Indian Port Workers Refuse to Handle Israeli Weapons

Israel is testing land-routes as its imports are disrupted.

by Polly Smythe

20 February 2024

Workers at Mundra port in the Indian state of Gujarat. Reuters
Workers at Mundra port in the Indian state of Gujarat. Reuters

An Indian trade union representing more than 3,500 workers at 11 ports has called on its members to refuse to handle military equipment being sent to Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

In a statement from 14 February, the Water Transport Workers Federation of India said it will “refuse to load or unload weaponised cargoes” from Israel or any other country which could handle military equipment for the war in Palestine.

The union said that the port workers “would always stand against the war and killing [of] innocent people like women and children.”

The attack on Gaza by Israel had “plunged thousands of Palestinians into immense suffering and loss,” said the union, and that “loading and unloading these weapons helps provide organisations with the ability to kill innocent people.”

In refusing to handle weapons, the dockworkers join a growing list of workers heeding the call made on 16 October by Palestinian trade unions for the international labour movement to “stop arming Israel.”

Prime minister Narenda Modi has shifted India towards an increasingly pro-Israeli stance, with the country among those that abstained on October’s UN resolution for a “humanitarian truce” in Gaza.

According to Workers in Palestine, an organisation formed by Palestinian trade unions, India is one of the “foremost weapons importers” of Israeli arms, importing an estimated $1bn worth of weapons every year. The “growing arms trade” between the two countries has “intensified repression within India, particularly impacting the Muslim population.”

Additionally, the production of vital components for Israel’s major military companies have been outsourced to India, with publicly-owned companies like HAL and Bharat Electronics producing parts used in weapons by the Israeli military.

It’s not only military cooperation between the two countries that has been strengthened. As Houthi attacks on commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea continue, Israel has been forced to seek out alternative supply routes.

Last week, Israeli transport minister Miri Regev posted a video on X outlining a plan to bypass the Red Sea by transporting goods from India through the United Arab Emirates, along the Dubai-Saudi land corridor.

“We are now at the Mundra port, the largest port in India,” Regev said. “All these shipments go to the Emirates, and from the Emirates are transported by land to Israel.”

“The state of Israel is like an island and all the goods arrive by sea. Unfortunately the Houthis took over the Red Sea and targeted ships which arrive to Israel. That’s why we need an alternative supply route.”

While governments across the world have continued to provide military support and diplomatic cover for Israel, trade unions have sought to disrupt the shipment of arms and Israeli war effort.

“We need three things from the US: munitions, munitions, and munitions,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of local government officials last December.

In Belgium, transport workers’ unions ACV Puls, BTB, BBTK and ACV-Transcom issued a call last November to their members to refuse to handle military equipment being sent to Israel.

The same month, 1,200 stevedores at Barcelona’s port represented by the Spanish OEPB union announced that they would refuse to handle any Israeli military equipment.

Also in November, dockworkers from the independent union Colletivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali took action at Italy’s northern port of Genoa. Aided by students and community groups, the workers blockaded the San Benigno border checkpoint to stop the loading of cargo onto a boat operated by Israeli shipping line ZIM.

In the UK, both Elbit Systems and BAE Systems factories have been hit with blockades by protestors who oppose the use of UK arms in the current genocide against the Palestinian people.

Alongside direct action, the labour movement has mobilised around the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).

In the UK, the UCU has condemned the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s (USS) refusal to review its investment links with Israel.

The USS told the UCU that it would continue to “consider our legal duty to invest in the best financial interests of the scheme’s members and beneficiaries.”

In America, rank-and-file members of DC 37, a municipal union representing 239,000 City employees and retirees, are calling on New York City’s largest public pension system to “divest from all Israeli bonds and holdings in industries that fund and benefit from the ongoing violence in Palestine.”

Polly Smythe is Novara Media’s labour movement correspondent.

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