On Sunday, June 20, a successful protest against Israel was held on the docks of the Port of Oakland, California. Some 800 community and labor activists showed up at the time that a Zin (Israeli) Line ship was supposed to dock and be unloaded. The dock workers are organized into the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union Local 10, and their leadership encouraged this event as did the leadership of the local central labor bodies. The union got the situation declared a threat to their members’ safety and they were sent home as a result.
Delayed, not Cancelled
The fact that the ship will be unloaded on the next day – Monday – is not helpful but does not cancel the significance of this event, as it is considered the kick-off to a global campaign to boycott Israeli ships, and dockers around the world (including South Africa Norway and Sweden) are expected to follow suit. Despite the fact that the Israeli press tended to belittle the event, the regime there clearly recognizes its importance. Leaders of Local 10 reported that they were receiving telephone calls generated from the highest levels of the Israeli government in advance of the protest.
The organizers of the protest have claimed an unqualified victory, but this claim should be tempered with some facts. In the first place, the ship did not end up docking until 6:00 p.m., although it’s entirely possible that they intentionally delayed the docking in the hopes of avoiding the protests. More important, the ship was unloaded the following day. Furthermore, the goal of the protest was limited to ending the siege of Gaza, instead of opposing Israel’s crimes in general.
However, the main point still stands: The first shot has been fired in the campaign to institute a labor boycott of Israel. This shot will be seen as a success around the world and will encourage similar acts elsewhere. The very next day (Monday, June 21), Israel announced that it is easing its siege of Gaza and will be allowing in many more goods than it has up until now. (We will have to wait and see to what extent they are telling the truth.) The fact that Israel responded so quickly also shows some of the forces that lie beneath the surface in this event.
Shift at the Top
The local central labor bodies involved in effect endorsed this protest. This in itself is significant as those who control those bodies in general act as the representatives of a wing of the Democratic Party within the US labor movement. In other words, this is one more indication that major sectors of the US capitalist class have concluded that Israel must moderate its policies. If not, then it makes it more difficult for US capitalism to secure regions of the world that are critical for it to get the raw materials (especially oil) it needs for its economy.
This change in thinking on the part of major sectors of the US capitalist class was responsible for their putting Barack Obama in the White House. As opposed to Bush before him, Obama has occasionally criticized Israel’s heavy-handed policies. Because of domestic political considerations, Obama and his Democratic strategists felt he could not go much further with those criticisms at this particular point. Therefore, other avenues of pressure were sought. One such avenue was a recent statement by a top US Army general – David Petraeus – that Israel’s policies are creating so much tension that they are putting US soldiers around the world at increased risk.
While we will probably never know exactly what was said between the tops of the central labor bodies here and who in what positions in the Democratic Party, it is entirely logical to assume that the word was passed along that such measures – especially as limited as they were - were acceptable at this time. Among other things, this shows the advantages of capitalist democracy for the capitalist class; it gives them additional tools to further their ends.
This should not be taken to mean that the protest was insignificant. In the first place, it would never have had the (limited) success that it did if there were not a general mood that something is wrong with what Israel is doing. But even more significant, it is exactly through such shifts and divisions in the capitalist class that a movement from below often develops. In this particular case, it will be hard for the US corporate-controlled media to keep the lid on things. Once some of Israel’s crimes are revealed, then others will tend to find the light of day. As this process develops, an increased anger here at home will tend to grow. Especially in this time of economic crisis, this is a very dangerous situation for US capitalism.