the 24-hour shutdown was declared. Richard Becker of the ANSWER Coalition, Jess Ghannam of the Free Palestine Alliance, Michael Eisensher of U.S. Labor Against the War, and Clarence Thomas of the ILWU addressed a short but spirited rally to close the days events.

Two statements read to the rally showed the international impact of the event. One, sent by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions said, "Your action today is a milestone in international solidarity from honest and brave U.S. workers and trade unionists. Greetings to you from the trade unionists and workers of Palestine … from the trade unionists and workers trapped in Gaza."

The second, from the Central of Cuban Workers (CTC), read "Our people have lived for 50 years of an unjust and abominable blockade by the U.S. government, so we understand very well how the Palestinian people feel and we will always be in solidarity with their just cause. Today we send you our most sincere support. Long live the solidarity of the working class! End the Blockade of Gaza! Respect and justice for the people of Palestine!"

The one-day action lead the local news. Video coverage from two different stations can be seen here and here, and the action received print coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News; coverage from participants can be read here and here.

Although the news coverage was generally decent, the media proved once again that there is no lower bound other than zero beyond which the corporate media won't give extended coverage to the opposition (presumably the "pro-massacre" viewpoint). In the afternon, when most media showed up, there were 300 pro-Palestinian activists and exactly two people across the street waving Israeli and U.S. flags. Nevertheless, all the media dutifully interviewed them and included their voices. The Mercury News carried two photos, one of each group (the one of the main rally carefully taken to show only a small group, so as not to emphasize the disparity). The Chronicle has a slideshow of 11 photos, 2 of which, including the first one which shows up beside the story on the web, show the pro-Israeli "demonstration".

Nevertheless, a huge victory, symbolic perhaps but still very real, for the movement for justice for the Palestinian people.

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