A war against war

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A war against war

Port workers in Italy are refusing to work for wars they don’t support – from Yemen to Gaza, and their protest is inspiring others. Futura D'Aprile writes about a growing movement for peace.


Credit: Cgil Union

A new anti-war movement is growing in Italy thanks to port workers who declared a ‘war against war’ – these are the words of Pietro Gori, a famous Italian anarchist, in 1903. After 2019, workers refused to load ships with weapons or other military equipment that could kill civilians. These workers are part of a bigger, growing international movement, from the US to New Zealand, and across Europe and Africa.

The protests began in May 2019 when Genoa port workers refused to load two electricity generators onto a Saudi Arabian ship, called the Bahri Yanbu. José Nivoi is from the Genova Collettivo Autonomo Lavoratori Portuali (Autonomous Port Workers Collective, CALP). José told New Internationalist that the generators were registered for civilian use, but the Saudi Civil Guard could use them to fight in Yemen.

Workers from CALP listed what was inside the shipment and gave the information to the Port Authority. Then they went on strike. José said, ‘The Delta company does the loading for the Bahri company in Genoa. So we kept protesting until the Delta company and the Bahri company refused to take on the shipment here.’ This was the CALP’s first win.

‘Now we know more about the arms traffic through the Italian docks and our movement is growing day by day,’ said José. ‘Since 2019, we have started to go to different public meetings in Italy and Europe to talk about what we do and why we joined this internationalist movement against war.’

The port workers did not want to be a part of the killings in Yemen, or in any other war. They also wanted to show the hypocrisy of the Italian state because when the arms go through Italy’s docks, it is against its laws, which are against war. There is also a law which says no to carrying weapons to countries that use war. But the Italian government keeps selling weapons to countries like Qatar and Egypt, which have terrible human rights records.

It’s not surprising that the government is trying to stop this anti-war movement. If the government follows their own laws, it will be bad for the Italian weapon industry. The industry is important for the country’s economy and its relationship with autocratic states, especially in the Middle East.

Five Genoa port workers are under criminal investigation for taking part in the strike against the Bahri Yanbu in 2019. José Nivoi is one of them. ‘They want to stop us from being politically active until the legal process is closed,’ he said. But the Genoa port workers are not giving up and have received messages of support from anti-war movements outside Italy, and even from the Vatican State.

Local groups supporting citizens and the environment have joined the Genoa union workers. The city port is near a crowded neighbourhood and dangerous shipments through its docks are a threat to workers and residents. The big explosion in Beirut in August 2020 is one example of the threat. Over 200 people died when ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port exploded.

‘Now our fight is about people, it’s not just about 20 crazy men from the CALP,’ José said.

The Genoa port workers have inspired actions in Livorno, Ravenna, and Naples. As Israel bombed Gaza in May this year, members of the Unione Sindacale di Base went on strike in Livorno, Tuscany. CALP and Weapons Watch (a Genoa group that checks arms shipments through Europe and the Mediterranean area) told them that a ship loaded with weapons on its way to Israel was about to travel through the city’s docks. The ship and its weapons were also going to Naples, but SI Cobas union workers and thousands of people marched to the port to support them.

‘We decided not to work with the transport of weapons that could kill people,’ Mario Silvestri of SI Cobas Turi Transport said. ‘That was our first action, but now we are planning a better way to protest with other local movements.

‘Our aim is to stop all the weapons moving through our docks. We know that it is very difficult but we will try our best.’

The most recent workers to join the movement were from the transport unions in Ravenna, northeast Italy. In June 2021, after they learned that the ship was passing through their dock to load weapons for the Israeli port of Ashdod, workers went on strike until the owner of the ship changed his plans.

Italian port workers are not alone in their fight against the transport of weapons. They are part of a larger group of anti-war movements of dockworkers, activists, and politicians all over the world. ‘The transport of weapons does not involve just Italy, it is an international problem. That is why we need an international network,’ Silvestri said. The Italian dockworkers are now organizing an online public meeting on 16 July 2021, and it is open to anyone who wants to stop the transport of arms.

The work of dockworkers in Italy, and abroad, shows how powerful class solidarity can be. The war against war has just begun.



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)