Paying Respect to Longshoremen

(May 5, 2009) The New Brunswick longshoremen who blockaded the shipment of heavy water to Argentina’s military government thirty years ago were given a celebration at Saint John’s City Hall last week. The blockade, which led to the release of 11 trade unionists being held by the junta, is credited with loosening the military grip on the country’s political system and preventing it from bringing a nuclear reactor on line.

Norm Rubin, then new Energy Probe’s new Nuclear Researcher, helped initiate the blockade. Norm was  at a meeting with Enrique Tabatha, Argentine activists and a number of organized-labour officials and suggested they use the shipment of heavy water as the hook to raise awareness of Canada’s support for the military regime. He also played an integral role in helping them locate the containers that contained the heavy water.

“The blockade was just what everyone saw,” said Rubin. “But there was a lot of behind-the-scenes activist work that pulled the whole thing together.”

Enrique Tabatha, the Argentine ex-pat who helped organize the blockade in 1979, was at the celebration in Saint John to announce that the current government in Argentina plans to honour the longshoreman for participating in the blockade. He said the longshoremen will receive The Order of the Liberator San Martin—Argentina’s most prestigious award for foreigners—in the near future.

In 1979 the longshoreman refused to load around $120 million of heavy water headed for a CANDU project in Argentina. The blockade came as political leaders and activists groups around the world criticized the military regime for its political killings—many of which were trade unionists. The protest attracted attention from media organizations around the globe and helped highlight the junta’s violent oppression of workers and critics.

“The blockade became a way to raise awareness of the junta to ordinary Canadians,” said Rubin. “Before the blockade, a lot of Canadians may not have been aware of what the military regime in Argentina was doing to its own citizens.”

Brady Yauch,  May 5, 2009
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