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Contentions

The Anti-Israel Face of Labor

This post could be subtitled “The Deceptive Face of the Mainstream Media.” As recounted by blogger Zombie at Pajamas Media, that’s the face the media showed in its credulous news coverage of an anti-Israel protest in Oakland on Sunday. During the protest, the port’s longshoremen staged a work stoppage and refused to unload cargo from an Israeli ship. The media, notes Zombie, have depicted the stoppage as the result of pro-Palestinian protesters “convincing” the longshoremen to join them. Indeed, mainstream news outlets have obediently portrayed the event in the exact terms proffered by the protest’s organizers, from the interpretation of its meaning to the articulation of basic facts.

This faithful adherence to the organizers’ narrative is producing some unintended humor. As reported by Arutz Sheva and picked up by a number of non-traditional outlets in the U.S., the Israeli ship targeted by the protesters didn’t even reach the port until after the crowd had broken up on Sunday evening. The longshoremen’s work stoppage delayed the unloading of an unfortunate Chinese cargo ship but had no effect on the Israeli vessel’s unloading schedule. Nevertheless, in just the first two pages of results from a Google search performed this morning, I counted six mainstream outlets reporting that the protesters had delayed or blocked the unloading of an Israeli ship (see here and here, for example).

The story certainly comes off better if the impression is left that the demonstrators achieved their goal. But another aspect of this event has gone unreported by the traditional media: the attitude of international labor toward Israel and Gaza. Whatever the personal sentiments of the longshoremen manning the day shift in Oakland on Sunday, the federations and councils with which their union leaders are affiliated take a firmly anti-Israel stance. The evidence of centralized labor planning for the Oakland protest is overwhelming.

The San Francisco Labor Council, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, urged union participation with its prior advertising of the protest and work stoppage. The Labor Council’s resolution on the May 31 flotilla incident, approved on June 14, is posted at the International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s website; in it, the Longshoremen’s Local in Oakland (ILWU 10) is among the 28 U.S. and foreign-labor organizations listed as having already condemned Israel.

As Zombie notes, the international Transport Workers Solidarity Committee publicized the dockside protest in advance.  Its website also makes clear that union organizers around the world – as well as non-transport unions in the U.S. – knew of the plan days beforehand and sent encouraging messages to ILWU 10. On June 5, Jack Weyman, a member of ILWU 10’s executive board, expressed solidarity with Swedish dockworkers who announced a boycott of Israel. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) website, meanwhile, reports yesterday’s action as a “historic victory” and features the participation of labor as prominent, planned, and intentional.

It was all of those things. Days before the Sunday protest, the website of Labor for Palestine tallied up the union support “pouring in” for ILWU 10’s planned work stoppage. Labor for Palestine (LFP) is the labor-union arm of the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement for Palestine, about which the Jewish Federations of North America issued a warning resolution in November 2009. LFP was founded by al-Awda (the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition) and New York City Labor Against the War in 2004.

This appears to be an emerging trend. For decades, U.S. unions have been largely inhospitable to the internationalist radicalism of most global labor federations. Their pedestrian, inward-looking character has been a source of frustration to some of their more extremist members and critics. But as international labor aligns itself firmly with the “Palestinian” cause, American organized labor is being presented with the kind of basic choice it hasn’t faced since the 1930s: whether to be politically American and affirm American policy stances, or to adhere to a radical posture that subverts national boundaries and delegitimizes national character. The Oakland work stoppage will not be the last such confrontation we see, as this defining challenge for our union work forces heads to a climax.



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