Motes and Eyes in the Bay Area
West Coast culture, the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, has long been hospitable to outré conduct and sky’s-the-limits politics. Sea-going zones overflow with the wildness and lawlessness that sailors bring. Cultural spillover poured out of the Gold Rush. A hodgepodge culture arose from immigrants, a sense of limitlessness, and the struggle against race-hatred. Internationalism of many kinds—socialist, anarchist, Trotskyist, capitalist-globalist—thrived, and thrives, where authorities have relatively shallow roots.
But on the Bay Area left there has also been visible, for a long time, a hardening of the synapses. Blindness results—even blindness toward abuses of power close to home.
Consider the loading and unloading operations in Oakland, Long Beach, and many other ports, which are run by a company called SSA Marine, the largest cargo handling operation in the world, with more than 120 locations. Now privately held, it was, until last January, 49 percent owned by Goldman Sachs. In 2011, doing research for my book, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street, I interviewed a Long Beach truck driver named Leonard Mejia who told me that SSA drivers, not being able to afford new trucks, are required to lease them. To quote from my book:
“You have to pay all the insurance, the diesel, the maintenance …” [Mejia told me]. “So in the past year, I made eighteen thousand dollars. I have to pay three thousand dollars in taxes to the IRS. I work between nine and eleven hours per day, six days a week, or as many as the dispatcher says. I must work only for that company. They say that we’re independent contractors but in reality we’re employees”—employees without benefits, that is. The corporate practice of labeling controlled employees “independent contractors” flies in the face of IRS regulations that technically distinguish between the two. But this deceptive practice is widespread.
The blockers of ships might consider what action to take in behalf of workers around the corner. But does the heart of their movement beat to labor solidarity at all? What, after all, is the nature of their internationalism? Is it internationalist or nationalist? In opposing a proposal that University of California student workers support BDS (they vote on Dec. 4), the Alliance for Academic Freedom, to which I belong, rightly notes:
The internationalism to which the labor movement has proudly and historically been committed does not mean siding with one nationalism against another; it means supporting the progressive and emancipatory forces and opposing the reactionary forces within each nation. Support for the BDS movement constitutes a betrayal of internationalism properly understood, for it fails to distinguish progressive and reactionary elements within Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Today, in much of the campus-based left, the mote in the eye of the just is called Israel. As Zionists once thought a Jewish state the solution to “the Jewish problem”—that is, the problem caused by those who hate Jews—so today do anti-Zionists think that what the world needs to breathe free is the end of the Jewish state.
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