Monday, June 21, 2010

Protesters Prevent Unloading of Israeli Ship at Port of Oakland

Protesters Prevent Unloading of Israeli Ship at Port of Oakland


Longshore workers don't cross picket lines set up by Gaza activists


By Sean Maher Oakland Tribune June 21, 2010




Hundreds of peace activists prevented the unloading of

an Israeli ship at the Port of Oakland Sunday by

forming a picket line that was considered a threat to

longshoremen who could otherwise have worked.


Organizers said their goal was to delay the ship's

unloading for 24 hours in protest of the Israeli

military's May 31 open seas raid on a humanitarian aid

flotilla that had been bringing goods to Gaza. The raid

resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens.


Several hundred people gathered around 5:30 a.m. at

berths 57, 58 and 59, which is operated by SSA

Terminals. An Israeli Zim Lines ship was expected to

arrive in the morning, but though it didn't arrive

until the afternoon, the crowd stayed, preventing

workers from unloading a ship from China, according to

SSA officials.


"Free, free Palestine! Don't cross the picket line!"

the crowd's leaders and pickets shouted, blocking the

berths' entrances and preventing about 100 longshoremen

from walking past.


The longshoremen's union largely cooperated with the

picket line. No workers tried to cross it and Clarence

Thomas, an executive board member of the International

Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 said, "We don't

want our members getting into fist fights or anything.

We don't want police escorting us to work. That's unsafe."


Organizers had informed Oakland police of their plans

for the picket, and OPD reported no arrests.


Richard Mead, president of Local 10 said Sunday evening

that SSA decided against ordering night shift workers

to unload the Israeli ship so employees didn't show up

and didn't have to cross any picket lines.


"We can't make them order a crew," said Mead. "It is

what is."


The shutdown was a success for protesters who wanted to

halt the business of the ship for 24 hours, said

organizer Richard Becker.


"We consider this to be a huge victory and a historic

moment," he said. "This is the first time this has

happened, that an Israeli ship was blocked from

unloading in a U.S. port."


Even after protesters heard that the shutdown was

successful, around 200 people continued to picket until

7 p.m., about an hour and a half after the ship docked.


The flotilla raid, protesters said, was only the latest

injustice to come from Israel's actions toward what it

considers hostile neighbors: marchers demanded Israel

end its blockade of Gaza and its occupation of the West

Bank in Palestine.


"My grandmother's Jewish. I'm not anti-Semitic," said

Larkspur resident Frank McClain, who had joined the picket line.


"But what Israel's doing is murdering people. They

staged a raid in international waters. If Somalis had

done that, they'd be called pirates and we'd have

punished and stopped them immediately. Israel does

it and our president calls it 'an unfortunate

incident.' Israel is the third rail of politics and no

one will touch it because all their funding will get

cut off."


With no recourse available from elected officials,

McClain said, U.S. citizens concerned with Israel's

actions are left with no way to change the situation

besides hitting Israeli businesses where it hurts:

their bottom line.


Organizers Forrest Schmidt called the event part of "a

worldwide campaign to change Israel's behavior by way

of boycotts, sanctions and divestment."


The demonstration was ostensibly held in the name of

peace, but organizers said they hoped to avoid costing

workers a day's pay by convincing an arbiter called to

the scene that the line was "a threat to the health and

safety" of any longshoreman who tried to cross the

picket line.


Under the longshoremen's contract, that judgment could

require SSA to pay the scheduled workers, vessel

operations manager Randy Laugel said.


However, Laugel added, if the workers were not

available for the employer to call on them to work,

they might not be paid at all, and at best they can

hope for a half-day's wages, a far cry from the full-

day's overtime pay they'd have gotten for working a

Sunday. Most scheduled longshoremen drove by the SSA

berths, saw the picket line and drove away, he said.


"I just think it's sad that 100 or so workers who took

the day away from Father's Day to work aren't going to

make their money," Laugel said.


Michael Eisenscher, a national coordinator for U.S.

Labor Against the War and an organizer of the picket,

declined to expressly call the event a threat to

workers, but the crowds cheered when the arbiter

declared that it was.


"If you see a handful of people like this, and they're

angry and making a lot of noise, you draw your own

conclusion," Eisenscher said.


Israel has held Gaza under blockade since shortly after

Hamas took power there in 2007.


While officials have sworn that Israel will not

apologize for the raid, citing videos of one ship's

passengers attacking the Israeli troops, in a statement

issued Sunday Israel's prime minister outlined some

steps the country plans to take to ease the blockade.


Staff writer Elizabeth Nardi contributed to this report


Contact Sean Maher at




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