Photo Credit:
ZIM Piraeus in happier days. (Image: user b47b56)

The customers of ZIM America – the companies trying to get their cargo delivered – would be the first parties to want to sue someone for losses suffered in this incident. But they wouldn’t be the only ones. ZIM America could seek redress from the port operator. The port operator is SSA Marine, and it may or may not want to initiate an action of some kind against the union – or perhaps against the protesters.

The struggling economy has hit port operators and port services unions as hard as anyone else, and since they remain in the middle of what have so far been amicable negotiations over a new contract, SSA Marine probably doesn’t want to add a quasi “picket-line bust” or similarly freighted action to the mix, and the longshoremen probably aren’t anxious to extend their period of limbo without a contract. Both sides have mainly the good faith of the other to rely on at the moment. SSA Marine is represented in the negotiations by the regional owners’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, which is trying to conclude a new contract for all the West coast port operators and shipping companies – including ZIM America. Owners and labor all have strong motivation to write this incident off as a one-time annoyance, and move on.


The ILWU (International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union) does have a unique history of showing solidarity with organized radicals as well as with other unions, a history that has been made largely in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Vancouver. The ILWU split from the AFL-CIO – at the umbrella body’s request – in 2013, in part because of this very pattern.

But a very big thing has not happened in this latest iteration of BDS anti-cargo activism, and that’s spreading the BDS fever to the port facilities – and union workers – in southern California. The Oakland port processes a healthy 9% of all the tonnage handled in the major West coast ports. But the four main southern California ports – the behemoths of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the ports of San Diego and Port Hueneme – between them process 64% of all the West coast tonnage. Los Angeles and Long Beach alone account for 60%.

The BDS movement doesn’t have a triumph to claim in SoCal. The very most the Bay-area BDSers are likely to do, if they can manage to hold out long enough, is divert some minute percentage of container traffic to SoCal. Even if they only succeed in diverting it to other NorCal ports (of which there are several, and all hungry), they will be doing the economy of Oakland no favors.

Spirits drooping a bit by Monday afternoon, as weary police cordon off the straggling protesters. (Twitter image)

Shippers are in any case already worried about conditions up and down the coast, given the lack of a current contract for the ILWU workers. Although it’s possible to make ZIM America take a relatively minor loss in the short run, what the BDSers would do, if they hung in there for days or weeks and made problems for the port, is drive all freight-moving contractors further away from West coast ports, and even, more generally, from the seaborne container shipping on which thousands of American jobs depend.

The other shippers, meanwhile, may or may not have political sympathy for ZIM, but none of the shippers likes the idea of radicals singling out one shipping firm for political reasons. That could happen to anyone.


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