BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Lessons in Learning
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 corporation ZIM.
This same ship was prevented from unloading in Oakland, Calif., as part of the Block the Boat movement. The movement seeks to draw attention to the injustices suffered by Palestinians by preventing Israeli ships, often transporting weapons, from docking at ports 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. Their employer, Dubai Ports World Prince Rupert, then announced it would suspend these workers without pay for three days and note the disciplinary action in their personnel files.
Dubai Ports World claims the action by ILWU members in Prince Rupert was illegal and caused “harm” to its customer. The company later reduced the suspensions to one day.
The ZIM ship was moored and unloaded later on June 16 before sailing to Shanghai.
ZIM 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.
Recent Israeli military attacks on Palestinians living in Gaza sparked widespread global demonstrations.
As an Arab, I was deeply moved by the strong presence of Wet’suwet’en drummer Wesley Mitchell and other members of the Indigenous community at a peace rally 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.
A profound bond is growing between Palestinians and colonialized and oppressed peoples around the world. It’s as though the drumming and chanting in different languages and traditions are all the same song, a beautiful cry expressing the oneness of our humanity and the commonality of our struggles.
There is a tradition of organized labour 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’ve not only been supporting Palestinian rights for decades, they also played a pivotal role in global protests during the 1980s that 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 doesn’t take its responsibility lightly. Since 1953, they’ve been governed by their Ten Guiding Principles, which recognize, “There can be no discrimination because of race, colour, 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 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.” Mahatma 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’s an unseen bond between all people working for a better world, rooted in the power of solidarity. There’s an understanding deep within us that working for a more just world is the right thing to do. And that this quest for ultimate truth will always be victorious.
Thank you, ILWU Local 505 Prince Rupert. Your sacrifice is an inspiration.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac