Protests against the Israeli bombing of Gaza erupted around the world but none had a more powerful impact than picketers in the port of Oakland, California in August and September. International calls for workers protest actions were made by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Dockworkers Council (IDC), as well as an urgent call for action by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee.
Messages of support for labor action were sent to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 by dockworkers unions Spain and England. Longshoremen and Bay Area activists took the initiative to act in solidarity with the plight of Palestinians.
After an initial attempt on August 2, several thousand turned out for a rally called by the Block the Boat (BtB) coalition on Saturday August 16. However, this was not an action to stop the cargo operations with apicket line against the Zim Piraeus because Israeli-owned Zim Lines delayed the ship’s arrival, not surprisingly, to avoid the protests. Zim had done so during an Oakland protest in 2010.
Instead, this was a spirited port rally as the ship stemmed the tide offshore. Leaders of BtB ended the rally, declaring a “victory” without further plans for picketing the ship’s docking later at Stevedore Services of America (SSA) Berth 57.
Independent Bay Area activists pressed for a picket and the following day, belatedly, BtB organizers acceded and called for a blockade on Sunday August 17, as the ship was docking at the SSA Terminal just in time for the night shift. A few hundred picketed the gates as longshore workers honored their picket line. The ship was not worked for that first shift. Subsequent picketing was done mainly by autonomous activists, some from Occupy’s remnants, others from BtB and the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee (TWSC).
Again, ILWU members honored the lines, but picketers questioned where the BtB leadership was and why a call to mobilize pickets hadn’t gone out sooner? A head of steam picked up with longshore support to continue the picketing and stop the cargo operation with the successful picketing of each shift, day and night.
By August 19, Zim Lines’ anger had reached a boiling point. After three days of effective picketing with longshoremen honoring the line, the ship’s sailing board was set for the afternoon. But this ploy to deceive longshore workers and picketers didn’t work. TWSC received a heads up message that afternoon from a longshore supporter. Zim was moving ‘”the ship over to berth 22 tonight, inform everyone!!!”