An incredible act of courage and international solidarity took place recently at the Port of Prince Rupert. Ninety-four members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) refused to unload a ship of the Israeli ZIM Corporation. This same ship had been prevented from unloading in Oakland, California as part of the Block the Boat movement, which seeks to draw attention to the injustices suffered by Palestinians by preventing Israeli ships, often transporting weapons, from docking at ports all around the world.
On June 15 and 16, members of ILWU Local 505 refused to report for work out of respect for the Prince Rupert Solidarity Group which was picketing in support of Palestinian rights. The employer, Dubai Ports World Prince Rupert, then announced that it was going to suspend these workers without pay for three days and note the disciplinary action in the personnel file of each worker.
Dubai Ports World claims the action by ILWU members in Prince Rupert was illegal and caused “harm” to its customer. They later reduced the suspension of the workers to one day. It should also be noted that the ZIM ship was moored and unloaded later in the day on June 16 before sailing off to Shanghai.
The ZIM corporation likely didn’t expect to experience opposition in a small community like Prince Rupert, perhaps unaware that international solidarity for social justice is thriving in northern British Columbia.
Recently Israeli military attacks on Palestinians living in Gaza generated a response in the form of widespread global demonstrations. As an Arab, I was deeply moved by the strong presence of Wet’suwet’en drummer Wesley Mitchell and other members Indigenous community at a peace rally that took place on the unceded territory of the Lheidli T’enneh in Prince George. There was also a strong Indigenous presence at demonstrations on the unceded territory of the Tsimshian in Prince Rupert. Clearly, there is a definite link, a profound bond that is growing between Palestinians and colonialized and oppressed peoples around the world. It is as though the drumming and chanting in different languages and traditions are all singing the same song, a beautiful cry expressing the oneness of our humanity and the commonality of our struggles.
It is also important to note the tradition of organized labour in working for a more just world. Participation in the Block the Boat movement is only a small part of a rich and proud ILWU tradition. They have not only been supporting Palestinian rights for decades, they also played a pivotal role in global protests during the 1980s which forced South Africa to abandon its policy of Apartheid.
Corporations and governments rely heavily on longshore workers to keep the global economy flowing. The ILWU recognizes this and does not take its responsibility lightly. Since 1953, they have been governed by their Ten Guiding Principles, which recognize, “There can be no discrimination because of race, color, creed, national origin, religious or political belief, sex, gender preference, or sexual orientation.” Principle four was of particular importance with regard to recent actions in Prince Rupert. It states, “Every picket line must be respected as though it were our own.”
Looking back on my own experience of political activism, I see the truth behind the statement made by Dr. Martin Luther King, that “The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Gandhi said it another way: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
I’m beginning to understand why these statements are true. There is an unseen bond between all people working for a better world, rooted in the power of solidarity. There is also an understanding deep within our beings that knows that working for a more just world is not only the right thing to do, but that this quest for ultimate truth will always be victorious.
Thank you, ILWU Local 505 Prince Rupert. Your sacrifice is an inspiration.
ALL MY RELATIONS.
- Gerry Chidiac is a high school teacher in Prince George.