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Palestine | California | East Bay | International | U.S. | Anti-War | Labor & Workers | Racial Justice
United States Port Actions End Business as Usual For Israel
“An injury to one is an injury to all! Tear down the Israeli Apartheid wall!” Declared third generation Oakland ILWU member Clarence Thomas at a rally of 2,000 to 3,000 people that marked the beginning of pickets and demonstrations that drove the Israeli Zim Piraeus ship from the Port of Oakland with only about 2% of its cargo unloaded.
The call for these pickets and strike actions originally came from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) which has asked workers around the world to refuse to handle Israeli goods. Besides the successful Oakland action, additional West Coast protests have interfered with the docking and unloading of Israeli ships in Tacoma, Washington and Long View, California. Delays are costly to the Zim shipping line. Another picket occurred in Seattle on Monday, August 25th. Further actions are being planned for Tampa Bay, Florida on Wednesday morning of August 27th as well as a coming action in Puget Sound. Links for getting involved in potential ongoing action can be found at the end of this article.
These actions are being carried out in solidarity with the Palestinian people who are facing aggression on the West Bank and a massive genocidal attack in Gaza. This latest of the Israeli massacres in Gaza started on July 8th and has gone on for nearly eight weeks. This is the third major massacre experienced by Gazan children at the age of seven. So far in this latest attack, 2,130 Palestinians have been murdered in Gaza (as of August 25h). Five hundred of these victims are children. An additional 11,000 people have been injured, many with missing limbs or otherwise disabled for life. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that 400,000 children in Gaza are in immediate need of psychological help. Yet the bombs keep falling and there is nowhere safe to run. Even Human Rights Watch, a group that often has an unfair pro-U.S. bias, admits that U.S. backed Israel is purposely targeting civilians for death in Gaza. These acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
For the International Hot Cargoing All Israeli Shipments!
Down With the Israeli Apartheid State!
End U.S. Military Aid to Israel!
[Photo of Clarence Thomas speaking out, photo by Malaika Kambon / Bay View]
Israeli Massacre in Gaza Reaches 2,130 People and Brings World Resistance
United States Port Actions End Business as Usual For Israel
Israeli Ship Forced to Leave Oakland, Only 2% of Cargo Unloaded
Tacoma, and Los Angeles Actions Delay Unloading
By Steven Argue
In protest of the ongoing massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, cargo ships of the Israeli Zim Integrated Shipping Services have been hit with a series of protests and pickets along the West Coast of the United States. The most successful of these actions was held in Oakland, California against the vessel called the Zim Piraeus. Despite the lies of the corporate media which have unfortunately been echoed by some on the left, the Zim Piraeus was never fully unloaded. In fact, the ship was prevented from unloading all but about 2% of its cargo. After five days, the ship left for Russia, unsuccessful in its mission of unloading or reloading in the United States and unsuccessful after probably paying over $100,000 in docking fees. This success was due to 5 days of protest and dedicated picketing that was combined with the solidarity of longshore workers who honored pro-Palestinian picket lines.
Long Beach, Tacoma, and Seattle Actions
Block the Boat actions took place in Tacoma, Washington and Long Beach, California on Saturday August 23rd and Seattle on August 25th.
On Saturday morning, workers at the Long Beach / LA Port honored a picket line of about 250 people. This stopped unloading of the Israeli Zim Haifa ship for the duration of the day shift. Later, the boat was able to unload and reload and left port on Sunday. Never-the-less, a good protest action was carried out that disrupted business as usual, carried out outreach to International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) workers, and delayed operations which cost the Zim shipping lines money.
Another action took place in Tacoma, Washington. This was carried out against a ship called the Zim Chicago. The protest in Tacoma constituted about 100 to 150 people and greatly outnumbered efforts at a counterdemonstration that only produced three people.
The picket lasted through the day Saturday, August 23rd and delayed the unloading of the vessel in two major ways. One was forcing the boat to delay its landing in Tacoma; the other was with a partially successful evening picket line.
Morning pickets covered the known entrances, but ILWU members allowed themselves to be snuck in through other little known entrances. It actually turned out that these secret entrances were the reason why the Zim Chicago was delayed for so long from landing in Tacoma. The Zim Chicago was forced to wait for several days from their time leaving the Roberts Bank Port in Vancouver to land in Tacoma. This is because they were waiting for the terminal to be free where these additional entrances and maneuvers were possible. These elaborate and costly maneuvers show that Zim was already getting the message from the effective action in Oakland that the Block the Boat campaign had become a serious challenge to their ability to do business as usual.
Learning from morning events, a partially successful 6:00 PM picket was then set-up that covered all seven entrances. Moving pickets managed to cover all of these gates and reduce the number of ILWU members who entered to work the ship. These picketers maintained their moving lines, despite aggressive actions by the police. After a day of protest, organizers called off continued picketing at midnight to save their energy. This was to be prepared to picket the same ship when it reaches Seattle.
Present at the Tacoma action were the parents of Rachel Corrie. Rachel Corrie, from Olympia Washington, was an activist for Palestinian rights who was murdered by the Israeli government in occupied Rafah in 2003. The circumstances of this murder are clear. While Rachel Corrie was conducting nonviolent civil disobedience, trying to defend the home of an Israeli doctor from demolition, she was run over by an armored bulldozer of the Israeli Defense Forces.
In Seattle a picket of about 100 people was held on Monday, August 25th. The heavy police presence interfered with the picketing action. Also, the deletion by Facebook, Inc. last week of the Seattle and Tacoma Block the Boat event page, when it had 600 people planning to attend and was getting out the word, played some role in lower attendance. As of Tuesday morning it appears that another action is being planned in Washington, to be held in Puget Sound at an unknown time. A link is provided at the end of this article that should have information in the future for attending that action.
Five Days of Action in Oakland
Protests against the Zim Piraeus in Oakland started on Saturday, August 16th. As elsewhere, people were on a messaging alert system to start their action when the Israeli Zim ship actually arrived. The ship scheduled its arrival for the morning, but was delayed due to the preparations of protesters to be present. As a result, the protest was also delayed until the afternoon. At that time, 2,000 to 3,000 people marched on the Port, despite the fact that the boat was still delaying its arrival. With this delay, some protest leaders declared victory that afternoon. For those who wanted to completely prevent the Zim Piraeus from unloading and reloading in Oakland, however, this was only the beginning.
Two of the many groups that were involved in organizing the Saturday action were the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) with their front group, ANSWER, as well as the Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC). For the leaderships of the PSL and AROC, this was only to be a one day event. It was to be a protest on Saturday and then everyone was to go home. AROC had initially made a call for a more serious ongoing picket to stop the ship, but they later changed that position.
Stepping up to bat to completely Block the Boat Sunday morning were the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee (TWSC) and other serious people who became the core of daily pickets for the next few days. These people included veteran Occupy activists, Trotskyists, Palestinian youth, and other experienced labor activists at the port. The TWSC put out calls in advance for a 5 AM picket on Sunday morning. Instead of simply ignoring this, which could be seen as a somewhat defensible position regarding differences in strategy, the PSL and AROC actively tried to sabotage the picket and put out messages on Twitter and Facebook telling people not to attend. Despite this sabotage, a small but serious picket showed up Sunday morning. Heroic picketers, outnumbered by cops by about three to one, faced down the police and maintained their presence. ILWU members honored the picket line. That Sunday morning, 30 pickets combined with worker solidarity were able to successfully prevent any work from occurring on the Zim Piraeus.
The PSL, which controls ANSWER, is a 2004 split from the Workers World Party (WWP). The WWP is itself is a 1959 split from the then revolutionary Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The WWP split from the SWP largely over the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. The SWP saw that particular act by the USSR as one that smashed a legitimate workers uprising that was trying to abolish top down Stalinist rule without destroying socialism. The SWP had hopes in that uprising, seeing that it was not pro-imperialist or pro-capitalist, and thought it could potentially bring an essential new model of socialism with workers democracy that could help inspire the needed world socialist revolution. The founders of the WWP instead bought the Moscow position on a necessity for Soviet intervention in Hungary hook line and sinker.
Since their split from the SWP, the WWP and their political twins in the PSL have moved on to generally uncritically support the world’s Stalinist regimes as well as to do the same for a number of dictatorial bourgeois nationalist regimes in the world. Likewise, in the United States, instead of holding revolutionary positions, they often have far too much of an orientation towards liberalism and the Democrat Party. This is combined with the fact that they themselves often function in a dictatorial manner within the workers movement in the United States. It is within this context of desired control and watered down pressure politics that perhaps some sense can be made of the PSL’s betrayal of the Zim Piraeus picket on Sunday morning.
Due to the success of the Sunday morning action, the PSL and AROC leaderships began feeling strong pressure to join in with the pickets. In a dramatic revolt, their own members were going to go to the docks and picket Sunday afternoon anyway, despite the betrayals of their leaders. Facing this revolt, ANSWER and AROC put out a call for people to go to the docks 20 minutes after the event had already started. In this manner, they were able to arrive at the docks and claim credit for an action that was taking place despite their sabotage. Due largely to the rank and file revolt of their members, 150 people showed up for an extremely successful picket Sunday afternoon which was also honored by the longshore workers.
For three more days after Sunday, picketers continued to successfully block the unloading of the Zim Piraeus with the solidarity of ILWU Local 10 and Local 34 members.
On Tuesday, August 19th the Zim Piraeus announced its intention to leave port. At this point longshore workers had consistently honored the picket lines and nothing had been unloaded from the ship. Peter Turner, an experienced port activist who was on the picket line every day during the action described what happened next:
“After four days the ship announced its intention to sail. No cargo had been moved, in spite of a public declaration by Israeli sources that it had. AROC Executive Director
Lara Kiswani appeared on the morning of the fourth day to announce a victory, praising the solidarity of the longshoremen. The ship sailed, but then the ship's pilot pulled a U-turn at the pilot station off the Golden Gate. The ship returned to dock at pier 22-24 and was quickly met by pickets who had monitored its movements. Since the longshoremen had made it obvious that they would honor our pickets, the ILWU Local 10 Business Agent took longshoremen from other ships and moved them to the Zim Piraeus. This was a violation of the dispatch rules and the solidarity felt by the ranks, so a reaction ensued. I would politely call it a lack of enthusiasm for the work on the part of the rank and file, but the result was a minimum of cargo offloaded, reportedly some perishables.”
Successful pickets were maintained into the night and picketers were reinforced to try to catch the night shift at midnight when workers would be returning from lunch. The crew began operations on the boat about 10:00 PM. About half of the crew did not return to work after lunch. What was left of the gang departed at 4:00 AM. This was on top of the fact that only one gang worked the ship and they did it on slow down. This was far too little time and too small of a crew to unload the ship, let alone reload it.
The next morning the ship left its berth again. As it sat in the San Francisco Bay, activists took pictures that showed the ship had not been unloaded. Through photographs (see photo below) and inside sources, the amount unloaded was estimated to be only 2% of the cargo. As the Zim Piraeus sat in the Bay, fears were that it would once again return to a different berth so picketers were prepared for this. This did not happen as the ship later departed with a declared destination of Vostochny, Russia where it is scheduled to arrive on September 1st.
The corporate media, including the San Francisco Chronicle, have falsely reported that pickets only succeeded in blocking the unloading of the ship for four days and that it was then unloaded. Although the pro-Zionist San Francisco Examiner tells us otherwise, the fact is that protests, pickets, and the solidarity of ILWU Local 10 and Local 34 members prevented the ship from being unloaded. In addition, leaving the ship sitting in berth has cost the Zim Peraeus about $100,000 in docking fees at the Port of Oakland.
Horrors in Palestine Necessitate Action
The call for these job actions originally came from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) which has asked workers around the world to refuse to handle Israeli goods.
This call to action is necessitated by Israel’s discrimination, theft, economic blockade, and mass murder directed at the Palestinian people by the Israeli Jewish supremacist state. Since the birth of Israel in 1948, millions of Palestinians have been driven from their homes in a massive ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by the Israeli government. Many Palestinians who have not been murdered or driven form Palestine / Israel completely are now held by the Israeli government in the walled ghetto of Gaza. In this giant open air prison of 1.8 million people, Israel economically blockades the population and periodically carries out massacres of the imprisoned people.
It is the walled nature of the captivity of Palestinians in Gaza that makes Israel’s dropping of warning flyers before bombing such a cruel joke. Palestinians cannot escape the bombing. Even those who sought shelter in UN schools were bombed by Israel, despite repeated warnings from the UN that these schools contained only civilians seeking refuge.
This latest Israeli massacre in Gaza has been going on since July 8th and has pounded the Gazan people for nearly eight weeks. This is the third major massacre experienced by Gazan children at the age of seven. So far in this latest attack, 2,130 Palestinians have been murdered in Gaza (as of August 25h). Five hundred of these victims are children. An additional 11,000 people have been injured, many with missing limbs or otherwise disabled for life. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that 400,000 children in Gaza are in immediate need of psychological help. Yet the bombs keep falling and there is nowhere safe to run. Even Human Rights Watch, a group that often has an unfair pro-U.S. bias, admits that the U.S. backed Israeli military is purposely targeting civilians for death in Gaza. These acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Gaza is a small strip of land that contains 1.8 million people. Most of these people were driven from their homes by the Israeli Army’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. With the birth of Israel, a new homeland was created for one people by removing the original inhabitants through force and violence. Palestinians who were forced to flee are not given the right to return to their homeland. Meanwhile, Jews from any country in the world are automatically given citizenship to Israel.
Gaza was seized from Egypt by Israel in 1968, putting Palestinian refugees from Israel once again under Israeli occupation. In 2005, the Palestinians of Gaza gained formal independence. Yet, the area to which Palestinians have been confined by Israel has no economic basis for independence. In addition, imports, exports, and travel are also all controlled by Israel.
Ever since 2006, Israel, with the help of the U.S. backed dictatorships in Egypt, has choked off Gaza from needed imports, electricity, exports, and fuel. As a result, the people of Gaza suffer unemployment, malnutrition, problems with the water supply, and poverty. Before Israel’s latest attack, 80% of the people were dependant on humanitarian aid for survival and unemployment in Gaza was 40.8%. In addition, fifty percent of children under the age of 2 were suffering from iron deficiency anemia. These problems have been worsened by Israel’s recent attacks that have destroyed infrastructure including Gaza’s only electrical plant. This has cut off water pumps and refrigeration across Gaza creating a much larger humanitarian crisis where most people lack clean drinking water and sanitation as well as refrigeration to protect food, prevent malnutrition, and prevent food poisoning.
In addition to destroying Gaza’s electrical supply, Israel has bombed Gaza’s few factories and destroyed huge numbers of people’s homes, large apartment buildings, schools, universities, hospitals, offices, and mosques. Tunnels, which are an important tool in breaking the economic blockade have also been destroyed by Israel.
The continued economic blockade during Israel’s latest terrorist attacks is now about to escalate into a larger humanitarian crisis. The ruling party in Gaza is Hamas. They are offering a cease fire if Israel lifts the economic blockade. Whatever one thinks of Hamas’s pathetic defense tactic of sending comparatively harmless rockets into Israel, this is a reasonable demand on simple humanitarian grounds. In fact, such a lifting of the blockade would be a no brainer if Israel were to take responsibility for an entire people that, despite recent steps towards a formal independence, remain under Israeli control. Instead, Israel demands that Hamas disarm (i.e. unconditional surrender) as a condition for a cease fire as it continues a brutal bombing campaign against the people of Gaza and threatens a second ground invasion.
At the Oakland Block the Boat action on Saturday, third generation Longshoreman and former secretary treasurer of the Oakland longshore union (ILWU Local 10), Clarence Thomas, spoke out against this economic blockade saying, "Isn't it ironic that a ship from Zim can come here to be unloaded, but it has been four years since a ship has been unloaded in Gaza? This [blocking of the boat] must be repeated elsewhere."
Protest Draws Connection Between Ferguson and Gaza
On the way to the port protesters Saturday chanted, “We’re gonna block the boat, block, block the boat.” Upon reaching the port, the people were met with a line of cops. Protesters responded with their hands in the air chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” This is a chant that started with protesters in Ferguson Missouri after Michael Brown, 18, was shot and murdered by the police while his hands were in the air. Michael Brown was two days away from starting college. Protests against this police murder have spread to well over 70 cities as people have grown more and more fed up with American police murdering with impunity across the United States. Ferguson protesters have been tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and arrested. Yet, despite militarized police attacking protests in Ferguson, the protests there have not stopped as of this writing on August 25th, 16 days after Michael Brown was murdered. Internationally, protests are being planned at American embassies to oppose human rights abuses in the United States.
At the Oakland Block the Boat action on Saturday, longshoreman Clarence Thomas declared, "The people in Ferguson are now related to people in Gaza".
Mohamed Shehk of the group Critical Resistance made this point as well saying “On Twitter, we’ve seen people in Gaza tweet to protesters in Ferguson how to cope with teargas." Further linking this to the police epidemic of murdering Black people, he said, “They’re saying things like, ‘as Palestinians, we know what it’s like to be targeted and killed for being of the wrong ethnicity’.”
Facebook, Inc. Censorship
Block the boat protests and protests against the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson share another similarity. Our actions are being censored by Facebook, Inc. Pages about the murder of Michael Brown have been widely deleted by Facebook, Inc. Likewise, this author saw his widely shared notice of the Block the Boat protests deleted by Facebook, Inc. a day before the Oakland event took place and my account was shut down for a day. This hindered my ability to send out important updates to the over 150 people who had shared the protest flyer from the Revolutionary Tendency page where it was deleted.
Facebook, Inc. claimed that the Block the Boat flyer violated Facebook “community standards”. This is a bold faced lie. Instead, what Facebook, Inc. did was violate the free speech rights of all of its members by not allowing them to see something Facebook, Inc. is in disagreement with. In addition, they did their best to sabotage an important action in solidarity with the people of Palestine. To further try to censor me, Facebook, Inc. told me my entire account could be shut down if similar posts are found on the Revolutionary Tendency page. Under this threat, they then invited me to go to that page to delete anything else Facebook, Inc. might find offensive. My response is that I will not censor myself or the Revolutionary Tendency page based on these threats.
In another case of blatant censorship, Facebook, Inc. destroyed the Seattle and Tacoma Block the Boat event page as well. The Tacoma event was highly dependent on Facebook for distributing updates, and had over 600 people on its site before Facebook, Inc. eliminated the page. Facebook, Inc.'s destruction of that page just before the Tacoma event mirrors their interference with the Oakland Block the Boat campaign.
The censorship currently being exercised by Facebook. Inc. shows a fundamental problem with private ownership of the public commons. Mark Zuckerberg should not be allowed to make obscene wealth or inflict his personal views on the public commons just because he privately owns a major medium used for public discussion. There are First Amendment rulings that declare free speech rights apply to public spaces, even if they are privately owned. While I have little confidence in the capitalist courts, I would welcome any attorney to take up my lawsuit attempting to defend free speech rights on Facebook, Inc. Further more, I will suggest that Facebbok, Inc should be nationalized, expropriated from Zuckerberg without compensation and run as a public institution under workers democratic control.
The Bay Area ILWU’s Strong History of Anti-Racist Solidarity
The successful action against the Zim Piraeus in solidarity with the Palestinian people is not without precedent. In 2010, ILWU Local 10 members honored a similar picket against the Israeli Zim Shenzem that was set-up in protest of Israel’s massacre of human rights activists on the Mavi Marmara. The Mavi Marmara was a boat that was part of a humanitarian flotilla from Turkey that was attempting to break Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza. Israel’s military attack on that boat murdered nine people on board. In that case, the Israeli Zim Shenzem was blocked for 24 hours from unloading.
Besides standing up to Israeli Apartheid, the Oakland Longshoremen have a long history of other actions for racial equality as well. This includes a hot cargo strike against racist Apartheid South African in 1986. It also includes a 2011 strike demanding the jailing of the killer cop from the Oakland BART police who shot and killed Black victim Oscar Grant while in handcuffs.
Oscar Grant was clearly shown in video being handcuffed and executed by Oakland’s BART Police. Yet, to jail the guilty cop took a mass movement that included protests and a strike by the Oakland longshore union that shut down the Port of Oakland for a day. The killer of Oscar Grant got off easy with a conviction on a manslaughter charge, but the case was unusual in the fact that the cop did any time at all for his crime. The fact that the killer cop did face some consequences, however, including losing his job, does send an important message to other cops.
Likewise, in 1986 the Oakland longshore workers refused to work a ship, Nedlloyd Kembla, from racist South Africa for eleven days, forcing it to leave port without unloading. This was in protest of a massacre by the racist apartheid police that gunned down striking gold miners in cold blood. After being freed from prison, Nelson Mandela praised ILWU Local 10 for this action that he said reverberated in South Africa all the way to Robin Island where he was imprisoned. That action was initiated by union members and opposed by the ILWU leadership. An essential central organizer was Howard Keylor, a longshoreman working in the local and a Leninist-Trotskyist. After that action, ships with South African cargo stayed away from the Port of Oakland.
Support for National Liberation Regardless of Leadership
The 1986 ILWU action against the Nedlloyd Kembla played a role in bringing down the evil South African Apartheid system of racist segregation, exploitation, and violence that has a number of similarities to the Jewish supremacist state of Israel. Unfortunately, Nelson Mandela’s ANC had no program for the overthrow of the capitalist system that was the cause of many of South Africa’s problems of black poverty and repression. As administrators of the capitalist state, the ANC now carries out repression against South African workers on behalf of the South African capitalist class. This includes the ANC’s massacre of 34 striking platinum miners on behalf of the Lonmin mining company in the Marikana Massacre of 2012.
Marikana is an important lesson in the negative. Merely eliminating the Jewish supremacist state of Israel will not be sufficient. It will take a sweeping socialist revolution to meet the needs of Palestinian workers, Hebrew speaking workers, and the newly arrived super-exploited non-Jewish immigrant workers of Israel. Yet, as in South Africa with the deficiencies of the leadership of the oppressed black majority in the Apartheid era, the oppressed Palestinian people must similarly be supported regardless of the deficiencies of the current Palestinian leadership. This can be done without giving any political support for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, just as Leninist-Trotskyists supported the South African anti-Apartheid struggle without giving political support to the ANC. We work towards developing a new leadership, but that is not a precondition for supporting the Palestinian people’s just cause for liberation.
Historical Roots of ILWU Local 10s Strength
Part of why strong solidarity actions happen at the Port of Oakland lies in the union’s current left wing and large Black composition. In addition, these stands are rooted in the union’s communist leadership of the past. One of the leaders who brought the union to victory in the 1934 San Francisco General Strike was Communist Party member Harry Bridges. Much of how he did this was both by standing up to the police and National Guard, but also standing up to the union bureaucracy with their stale sell-out strategies of defeat. Harry Bridges was in the vanguard on the question of race as well. At a time when much of American labor was segregated, often under the threat of violence, Harry Bridges pointed out that “discrimination is a tool of the bosses.” Harry Bridges wrote an article called “The Economics of Prejudice” that was published in the ILWU’s newspaper, the Dispatcher, on February 15, 1938. In that article he pointed out, “Prejudice means profit for the Boss. … For the worker—Black and White—it means lower living standards, humiliation, violence, often death.”
The strong anti-racist stands and actions of the Oakland ILWU cut against the grain of business unionism which has led American labor into the miserable hell of one union defeat after another over the past few decades. It is due in part to these defeats that there is an ever widening canyon between rich and poor in the United States.
Another important component for why the ILWU generally honors picket lines can be found in the ILWU’s “Ten Guiding Principles” which were, according to ILWU member Jack Heyman, adopted in the 1950s during McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign of repression. Across the United States the labor movement was greatly weakened as communists were removed from leadership positions in unions. According to Heyman, “The Ten Guiding Principles” were adopted in an attempt to combat government attacks on the ILWU and prepare the union to survive the potential imprisonment or deportation of its leaders. The fourth principle states:
“…Unions have to accept the fact that the solidarity of labor stands above all else, including even the so-called sanctity of the contract. We can not adopt for ourselves the policies of union leaders who insist that because they have a contract, their members are compelled to perform work even behind a picket line. Every picket line must be respected as if it were our own.”
It is on these principles that, despite a deterioration of the quality of the ILWU leadership over the decades, ILWU workers generally refuse to cross picket lines. In addition, contract provisions allow ILWU members to not cross picket lines in the presence of protesters and intimidating police, out of health and safety concerns. The fact that these dangers posed by police are real can be seen in the fact that six ILWU members were shot by police with so-called “non-lethal” ammunition during a picket against the Iraq war in 2003.
Presently, West Coast ILWU members of the lonshore division have been working without a contract since July 1st. The bosses have their eye on forcing concessions down the throat of workers after they were able to impose a substandard contract on ILWU members at the EGT Longview facility in 2012. This may seem strange given the potential strength of the ILWU to shut down large swaths of the U.S. economy by shutting down ports, but EGT was a classic case of the union bureaucracy snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. This, despite the fact that rank and file workers combined with Occupy activists in militant action that made a victory possible.
Similarly, the ILWU leadership has now accepted a contract with major concessions for its workers under union contract with the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association (PNGHA). That contract is scheduled to go to a vote by the membership today on August 26th. No more concessions! Vote No!
Whatever happens in the current contract negotiations for 20,000 longshore division members of the ILWU, it is important to stand with our rank and file brothers and sisters of the ILWU for many reasons, including the fact that they have often stood so forcefully on the side of social justice.
The current inability of the working class of the United States to effectively fight back against the bosses and their government lies largely in a crisis of leadership. The privileged union bureaucracy with their strategy of reliance on the Democrat Party while shunning effective action in the streets is a cause for much of this problem. We could do much in bridging that crisis of leadership by reading and applying lessons on how workers effectively fought back and won in the past. One critical book on learning these lessons is “The Big Strike” by Mike Quin which tells the story of how Harry Bridges led the longshore workers to victory in 1934. Another is “Teamster Rebellion” by Farrell Dobbs which tells of how Leninist-Trotskyists led the Teamsters to victory in the 1934 Minneapolis General Strike.
Israel is Not the Victim
The Democrat Party, while sheltering killer cops from prosecution and shoving austerity down the throats of the working class at home, is also a major supporter of Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people. They consistently vote with the Republican Party in sending 3.1 billion dollars in military aid to Israel no matter how much discrimination Palestinians face and no matter how many crimes against humanity are committed by Israel. While the Obama Administration has given some lip service to concern about Israel’s attacks on civilians, its real policy can be seen in Obama’s stated goal of increasing U.S. military aid Israel to $4 billion per year and numerous statements about Israel’s “right to defend itself” in the current crisis, as if Israel was the victim.
The war against the people of Gaza is not a defensive action by Israel; it is a continuation of Israel’s policy, since its birth in 1948, to inflict death, terror, and misery on the native people in order to establish a nation ruled by one ethnicity and one religion. Yet, despite all of this, lies are being fed to the American people by the corporate media, and the Democrat and Republican parties trying to justify Israeli war crimes and collective punishment of an entire people.
U.S. and Israeli propaganda would have us believe that the Israeli government is the victim. This is absurd. Ever since the formation of Israel, the original inhabitants, the Palestinians, have been terrorized and robbed of their land, water, crops, and homes. Much is made of the terrible crime of three Israeli teenagers being kidnapped and killed, but little is said of how the Israeli government, before these latest Israeli attacks that have murdered 550 children, murdered an average of one child every three days over the past ten years.
It was on the pretext of this kidnapping, for which there is no evidence that the leadership of the Gazan ruling party, Hamas, was responsible, that Israel began to carry out collective punishment against the entire people of Gaza. For 18 days the Netanyahu regime carried out one provocation after another against the Palestinian people as it pretended to look for the teenagers. It was later revealed that Netanyahu and the Israeli security forces knew within a day that the boys were dead and who had carried out the kidnapping and executions. Evidence in their possession included a phone call where one can here the boys being shot and their killers bragging about it. It also included the location of the site where the murders happened, a crime scene complete with bullets and blood. To whip the Israeli people up into a racist frenzy, the Israeli government preferred to make it look as if the boys were still alive to “justify” a fake, but frantic, search for the boys. In addition, a gag order was placed by the Israeli government on the Israeli media, not allowing the media to report that the boys were almost certainly dead and not allowed to reveal the identities of the known killers.
Unlike any authentic search, the identities of the kidnappers were also hidden. A motive for this was to make it seem as if the entire Hamas organization was responsible. This helped make it look as if there were legitimate targets everywhere among Palestinians. Yet, those who carried out the kidnappings and murders were two identified Hamas members who have a history of carrying out actions that are against the orders of the leadership of the organization. Instead of targeting the known criminals, the Israeli government hid information to justify a racist anti-Palestinian frenzy that culminated in the kidnapping of a Palestinian boy by Zionist extremists who burned the boy alive. In addition, a cousin of that boy was beaten severely by Israeli security forces when he attended the funeral.
The hatred that has been whipped up is extreme and has played a role in public opinion in Israel now being 95% in favor of the assault on Gaza. Fascistic Israelis picnic and cheer as they look over Gaza and watch the horror of bombs being dropped on people. Palestinian “citizens” of Israel are afraid to say anything inside of Israel proper about the slaughter in Gaza. In addition, Israel’s far right is physically attacking antiwar protests as they chant “Death to Arabs!” and “Death to Leftists”. When security forces don’t stop antiwar demonstrators with violence themselves, they allow these fascists to do their work for them.
Before the bombing attacks and ground invasion of Gaza, it was the pretext of this “search” for the kidnapped boys that the Israeli government used to kill 6 Palestinians, ransack homes and universities, and abduct at least 560 people (200 of whom are still being held without charges). Showing that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has fully sold out to their Israeli masters, their security personal participated with Israeli forces in these raids. In Ramalah this June, the collaboration between the PA and Israeli government brought Palestinian protesters to the PA police station, which they stoned after joint PA and Israeli operations killed a local Palestinian.
It is within this context of the Israeli government’s unprovoked aggression that rocket attacks on Israel were launched from Gaza. Nobody was killed in these attacks. In response, Israel further escalated its aggression with fighter jets and drones slaughtering civilians and Hamas leaders alike. The rockets of the Hamas al-Qassam Brigades and Islamic Jihad, while used as a justification for Israel’s mass murder are, however, relatively harmless in comparison to the fire power used against the Palestinian people. It was only after Israel began their ground assault within Gaza itself that Israel began to suffer significant losses, and these were of legitimate military targets, soldiers of the Israeli military attacking Gaza. The first casualty of rocket attacks was in fact an aggressor Israeli who was on the front lines aiding the Israeli military attack on Gaza.
The rocket attacks on Israel are generally a pathetic attempt at retaliation by some organizations that have emerged out of an oppressed nationality facing discrimination and mass murder. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Palestinian people today is presently largely composed of Hamas, a capitalist, fanatically religious, anti-woman, anti-Christian, and anti-Jewish party. Leninist-Trotskyists, while fully supporting the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people, give no political support to Hamas. Yet, the leadership of Hamas no more justifies Israeli attacks on the Palestinian people than the blood crazed imperialist Presidency of George W. Bush justified the September 11th attacks on the American people.
It must be understood that it is the Israeli Jewish supremacist state that oppresses the Palestinian people far more than Hamas does. That state started its genocide against the Palestinian people long before there was a Hamas as well. Hamas emerged as a product of that oppression. Yet, Hamas, with its violent anti-Semitism directed not just against the Jewish supremacist state, but also against the Hebrew speaking people in general, plays an essential role in producing the fear and hatred among the Jewish people that the Jewish supremacist state feeds on to survive.
For Working Class Unity, Not Nationalist Hatred
Hamas is an anti-Semitic fundamentalist religious organization that has a long history of murderous attacks on the Jewish population. Between 1994 and 1998 the group killed 150 Israeli civilians through suicide bombings alone. Israel now works more closely with the Palestinian Authority (formerly the PLO). Yet, at one time before the PLO fully sold out to Israel, Hamas was used by Israel against the PLO.
Israel has used the religious fundamentalists of Hamas as a club against the socialist and secular nationalist movements in Palestine that Hamas has violently opposed. It is those secular and socialist movements that Israel has seen as more of a threat in terms of winning the masses of people, including Hebrew speakers, over to positions of sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinians. Hamas's suicide bombers against civilians instead serve Zionist interests in driving a larger wedge between Palestinians and Hebrew speakers, further bolstering and “justifying” the inhumanity of the Jewish supremacist capitalist state against the Palestinian people.
The Mujama movement was the Islamic forerunner that established Hamas. Early Israeli support for Hamas included in 1978 the granting of Mujama charitable status in Gaza while other organizations, especially political organizations as Mujama was, could not get such status. In 1979, Israeli collusion with the Mujama movement set up the Islamic University of Gaza, whose anti-PLO and anti-socialist slogan was: "How can uncovered women and men with Beatle haircuts liberate our holy places?" Students who did not tow the Islamic line were disciplined through brutal beatings and sometimes had acid thrown in their faces. In addition, Mujama mobs were allowed to violently attack and burn down PLO controlled institutions at a time when other street demonstrations were not allowed or tightly controlled by the Israeli authorities.
In 1979 the Mujama movement burned the Palestinian Red Crescent Society's (PRC) building to the ground. In response, the PRC issued the following statement:
"The tacit approval of the [Israeli] authorities, if not their actual connivance in what happened, was displayed in their attitude of non-interference. While they usually display great alertness to combating even peaceful demonstrations of young students within schools, here they stood indifferently watching a violently destructive demonstration march to its objectives."
In 1988 Hamas was formed out of Mujama. While PLO supporters were organizing mass demonstrations in the streets, Hamas was instead focusing on shooting Israeli soldiers. Despite this fact, Hamas had top-level meetings with the Israeli government while that same government would not even meet with the PLO. Milton Edwards in "Islamic Politics In Palestine" noted the relationship:
"The relationship between Hamas and the Israeli authorities was, however, at the strongest during the second year of the Intifada. The Israelis had been quick to extend legitimacy status to Hamas in an attempt to marginalize the PLO. Leaders of Hamas were regularly filmed at meetings with top-level Israeli officials and the message the Israelis were sending out was that they regarded Hamas as the type of people with whom they could work…
"In addition the Israelis continued turning a blind eye to large amounts of money coming into the country destined for Hamas coffers, while at the same time stopping the flow of PLO funds in support of the Intifada."
In 1994, Hamas began its indiscriminate attacks on Hebrew speaking people through suicide bombings. Those suicide bombings had been stepped up by Hamas in the beginnings of the Intifada 2 uprising in September 2000, but then ended due to an agreement between Arafat's Palestinian Authority and Hamas. While this agreement was in effect world attention became focused on the gunning down of Palestinian children by Israeli sharp shooters on the West Bank. For the Zionist government this was becoming a public relations disaster.
Israeli Prime Minister Sharon needed a new provocation he could use as propaganda to escalate the war against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority (PA). To create this provocation he took action to end the truce between the PA and Hamas on ending the suicide bombings of civilians. On November 23rd Israeli security forces assassinated Hamas leader Mahmud Abu Hunud. On November 25th, 2001 right-wing Israeli journalist Alex Fishman accurately observed in the "Yediot Achronot", "Whoever gave the green light to this act of liquidation knew full well that he is thereby shattering in one blow the gentleman's agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; under that agreement, Hamas was to avoid in the near future suicide bombings inside the Green Line."
Of course no one but Prime Minister Sharon could have given the green light for such an important operation. Sharon's provocation against the Hamas anti-Semites had its intended affect. Within days Hamas resumed attacks against Israeli civilians. In March a Hamas bomber killed 25 civilians in the Passover attack. This was then used at that time by Sharon as his excuse to attack the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, while leaving the Hamas stronghold of Gaza untouched.
The Betrayals of the Palestinian Authority
Today, the Palestinian Authority has switched sides and become collaborators with Israel, even participating in joint military operations with Israel against the Palestinian people. The evolution of the PLO from secular nationalist revolutionaries to collaborators with Israel and U.S. imperialism was a somewhat natural one. They never adopted a revolutionary socialist program that would seek unity between the Palestinian and Hebrew speaking working class to overthrow the Israeli capitalist state. Instead, they sought outside support from bourgeois nationalists and the USSR to establish a Palestinian state. When that aid dried up with the counterrevolution in the USSR, they then signed onto the imperialist sponsored Oslo agreements which allowed the PLO to become the new rulers of Palestinian Bantustans in Gaza (initially) and the West Bank.
The PLO’s agreement to the Oslo two state “solution” was done at the price of making it appear that a solution was achieved for the Palestinian people when in fact nothing was accomplished. The pieces of land turned over to “Palestinian rule” were small and not viable pieces of land for a separate state, they continue to contain ever larger encroachments of Israeli settlers stealing Palestinian lands and water in the West Bank, they include massive dissections like the atrocity of roads for Jews only, Palestinians have no independent control of foreign trade, and the agreements didn’t give Palestinians a meaningful fraction of the wealth that has been produced through the exploitation of Palestinian labor and the confiscation of Palestinian land, water, crops, and housing.
For the Military Defeat of Israeli Attacks
As Palestinians continue to be expropriated as well as murdered in their walled ghettoes, their cheap labor under the Israeli capitalist system has largely been replaced by non-Jewish immigrants. These immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe face brutal racism, hatred, exploitation, and repression. Meanwhile, the replacement of the Palestinian working class frees the Israeli ruling capitalist class up to turn up the ethnic cleansing a few notches and move towards a “final solution” to their Palestinian problem. This position is being openly advocated by Israeli politicians like Ayelet Shaked who declared at the beginning of the assault on Gaza that Palestinian mothers must die saying, “They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists… They are all enemy combatants.” Israel’s indiscriminant slaughter of men, women, and children in Gaza certainly reflects this attitude. It also makes the military defense of Gaza from Israeli attack a life and death imperative where much of the heroic resistance of Hamas’s al-Qassam brigades on the ground should be praised.
While Leninists-Trotskyists are not blood thirsty, we understand that the high casualty rate of invading Israeli soldiers slows the advance of genocidal forces and opens more possibilities of resistance to the war from the Israeli people. Within this context, demands by Iran for the Arab regimes to help arm the Palestinian people should be supported. If nothing else, these demands help expose the fact that almost all of the Arab regimes are puppets of U.S. imperialism and cannot even stand up for basic human rights in Gaza.
On August 25th Iran shot down an Israeli drone fighter that was in the vicinity of one of its nuclear power plants. In response, Iran has promised to work to arm Palestinian resistance fighters. This declaration should be welcomed. U.S. and Israeli Hands off Iran! End the Economic Blockade!
The Weakening of Hamas and the Birth of the ISIL
Despite the need for resistance, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are, however, both capitalist parties fundamentally incapable of resolving the problem of Palestinian oppression. In fact, both parties united just before Israel’s latest round of mass murder. This unity government is largely a result of the weakening of Hamas in the international arena. The bloody military coup in Egypt against the Islamic Brotherhood’s government of Mohamed Morsi eliminated one important ally of Hamas. In addition, Hamas’s backing of the imperialist sponsored Islamic rebels in Syria has cut Hamas off from key support it was receiving from the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and support from Iran.
For three years the Obama administration has backed genocidal Islamic rebels in Syria with military aid. Some of that military aid remains direct and open. The rest is indirect through the U.S. allies of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The genocidal Islamist forces they are aiding include the so-called Free Syria Army (FSA), Al –Nusra, and the Islamic State (ISIL). These three Sunni Islamic organizations have all participated in genocide and other crimes against Christians, Alawites, Shi’ites, Kurds, and other religious and national minorities. Last year Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron even planned on escalating their military aid to these forces to the point of bombing Syria, a campaign that may well have brought these forces to power. This would have been carried out under the unsubstantiated assertion that the Assad government carried out poison gas attacks on the Syrian population when there was in fact no credible evidence that this was the case or that those attacks were not instead carried out by the rebels themselves.
Thankfully, opposition to another direct U.S. war in the Near East was so strong that both the British and U.S. governments backed down. Obama’s unsubstantiated claims at that time could have played a devastating role in bringing genocidal Islamist forces like the FSA, Al-Nusra, and the ISIL to power. Three years of U.S., Saudi Arabian, Turkish, Israeli, and Qatari aid to these rebels have now put the ISIL in a position of power in wide swaths of land across Syria and Iraq. Like U.S. and Saudi Arabian aid to the murderous mujahideen in Afghanistan that eventually gave birth to Taliban power, the U.S. backed genocidal Islamic terrorists of the Free Syria Army (FSA) largely helped give birth to the ISIL’s murderous rampage.
Now those who hate Arabs and support Israel point to the ISIL’s genocide against Christians, Kurds, and others in Iraq. Missing was their condemnation of the FSA, Al-Nusra, and the ISIL when they were carrying out the same crimes in Syria. Also missing is their understanding of how U.S. imperialism and Israel helped back these forces against the government of Syria as well as against the legitimate rebel government of the Kurdish people inside of Syria. Taking this a step further, two weeks ago, U.S. State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf went so far as to blame the ISIL fighting in Iraq on the Assad government in Syria. In fact, it is the Assad government that has been battling the ISIL and warning against the extremist nature of the rebels while the U.S. was arming them.
This isn’t the first time Hamas has sided with U.S. imperialism in backing genocidal Islamic crazies either. In Afghanistan, they joined with the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and
Pakistan in their war drive to destroy the left progressive PDPA government that held power in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992. This was a war where the U.S. government and Saudi Arabia gave billions of dollars of military aid to Osama Bin Laden and the Islamic fundamentalists of the mujahedin who were waging a holy war against the advances in women's rights, including women's literacy, that were occurring under the PDPA government. Tactics of the mujahedin included throwing acid into the faces of women liberated from the veil and murdering women for teaching little girls how to read and write. Fearing a mujahedin government right on its border, and defending the PDPA government from U.S. aggression, the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979. Although these Soviet troops were invited by the Afghan PDPA government, after U.S. intervention had already started, U.S. propaganda still calls this a “Soviet invasion”.
An estimated 100,000 of the Islamic fundamentalists who fought in Afghanistan were recruited by the CIA outside of Afghanistan. Hamas participated in this activity. As John Cooley from ABC news pointed out on March 13th, 1996 in the International Herald Tribune:
"A key Hamas organizer was Abdallah Azzam. He was a tough, brilliant and charismatic Palestinian from Jordan. He supervised training for the CIA's Afghan guerrillas in Peshawar, Pakistan, where a car bomb killed him in 1989. In the earlier 1980s he toured the United States, recruiting Arab-Americans for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan."
Just as the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Hamas helped bring the woman hating genocidal terrorists of the Taliban to power, they have played a similar role in bringing about the strength of the similar forces of the FSA, Al-Nusra, and ISIL in Syria and Iraq. In working with U.S. imperialism on these projects, there is no question that there is terrible blood on the hands of Hamas.
Just as this author opposes U.S. aid to Israel's genocidal Jewish extremist government, I have also long opposed U.S. imperialist aid the Islamic extremists in Libya that overthrew Qaddafi, U.S. aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan that overthrew the left nationalist and woman friendly PDPA government and gave birth to the Taliban, U.S. aid to genocidal religious extremist rebels in Syria that gave birth to the ISIL, billions of dollars in military aid that the U.S. spends to prop up the dictatorship in Egypt, and billions of arms sales the U.S. ships to Saudi Arabia, the most repressive government on Earth. U.S. imperialism uses religion and the most reactionary forces in the Near East as a club against secular socialist and left nationalist forces that prefer the U.S. imperialists stop looting the natural resources of the region.
Without giving political support to the Palestinian Authority, Islamic Jihad, or Hamas, Leninist-Trotskyists support the military defense the West Bank and Gaza from murderous Israeli attacks and call for an end to the economic blockade of Gaza by Israel and by Egypt. As opposed to the capitalist sell-outs of the Palestinian Authority who brought the Oslo agreement upon the Palestinian people; and as opposed to the capitalist repressive religious fanatics of Hamas; we call for the separation of Mosque and state, the overthrow of capitalism, and for active work to unify the Hebrew speaking working class with the Palestinian cause and the cause of socialist revolution to overthrow the Israeli government. To do so will take the building of a revolutionary working class party that functions as a tribune of the people, fighting for all of the most oppressed in society, including recent non-Jewish immigrants.
In the United States, the Democrat and Republican Parties are united in their support for genocide against the Palestinian people including 3.1 dollars in U.S. military aid to Israel every year. The Green Party is also a problem. In the last election they actually ran a candidate that called for economic sanctions against both Israel and the Palestinian people if certain demands weren’t met. As if equal signs could be drawn! And as if U.S. imperialism ever plays anything but a negative role in the world! Such illusions must be combated while at the same time taking real proletarian actions of solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people such as the Block the Boat campaign. The capitalist Republican, Democrat, and Green parties offer no solutions. Revolutionary workers parties must be built both in the Near East and in the United States to end imperialism, capitalism, and social chauvinism through egalitarian socialist revolution.
-Steven Argue is a former member of the ILWU and a member of the Revolutionary Tendency
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For more related articles by this author see:
Nelson Mandela: Eulogies of Imperialist Hypocrites & a Revolution Betrayed by Capitalism
Huey P. Newton Self-Defense Militia Stands Up to Police Murders
End U.S. Imperialist Attacks on Liberated Syrian Kurdistan! (Published on Kurd.net)
Afghanistan: Misogynistic Hell Hole Made in the U.S.A.
Syria: As Rebels Escalate Genocide Against Kurds, Obama Prepares Air Strikes to Bring Them to Power
Egypt: No Support to the Military, No Support to the Muslim Brotherhood
Why The Russian Revolution is Still Important
Photo of Zim Piraeus in the San Francisco Bay Weds. morning before the Israeli Zim shipping line gave up and sent the ship to Russia. Photo shows how little was unloaded. No cargo was loaded onto the boat at the Port of Oakland either. Photo by Peter Turner