The War for Quadrant Two

Quadrant two will prove to be the quadrant of victory for the proletariat

► Gaza – Proposal for a City-Wide Campaign to Blockade Zim Shipping – [WQ2.14.08.26]

Posted by Ben Seattle on August 26, 2014

Proposal for a City-Wide Campaign
to Blockade Zim Shipping and
Help Break the Siege of Gaza

Activists in the Northwest, from Olympia to Everett, from Oakland to Alaska, recently concluded two attempts, at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, to block the unloading of ships owned by Zim, Israel’s largest shipping company. These actions were part of a campaign to put pressure on the Israeli government to end the siege of Gaza, where 1.8 million Palestinians exist in what is widely considered to be the world’s largest open-air prison.

Simply put: we aimed to blockade the blockaders. As long as they blockade Gaza–we can give them a taste of their own medicine–and punish them financially–by causing expensive delays to their shipping.

The action in Tacoma may have delayed the unloading of the Zim Chicago because it forced the ship to wait until an alternate terminal was empty. And it appears likely that Zim was forced to divert shipping customers to unload their goods from Vancouver, instead of Puget Sound. A similar action, a few days earlier, at the port of Oakland was even more successful, delaying a different Zim ship by 3 or 4 days.

The actions, moreover, were successful in another way: hundreds of activists came together in a mass action that was aimed at doing something. They came in high spirits and, for the most part, left in high spirits, with an understanding that the actions of the last few days are part of the long-term work of building a powerful movement.

It is possible that other actions may take place in the near future. I am writing this short summary and proposal as part of what I hope will be a more general process of summary and assessment, as activists take stock of both the strengths and weaknesses of our movement, and begin to sort out the next steps forward.

In looking for how to overcome our weaknesses and build on our strengths, we can start by understanding the basic tactic that is usually associated with a successful Port Blockade, which involves the skillful combination of actions which are completely legal, with actions which are of uncertain legality, or outside the bounds of legality altogether. This tactic involves a picket line (a moving wall of activists, armed with signs and voices, walking back and forth in a pattern) which blocks the gate through which port workers must drive or walk. Reduced to its essentials, we are asking the workers at the Port to respect our picket line.

Many or most workers are inclined to respect a picket line. Not everyone understands what is happening in the Middle East because, among other reasons, the news media in this country, like in other countries, hides the truth and greatly distorts everything that happens there. But workers are part of a class that has a long history of struggle. Much of this struggle has been focused on picket lines. Many individual workers, of course, are not familiar with this history of struggle, because our ruling class has done everything possible to eradicate knowledge and erase memory of everything important from our culture. Nonetheless, enough of this knowledge and memory exists that a large, militant and moving picket line has proven itself to be an effective tactic.

There was a good turnout at the Port of Tacoma, with nearly two hundred activists showing up for a 6:30 am rally, which kicked off the picketing during the morning shift. The turnout in Seattle, unfortunately, was a bit smaller.

There was one arrest in Tacoma, and one in Seattle.

The Port of Tacoma, in collaboration with the conniving trade union bureaucrats of the ILWU, arranged for workers to enter through gates which are not normally used and which were unknown even to many who had worked there for years.

In Seattle, the police were able to push back activist picket lines, in part because of the low turnout, but also because of they were helped by the ILWU bureaucrats.

The collaboration of the trade union bureaucrats (TUB’s) of the ILWU with the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle is deserving of special mention because of the critical role they were able to play in opposing the blockade of the ports. Historically, unionized workers in the ILWU would refuse to cross a picket line across their gates on the basis of language in their contract which protected them from unsafe working conditions. The determination of what was unsafe was made by an arbiter, following a request from union officials. It was on this basis that all gates to the Port of Seattle were closed on the night of December 12, 2011, when pickets and a barricade by 400 activists led to a decision by the arbiter to tell the port workers to go home. Because of the nature of their union contract, the workers still got paid.

In the past few days, however, the scab nature of the TUB’s was further exposed–as they actively worked with the cops to break our blockade.

The above are some of the basic facts about what happened. Can we draw conclusions from these facts above to develop more powerful actions in the future?

I believe we can.

The first conclusion is that we need more activists at the gates in order to be effective. There is a difference in strength between 200 activists and 400 activists. The second conclusion is that we should find a way to make it more difficult for the TUB’s to act like scabs and help the police break our picket lines.

Both of these objectives, it appears to me, may be achievable if we approach them with a long-term and (above all) political perspective.

The blockades at the ports of Tacoma and Seattle were organized on short notice, with only a few weeks to organize hundreds of activists. Much of the discussion and political work necessary for a city-wide campaign was not done. This work was not done because (a) there was not time to do it–but also because many activists either (b) do not believe it is necessary–or (c) do not know how to do it–or because (d) it has seemed impossible to do it effectively.

So this is where we are left: larger and more powerful actions would probably require a city-wide political campaign to raise the consciousness of many thousands of workers, students and oppressed youth. The material factors for such a campaign exist and, in my humble opinion, we should recognize and act on them.

I hope to see, in the period ahead, a process of public summation of our recent experience, and public discussion of the road ahead. In particular, I would like to see discussion of the need for a city-wide political campaign, in which activists get together and work out what needs to be printed, in thousands of copies, and distributed to schools, workplaces and in front of grocery stores.

In our present, class-divided society, political campaigns are often “watered down”, not only in order to appeal to the widest possible sections of society, but also to avoid antagonizing our ruling class and its institutions and flunkies. I believe that a city-wide campaign should go deeper than an appeal to humanitarian concerns. It should go deep enough to expose the fraudulent nature of the two-state “solution” and also make clear to readers that we share with the Palestinians of Gaza a common enemy: the U.S. imperialist ruling class (also known as the bourgeoisie) which sacrifices the Palestinians as part of its strategy for world domination, while sacrificing us for its domestic profit-making–by means of speed-up, wage-cutting, austerity and lack of rights for immigrants and racial discrimination and police murders. [1]

A campaign of this depth would, in some ways, be more difficult to get off the ground: It would require confronting illusions and raising the consciousness of activists within our own ranks. But it would also have a more powerful long-term impact.

A campaign such as this would not only help to mobilize forces for a successful blockade–but would also make effective use of the blockade to raise the consciousness of thousands of workers, the youth, and the oppressed concerning the need to eliminate the main source of the misery in Gaza and the world: the rule of capital. In this way, we can be laying the foundation for more powerful movements in the future.


Note 1: I copied much of this sentence from a leaflet by a group of activists I know.  I have problems with their group, but they often write well.  Their leaflet is posted in full here.

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