LOS ANGELES - An Israeli container ship, the Zim Haifa, was allegedly prevented from unloading its cargo at the Port of Long Beach, near Los Angeles, on Saturday morning after a demonstration by pro-Palestinian activists caused the local longshoremen’s union to deem the site unsafe for its workers.
This latest protest, which included over 100 people, comes on the heels of similar demonstrations at major ports in Seattle and Oakland. In Oakland, a Zim ship experienced delays in unloading its cargo, though the longshoreman returned to work once the local union declared the site safe for its members to work.
In Los Angeles, the facts of the matter were in dispute. A port spokesman said that there had not been a work stoppage. "They were peaceful protestors and left at 9 A.M.," said the port's director of communications and community relations. "There was no operational interruption or delay."
Israeli Consul-General in Los Angeles, David Siegel, said that as far as he knew "the information regarding this morning is completely baseless and the port is proceeding as usual this point. The ship is being unloaded now."
Organizers of the action, which included Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine, U.S. Palestinian Community Network, Global Women’s Strike, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network – Labor, and the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, claimed victory on social media after their L.A. protest and framed their actions in the context of past movements against South African apartheid as well as the U.S.-led Iraq War.
“The boycott movement today against Israel is a reflection of similar protests against South African apartheid,” said Jeff Bigelow, an organizer for ANSWER-LA, which, according to Bigelow, believes in ending the “occupation of Palestine by modern-day Israel.”
Bigelow alluded to the success that anti-apartheid activists in the United States had in blocking the import of South African goods. as well as leveraging the power of labor to catalyze political change.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was one of the first to come out against apartheid by adopting resolutions condemning the South African policy and by holding multiple boycotts against South African cargo ships. In 1984, ILWU workers drew international attention when they refused to unload a South African ship for 11 days.
Other examples of ILWU boycotts include those against ships delivering military arms to dictatorships in El Salvador and Chile during the 1980’s. The union also opposed the Iraq War, adopting a strongly critical resolution and refusing to work in West Coast ports on 1 May, 2008.
Referring to the ILWU's decision to not unload the ship’s cargo on Saturday, Bieglow said that they, had “used labor power to show the world they were not going to stand for oppression and injustice, just like they did with the war in Iraq and apartheid,” before adding that he would prefer to let the longshoremen speak for themselves.
The longshoremen, however, backed away from any political intentions. According to ILWU National Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin, ILWU has not made a decision on the issue.
“The union’s position is that we work with Zim ships. If they (protestors) are blocking the entrance gates, it might pose a health and safety risk. The union has not debated the issue of the Israeli-Gaza conflict. It is not a matter of solidarity,” he said.
ZIM responded to the report by saying: "As always, ZIM striving to maintain its high level of service at all times and especially at the current political environment. Delivering best service possible is our top priority, and we are working in full cooperation with local authorities where we operate to secure smooth operation to our vessels. We have full confidence in their ability to provide safe operation to our vessels, allowing ZIM to provide the highest level of service that our customers are custom to."
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