Swedish Dockworkers: We’re refusing to handle Israeli cargo in support of the civilian population of Gaza
Report by Björn Borg, Chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union
Erik Helgeson, Ombudsman, local 4 Gothenburg
Published in translation: 25/06/10
(This article was published before the start of the blockade. Some minor edits have been made during the translation process)
From the 23rd of June, the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union members will no longer load or unload Israeli ships or goods to and from Israel. The time-limited blockade will hopefully stop Swedish sea born trade with Israel until the 29th of June. The action of the Swedish Dockers is not an isolated event. We act in coherence with other dockworkers’ unions around the world in this international effort to promote two self-evident demands to the state of Israel: 1. Lift the siege of Gaza. 2. Allow an independent international investigation of the violent boarding of the Freedom-Flotilla.
The Dockworkers’ action has already made an echo around the world. Thousands have contacted us to show sympathy, at the same time we also receive different forms of criticism and threats. Therefore, as the debate tend to focus on everything but the issue of concern, we wish to clarify the reasons behind the decision made by the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union:
1, 5 million Palestinians inside the small Gaza strip have been effectively cut off from the outside world for over three years. The blockade is maintained partly by the almost complete Egyptian closure of its border to Gaza, but mainly because the state of Israel with military means prevents people as well as goods to enter or exit the area. During the war on Gaza in 2008/09, vital infrastructure war bombed into ruins and Israel’s ban on imports of both construction materials and raw materials for industrial purposes, has prohibited all recovery.
The government of Israel has until today’s date claimed that the policy of isolation is aimed at the elected Hamas government and the movements’ firing of rockets into Israel. Our union does not sympathize with Hamas nor their acts towards Palestinian and Israeli civilians. However, today there can be no question about the actual consequences of the Gaza-siege. The power base of Hamas seems unthreatened, while many of Gaza’s children are living at the brink of malnutrition. Unemployment is estimated at about 80 percent, the ports are wiped out and our dockworker colleagues, just like a whole generation of Palestinian youths, are lacking hope and prospects for the future. Regardless of Israel’s intentions, it is obvious that the policy of the Israeli government is de facto collectively punishing of the civilian population. The siege of Gaza constitutes an ongoing attack on the respect for human rights. Despite that the UN as well as the EU repeatedly have established that the blockade and Israel’s actions are in conflict with international law and depletes the civilian population, the situation still hasn’t changed.
It is in relation to this that the Swedish Dockworkers have now followed the request of the joint Palestinian union movement for support actions amongst dockworkers to make Israel lift the blockade on Gaza. We, as part of the international labour movement, want to do what we can to promote change. Therefore, as a way of contributing to the international pressure on the Israeli government, we will not concern ourselves with Israeli goods during a week of solidarity.
The Swedish Dockworkers Union makes no secret of the fact that we have been inspired by the example set by the Swedish Ship to Gaza. During an intense year following the Gaza-war, hundreds of volunteers organized fundraisers and support events around this country. The organization then managed, together with its’ Greece sister organization, to buy a ship bound to bring long-awaited aid to Gaza. At the final stages, we were in contact with our comrades in Greece, who free of charge loaded the cargo ship “Sofia“ with electric wheelchairs and cement at the port of Pireus. Meanwhile we could see how the eyes of the world were finally turned towards the isolated population of Gaza. Even the night before the Israeli military violently stormed the Freedom Flotilla, this international initiative had done more to bring attention to the catastrophic situation of the people of Gaza, than all the diplomatic moves, declarations and resolutions put forward in the last years. That also inspires us and our colleagues in ports around the world to take action.
Unfortunately it now seems that the attention of the media once again is turning away from the ravaged population of Gaza. Instead, public debate is heavily focused on Israeli governmental and military accusations towards the hundreds of people who were onboard the ship “Mavi Marmara“ of the Freedom Flotilla when Israel boarded and nine people were shot dead. The Swedish Dockworkers Union will not take part in this shift of focus from the main issue and thus ascertain the following:
It is a natural requirement from dockworkers as well as all followers of basic legal principles, that an investigation of the Israeli boarding, the killings and the entire course of events must be conducted by an independent, internationally composed committee.
Israel today claims that it has support in international law for the boarding of ships carrying humanitarian aid on international waters. They also claim that “Mavi Marmara“ carried terrorist-sympathizers that illegally provoked violence and tried to kill Israeli soldiers. If that is the case, all the films, pictures and sound materials that Israel has confiscated from journalists and human right activists onboard should be made public to support that claim. An independent international investigation would be able to confirm the official Israeli story, and bring criminals amongst the passengers to justice.
However, If the boarding in fact constitutes a flagrant Israeli crime against international law and at least nine unarmed activists were killed during an illegal act of piracy against an aid convoy, then an international independent investigation would be able to prove that and bring the ones responsible to justice.
The Swedish Dockworkers’ Union have previously acted as pioneers in Swedish boycotts against the military dictatorship in Chile and the apartheid regime of South Africa. From the 23rd of June we will no longer handle containers with Israeli wines, vegetables och fruits by the brands of Jaffa, Carmel or Top, vegetarian pre-fabricated foods from Tivall or the carbonation-machine Soda Stream. Neither will we contribute to the Swedish export of Volvo buses, which were used by Israel to transport the hundreds of human right activists from the Freedom Flotilla to Israeli prisons.
The demands of this international dockworkers action is in line with the ones put forward by the UN, the International Red Cross and many world leaders. But we move from words to action. Power should never be confused with right, regardless of Israel’s history or military force. Therefore we take a stand against the siege of Gaza, demanding that all air, land, and most importantly, seaways into the area must be opened.
Björn Borg, Chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union
Erik Helgeson, Ombudsman, local 4 Gothenburg
About the authors
Björn Borg is president of The Swedish Dockworkers’ Union. Erik Helgeson is ombudsman for the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union local 4 in Gothenburg. Soon after the founding of the Swedish Ship to Gaza project, the dockers discussed collaboration with the organizers. The dockers have also been preparing voluntary interventions as to load ships headed for Gaza free of charge from Swedish ports.
Report by www.sendika.orgFirst Published: 23/06/10
June 23, 2010
The working class movement in Turkey is starting to join the Boycott Against Israel Campaign. While the working class movements around the world has escalated the campaign against Israel by refusing to unload Israeli cargo ships, the Dock Workers Union “Liman-Is“ is the latest union in Turkey joining the anti apartheid, anti racist campaign against the state of Israel.
The recent campaign against Israel started by the left and progressive organizations is beginning to get support from the workers’ unions as well. The movement against Israeli apartheid was successful in bringing the entire spectrum of the left against Israel’s racist and imperialist regime. However now, the movement is starting to gain support within the working class organizations as well.
The Boycott Against Israel/movement aims to cut all ties, military, economic, diplomatic, academic and cultural, with the state of Israel.
Following the Physicians’ Association of Turkey which had endorsed the campaign from the very beginning, the dock workers’ union Liman- Is is now also calling for a comprehensive boycott against the reactionary state of Israel. The movement had organized a successful symposium for Palestinian rights and against Israel where the representatives from the world had gathered to discuss the the strategy of such a boycott. During the discussions, the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers of Turkey, a participant in the symposium, announced it was joining the boycott against Israel.
The statement from Liman-Is union is below:
“Humanity is once again confronted with the bloody face of Israel when it attacked, murdered, and wounded many innocent civilians who were on their way to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.
“This attack by Israel, which had for years displayed the most brutal and barbaric terror in Palestine, is now aimed towards the third party civilians. This must be taken as an assault against all of humanity.
“The attack that was protested throughout the world and condemned harshly by the UN also brought people out to the streets in Turkey. The government’s announcements indicate that further sanctions against Israel is to be expected.
However, Israel needs to be replied not only through the channels of the government, but through all institutions and organizations that direct societies, most of all, through NGO’s and unions.
“Our union Liman-Is, has decided to boycott the ships from Israel which has become a machine of death and torture. In the framework, no member of our union will give service to Israel in any docks that we are organized at.
“Liman-Is union invites all unions and NGO’s organized in our country and throughout the world to join this boycott and protest campaign.
Liman-Is Union Central Committee