Now, for the first time, Israel faces the prospect that their trade links are no longer secure as unions across the world are willing to go into dispute to implement the boycott. This is not a dockers issue, it is an issue for any union which wants to make BDS a reality. And the dockers are only able to act because they know there is a strong basis of support in the wider labor movement. This is exactly what happened to South Africa from about 1978 onwards. Workers at the computer manufacturing firm ICL (now Fujitsu) in Manchester refused to dispatch the machine they had built for administration of the hated Pass Laws.
Air France pilots were poised to refuse to fly uranium illegally mined by Rio Tinto Zinc in South African-occupied Namibia. The trade was suddenly switched to sea. But a decade later Liverpool dockers blockaded containers to interrupt the export of processed South African and Namibian uranium, touching off an outcry in Japan where electricity contracts with RTZ were cancelled. Dublin shopworkers refused to sell Outspan oranges, and were sacked.
Oakland dockers refused to offload South African steel and coal, and survived. It all coincided with the emergence inside South Africa of militant independent trade unions ready to strike against the employer and the apartheid system, eventually forming the Congress of South African Trade Unions in 1985. That was the moment when the South African ruling class knew it would have to find a way out of apartheid. Even so, it took another 9 years.
These were not the only factors which brought down the apartheid regime. No one should imagine that a week of blockades spells the end of Israeli apartheid, or even the end of the siege of Gaza. But the dockers have broken through the consensus that trade union solidarity begins and ends with resolutions at trade union congresses, education, fundraising and delegation work, important as these are in laying the basis for action.
The blockades connect Palestine to the class struggle which workers live through every day of their lives. In Oakland, Sweden, Turkey, India, and South Africa, a new generation of dockers has joined a fight with echoes of the 1980s. Clarence Thomas:
“Today what you witnessed was the current young membership of ILWU Local 10 answering the call of the brothers and sisters who came before them. We understand what international solidarity means. It is not an empty slogan. You have to give something up. Our members were willing to give up a day’s pay today. That’s what solidarity means. This is indeed a people’s victory, and remember, just because it’s not on the front page of the New York Times, just because it’s not on CNN, we have to get the word out. We claim no easy victories and tell no lies. Solidarity to the Palestinians. Solidarity to the working class around the world.”Whatever the immediate consequences, Israel’s murderous attack on the flotilla has landed the Zionist regime in very dangerous waters.
Greg Dropkin is based in Liverpool and is active in the labournet.net group, on whose site this report appears.