Blockading the Port is Only The First of Many Last Resorts

Blockading the Port is Only The First of Many Last Resorts

A brief piece examining the relationship between #Occupy encampments and unions, and calling for a re-imagining of what a strike looks like in a largely post-industrial context.

By any reasonable measure, the November 2 general strike was a grand success. The day was certainly the most significant moment of the season of Occupy, and signaled the possibility of a new direction for the occupations, away from vague, self-reflexive democratism and toward open confrontation with the state and capital. At a local level, as a response to the first raid on the encampment, the strike showed Occupy Oakland capable of expanding while defending itself, organizing its own maintenance while at the same time directly attacking its enemy. This is what it means to refer to the encampment and its participants as the Oakland Commune, even if a true commune is only possible on the other side of insurrection.

Looking over the day’s events it is clear that without the shutdown of the port this would not have been a general strike at all but rather a particularly powerful day of action. The tens of thousands of people who marched into the port surpassed all estimates. Neighbors, co-workers, relatives – one saw all kinds of people there who had never expressed any interest in such events, whose political activity had been limited to some angry mumbling at the television set and a yearly or biyearly trip to the voting booth. It was as if the entire population of the Bay Area had been transferred to some weird industrial purgatory, there to wander and wonder and encounter itself and its powers.

Now we have the chance to blockade the ports once again, on December 12, in conjunction with occupiers up and down the west coast. Already Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver and even Anchorage have agreed to blockade their respective ports. These are exciting events, for sure. Now that many of the major encampments in the US have been cleared, we need an event like this to keep the sequence going through the winter months and provide a reference point for future manifestations. For reasons that will be explained shortly, we believe that actions like this – direct actions that focus on the circulation of capital, rather than its production – will play a major role in the inevitable uprisings and insurrections of the coming years, at least in the postindustrial countries. The confluence of this tactic with the ongoing attempts to directly expropriate abandoned buildings could transform the Occupy movement into something truly threatening to the present order. But in our view, many comrades continue thinking about these actions as essentially continuous with the class struggle of the twentieth century and the industrial age, never adequately remarking on how little the postindustrial Oakland General Strike of 2011 resembles the Oakland General Strike of 1946.

The placeless place of circulation

The shipping industry (and shipping in general) has long been one of the most important sectors for capital, and one of the privileged sites of class struggle. Capitalism essentially develops and spreads within the matrix of the great mercantile, colonialist and imperial experiments of post-medieval Europe, all of which are predicated upon sailors, ships and trade routes. But by the time that capitalism comes into view as a new social system in the 19th century the most important engine of accumulation is no longer trade itself, but the introduction of labor-saving technology into the production process. Superprofits achieved through mechanized production are funneled back into the development and purchase of new production machinery, not to mention the vast, infernal infrastructural projects this industrial system requires: mines and railways, highways and electricity plants, vast urban pours of wood, stone, concrete and metal as the metropolitan centers spread and absorb people expelled from the countryside. But by the 1970s, just as various futurologists and social forecasters were predicting a completely automated society of superabundance, the technologically-driven accumulation cycle was coming to an end. Labor-saving technology is double-edged for capital. Even though it temporarily allows for the extraction of enormous profits, the fact that capital treats laboring bodies as the foundation of its own wealth means that over the long term the expulsion of more and more people from the workplace eventually comes to undermine capital’s own conditions of survival. Of course, one of the starkest horrors of capitalism is that capital’s conditions of survival are also our own, no matter our hatred. Directly or indirectly, each of us is dependent on the wage and the market for our survival.

From the 1970s on, one of capital’s responses to the reproduction crisis has been to shift its focus from the sites of production to the (non)sites of circulation. Once the introduction of labor-saving technology into the production of goods no longer generated substantial profits, firms focused on speeding up and more cheaply circulating both commodity capital (in the case of the shipping, wholesaling and retailing industries) and money capital (in the case of banking). Such restructuring is a big part of what is often termed “neoliberalism” or “globalization,” modes of accumulation in which the shipping industry and globally-distributed supply chains assume a new primacy. The invention of the shipping container and container ship is analogous, in this way, to the reinvention of derivatives trading in the 1970s – a technical intervention which multiplies the volume of capital in circulation several times over.

This is why the general strike on Nov. 2 appeared as it did, not as the voluntary withdrawal of labor from large factories and the like (where so few of us work), but rather as masses of people who work in unorganized workplaces, who are unemployed or underemployed or precarious in one way or another, converging on the chokepoints of capital flow. Where workers in large workplaces –the ports, for instance– did withdraw their labor, this occurred after the fact of an intervention by an extrinsic proletariat. In such a situation, the flying picket, originally developed as a secondary instrument of solidarity, becomes the primary mechanism of the strike. If postindustrial capital focuses on the seaways and highways, the streets and the mall, focuses on accelerating and volatilizing its networked flows, then its antagonists will also need to be mobile and multiple. In November 2010, during the French general strike, we saw how a couple dozen flying pickets could effectively bring a city of millions to a halt. Such mobile blockades are the technique for an age and place in which production has been offshored, an age in which most of us work, if we work at all, in small and unorganized workplaces devoted to the transport, distribution, administration and sale of goods produced elsewhere.

Like the financial system which is its warped mirror, the present system for circulating commodities is incredibly brittle. Complex, computerized supply-chains based on just-in-time production models have reduced the need for warehouses and depots. This often means that workplaces and retailers have less than a day’s reserves on hand, and rely on the constant arrival of new shipments. A few tactical interventions – at major ports, for instance – could bring an entire economy to its knees. This is obviously a problem for us as much as it is a problem for capital: the brittleness of the economy means that while it is easy for us to blockade the instruments of our own oppression, nowhere do we have access to the things that could replace it. There are few workplaces that we can take over and use to begin producing the things we need. We could take over the port and continue to import the things we need, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine doing so without maintaining the violence of the economy at present.

Power to the vagabonds and therefore to no class

This brings us to a very important aspect of the present moment, already touched on above. The subject of the “strike” is no longer the working class as such, though workers are always involved. The strike no longer appears only as the voluntary withdrawal of labor from a workplace by those employed there, but as the blockade, suppression (or even sabotage or destruction) of that workplace by proletarians who are alien to it, and perhaps to wage-labor entirely. We need to jettison our ideas about the “proper” subjects of the strike or class struggle. Though it is always preferable and sometimes necessary to gain workers’ support in order to shut down a particular workplace, it is not absolutely necessary, and we must admit that ideas about who has the right to strike or blockade a particular workplace are simply extensions of the law of property. If the historical general strikes involved the coordinated striking of large workplaces, around which “the masses,” including students, women who did unwaged housework, the unemployed and lumpenproletarians of the informal sector eventually gathered to form a generalized offensive against capital, here the causality is precisely reversed. It has gone curiously unremarked that the encampments of the Occupy movement, while claiming themselves the essential manifestations of some vast hypermajority – the 99% – are formed in large part from the ranks of the homeless and the jobless, even if a more demographically diverse group fills them out during rallies and marches. That a group like this – with few ties to organized labor – could call for and successfully organize a General Strike should tell us something about how different the world of 2011 is from that of 1946.

We find it helpful here to distinguish between the working class and the proletariat. Though many of us are both members of the working class and proletarians, these terms do not necessarily mean the same thing. The working class is defined by work, by the fact that it works. It is defined by the wage, on the one hand, and its capacity to produce value on the other. But the proletariat is defined by propertylessness. In Rome, proletarius was the name for someone who owned no property save his own offspring and himself, and frequently sold both into slavery as a result. Proletarians are those who are “without reserves” and therefore dependent upon the wage and capital. They have “nothing to sell except their own skins.” The important point to make here is that not all proletarians are working-class, since not all proletarians work for a wage. As the crisis of capitalism intensifies, such “wageless life” becomes more and more the norm. Of course, exploitation requires dispossession. These two terms name inextricable aspects of the conditions of life under the domination of capital, and even the proletarians who don’t work depend upon those who do, in direct and indirect ways.

The point, for us, is that certain struggles tend to emphasize one or the other of these aspects. Struggles that emphasize the fact of exploitation – its unfairness, its brutality – and seek to ameliorate the terms and character of labor in capitalism, take the working-class as their subject. On the other hand, struggles that emphasize dispossession and the very fact of class, seeking to abolish the difference between those who are “without reserves” and everyone else, take as their subject the proletariat as such. Because of the restructuring of the economy and weakness of labor, present-day struggles have no choice but to become proletarian struggles, however much they dress themselves up in the language and weaponry of a defeated working class. This is why the Occupy movement, even as much as it mumbles vaguely about the weakest of redistributionary measures – taxing the banks, for instance – refuses to issue any demands. There are no demands to make. Worker’s struggles these days tend to have few objects besides the preservation of jobs or the preservation of union contracts. They struggle to preserve the right to be exploited, the right to a wage, rather than for any expansion of pay and benefits. The power of the Occupy movement so far – despite the weakness of its discourse – is that it points in the direction of a proletarian struggle in which, instead of vainly petitioning the assorted rulers of the world, people begin to directly take the things they need to survive. Rather than an attempt to readjust the balance between the 99% and the 1%, such a struggle might be about people directly providing for themselves at a time when capital and the state can no longer provide for them.

Twilight of the unions

This brings us finally to the question of the unions, the ILWU in particular, its locals, and the rank-and-file port workers. Port workers in the US have an enormously radical history, participating in or instigating some of the most significant episodes in US labor history, from the Seattle General strike of 1919, to the battles on the San Francisco waterfront in 1934 and the sympathy strikes that spread up and down the coast. The ferocious actions by port workers in Longview, Washington – attempting to fight off the incursion of non-ILWU grain exporter EGT – recall this history in vivid detail. Wildcatting, blockading trains and emptying them of their cargo, fighting off the cops brought in to restore the orderly loading and unloading of cargo – the port workers in Longview remind us of the best of the labor movement, its unmediated conflict with capital. We expect to see more actions like this in this new era of austerity, unemployment and riot. Still, our excitement at the courage of Longview workers should not blind us to the place of this struggle in the current crisis of capitalism. We do not think that these actions point to some revitalization of radical unionism, but rather indicate a real crisis in the established forms of class struggle. They point to a moment in which even the most meager demands become impossible to win. These conditions of impossibility will have a radicalizing effect, but not in the way that many expect it to. They will bring us allies in the workers at Longview and elsewhere but not in the way many expect.

Though they employ the tactics of the historical workers’ movement at its most radical, the content of the Longview struggle is quite different: they are not fighting for any expansions of pay or benefits, or attempting to unionize new workplaces, but merely to preserve their union’s jurisdictional rights. It is a defensive struggle, in the same way that the Madison, Wisconsin capitol occupation was a defensive struggle – a fight undertaken to preserve the dubious legally-enshrined rights to collectively bargain. These are fights for the survival of unions as such, in an era in which unions have no real wind in their sails, at their best seeking to keep a floor below falling wages, at their worst collaborating with the bosses to quietly sell out workers. This is not to malign the actions of the workers themselves or their participation in such struggles – one can no more choose to participate in a fight for one’s survival than one can choose to breathe, and sometimes such actions can become explosive trigger points that ignite a generalized antagonism. But we should be honest about the limits of these fights, and seek to push beyond them where possible. Too often, it seems as if we rely on a sentimental workerism, acting as if our alliance with port workers will restore to us some lost authenticity.

Let’s remember that, in the present instance, the initiative is coming from outside the port and from outside the workers’ movement as such, even though it involves workers and unions. For the most part, the initiative here has come from a motley band of people who work in non-unionized workplaces, or (for good reason) hate their unions, or work part-time or have no jobs at all. Alliances are important. We should be out there talking to truck drivers and crane operators and explaining the blockade, but that does not mean blindly following the recommendations of ILWU Local 10. For instance, we have been told time and again that, in order to blockade the port, we need to go to each and every berth, spreading out thousands of people into several groups over a distance of a few miles. This is because, under the system that ILWU has worked out with the employers’ association, only a picket line at the gates to the port itself will allow the local arbitrator to rule conditions at the port unsafe, and therefore provide the workers with legal protection against unpermitted work action. In such a situation we are not really blockading the port. We are participating in a two-act play, a piece of legal theater, performed for the benefit of the arbitrator.

If this arbitration game is the only way we can avoid violent conflict with the port workers, then perhaps this is the way things have to be for the time being. But we find it more than depressing how little reflection there has been about this strategy, how little criticism of it, and how many people seem to reflexively accept the necessity of going through these motions. There are two reasons why this charade is problematic. For one, we must remember that the insertion of state-sanctioned forms of mediation and arbitration into the class struggle, the domestication of the class struggle by a vast legal apparatus, is the chief mechanism by which unions have been made into the helpmeet of capital, their monopoly over labor power an ideal partner for capital’s monopoly over the means of production. Under such a system, trade unions not only make sure that the system produces a working-class with sufficient purchasing power (something that is less and less possible these days, except by way of credit) but also ensure that class antagonism finds only state-approved outlets, passing through the bureaucratic filter of the union and its legal apparatus, which says when, how, and why workers can act in their own benefit. This is what “arbitration” means.

Secondly, examined from a tactical position, putting us blockaders in small, stationary groups spread out over miles of roads leaves us in a very poor position to resist a police assault. As many have noted, it would be much easier to blockade the port by closing off the two main entrances to the port area– at Third and Adeline and Maritime and West Grand. Thousands of people at each of these intersections could completely shut down all traffic into the port, and these groups could be much more easily reinforced and provided with provisions (it’s easier to get food, water, and reinforcements to these locations.) There is now substantial interest in extending the blockade past one shift, changing it from a temporary nuisance to something that might seriously affect the reproduction of capital in the Bay Area given the abovementioned reliance on just-in-time production. But doing so will likely bring a police attack. Therefore, in order to blockade the port with legal-theatrical means we sacrifice our ability – quite within reach – to blockade it materially. We allow ourselves to be deflected to a tactically-weak position on the plane of the symbolic.

The coming intensification of struggles both inside and outside the workplace will find no success in attempting to revitalize the moribund unions. Workers will need to participate in the same kinds of direct actions – occupations, blockades, sabotage – that have proven the highlights of the Occupy movement in the Bay Area. When tens of thousands of people marched to the port of Oakland on November 2nd in order to shut it down, by and large they did not do it to defend the jurisdiction of the ILWU, or to take a stand against union-busting (most people were, it appears, ignorant of these contexts). They did it because they hate the present-day economy, because they hate capitalism, and because the ports are one of the most obvious linkages in the web of misery in which we are all caught. Let’s recognize this antagonism for what it is, and not dress it up in the costumes and ideologies of a bygone world.

-Society of Enemies

Originally posted: December 7, 2011 at Bay of Rage

Posted By

Apr 7 2012 18:29


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Juan Conatz
Apr 7 2012 23:29

I missed the discussion when this came out, but what do people think of this? It does seem like the logical extent of insurrectionary vanguardism, but at the same time, I don't buy what the people who fetishize democracy are saying either. Obviously even in a "real" general strike, workers subvert the will of other workers in other workplaces by pickets and even violence. If the traditional union form is unwilling or unable to exceed certain boundaries, it seems ridiculous that other portions of the class need to wait around for some far off day in which this does happen.

Apr 8 2012 10:30

I think that it is a tremendous overstatement in someways, but for the most part, really spot on. It talks about a very real dynamic in a way that is useful to think with, if nothing else, and cuts straight through a lot of the democratic and reformist bullshit that people were talking on the West Coast this fall.

The bit about struggles like Longview being defensive, even at their most militant, is very good and is a necessary contrast the fetishization of militant forms with a total disregarding for content of struggles, which I find to be all to common.

I'm sure the authors of both pieces would disagree, but I don't think it is actually that different than the Black Orchid "%89" article in some respects, other than the fact it came out before the West Coast port shut down rather than as an analysis of it...

Apr 10 2012 01:45

I'm with Juan on this one. The Bay of Rage piece advocates for an activist vanguardism that in effect -- having witnessed the events at the Port of Oakland myself -- was simply substitutionism. The organizers of the December 12th West Coast Port Shutdown were only able to invoke the passive solidarity of port workers, at best, and in Oakland arbitrators declared a "health & safety" menace -- as per the ILWU's contract -- and sent the morning shift workers home with 1/2 day's pay. For the evening and graveyard shifts, management intervened and locked out the workers. How workers being sent home without pay can be seen as a victory is beyond me! There were only 2 ships in port at the time, so I can't see how a day's delay creates "chokepoints of capital flow," since it was business-as-usual the next morning. The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out that a day's delay costs the shipping line $30,000 per ship which is such a small amount, relative to the value of commodities circulating across the planet, that it's almost nothing.

I think the Black Orchid Collective's "89%" piece is flawed -- and confused at best -- mostly because they their positions on the CIO and Taft-Hartley, calling the latter a "truce," simply ignores the major transformations of global capitalism and class composition from the Great Depression, through World War II, and into the post-war period of U.S. hegemony. The CIO, led by conservatives like John L. Lewis (a Republican), Sidney Hillman, Adolf Germer, the Reuther Brothers, et al., served the social role of de-legitimizing the strike weapon and creating "labor jurisprudence," where the state became the mediator and arbiter of class struggle (hence the latter term was replaced with "industrial relations"). Taft-Hartley simply codified this into law, creating a bookend to the Wagner Act that began the process. Also, Black Orchid falls into the usual Leftist mythologizing of the ILWU's supposed "militancy," when they aren't calling the union "racist." The latter is simply factually hard to support, when locals like 10 in the Bay Area are majority African American.

What's the most egregious factual error in "Blockading the Port is Only The First of Many Last Resorts" is the constant references to "post-industrial" and the inference that the U.S. is a "post-industrial country." This simply isn't true.

Let's look at automobile production in North America, the Fordist industry par excellence. In 1989 the Detroit 3 (GM, Ford & Chrysler) produced 95.4% of the cars manufactured in the U.S. By 2006 it had dropped to 63.6%. Yet except for the dip after the effects of the economic crisis were felt for all retail in 2008, car production in the U.S. has held steady over the last 3 decades. Why? Because of the foreign automakers producing -- or more accurately assembling -- cars in the U.S. Here's a short, non-comprehensive list of at least 24 auto plants (and please correct me on any errors):

• BMW in Spartanburg, South Carolina
• Honda in East Liberty and Marysville, Ohio; Lincoln, Alabama; and Greensburg, Indiana
• Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama
• Mazda in Flat Rock, Michigan (in a joint venture with Ford)
• Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
• Mitsubishi in Normal, Illinois (a former Chrysler plant)
• Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi
• Subaru in Lafayette, Indiana (in a joint venture with Toyota, some Camrys produced here too)
• Toyota whose 1st was NUMMI (the joint venture with GM, now closed; an article about the closing here: in Fremont; also in Kentucky, Indiana, elsewhere in California, West Virginia, and Alabama; 12 plants total in North America (1/2 of cars for U.S. market produced in American plants)

Also, since NAFTA cars are also produced in Mexico and Canada for the U.S. market. In the U.S., most auto plants are in southern states, all of which are "right to work" -- meaning near-impossible to unionize -- which is clearly the legacy of the defeat of the 1934 Textile General Strike in the South, as well as the utter failure of the CIO's Operation Dixie to organize southern industries after World War II.

Let's look at another classic heavy industry for manufacturing: aerospace. Of the 19 top-performing companies in the world, 13 are in the U.S. (with much of the production on the West Coast). Here's a list:

• United Technologies Corporation
• General Dynamics Corp.
• L-3 Communications
• Honeywell International Inc.
• Parker Hannifin
• Computer Sciences Corp.
• Thales Group (U.S. branch)
• Lockheed Martin Corp.
• Northrop Grumman Corp.
• Boeing
• Aquarius Defence Industries
• Woodlawn Manufacturing
• SpaceX

And since the Bay of Rage piece is written in the Bay Area of California, it has to be pointed out that the most productive agricultural region in the world is California's Central Valley. It was also the first in the world to practice industrial scale agri-business, relying on high levels of mechanization, external irrigation (with the world's largest aqueduct system), as well as being highly chemically intensive. Add to the toxic mix GMO crops, and the yields are among the highest in the world. The massive plantations in the south San Joaquin Valley contribute to the U.S. being the #1 cotton exporting country in the world.

But California's multi-billion dollar agricultural industry also contains the the Salinas Valley, where most of the lettuce supply in the U.S. is grown, the massively irrigated desert crops of the Imperial Valley on the Mexican border, the boutique wine industry of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and the mulit-billion dollar illicit marijuana growing region of the mountainous counties in the northwest of the state. With monocrops and genetic engineering, this industry is flourishing, achieving higher yields with fewer workers. But unlike the hollowed out Rust Belt of the Midwest, industries like these on the West Coast are growing.

Which brings up one of the major motors of this growth: Los Angeles. For the last 3 decades, it's been the not only the leading manufacturing city in the U.S., but it's one of the major sites of production on the Pacific Rim. The side-by-side Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are also the place where 40% of all containerized cargo enters the U.S. The combined Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex moves $376,000,000,000 ($236 billion for L.A. + $140 billion for Long Beach) worth of goods, both import and export, per year. It's the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere and in a single day moves in and out on average $1,030,136,986 worth of commodities. Interestingly, only 1/3 of those imports are finished products; the other 2/3 are "intermediate goods" that get unloaded from ships at the port and then are transported somewhere else in the L.A. metro area for final assembly, which has made Southern California the largest manufacturing region in the U.S. The rail route taken out of the port is the 20-mile "Alameda Corridor," a tripled-tracked submerged rail "expressway" that is jointly operated by Union Pacific and BNSF and allows double-stacked container trains to travel straight through to the changing yards beyond downtown L.A. and avoid what once had been over 200 at-grade

Most goods make it to the massive shipping, warehousing and logistics hub due east of downtown L.A., near the 3 "Inland Empire" cities of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario -- with most of the new development near the latter. Examples are the the Toyota Motor Corporation's North American Parts & Logistics Distribution (NAPLD) center in Ontario, APL Logistics in Rancho Cucamonga, Wal-Mart's Distribution Center in Mira Loma, and the Whirlpool Corporation distribution center further east in Perris. Whirlpool Corp. presently includes Maytag, Kitchen-Aid, Jenn-Air and Amana. Since the core of the business is appliances, in 2008 they leased a 1,700,000 square-foot distribution center that is larger than 31 football fields and is the biggest warehouse in the U.S.

So for the original piece to say there is a "reduced need for warehouses and depots," they're simply wrong. With just-in-time production techniques applied to distribution too, there is more of a need for warehouses to perform "cross-docking," where goods come out of one vehicle, go down conveyor belts, and are quickly loaded onto an outbound vehicles for the next leg of the journey.

As part of the spatial breakup of production, L.A./Long Beach has flourished with "buyer-driven" supply chains based on decentralized production networks in low-wage exporting countries (the older model was "producer-driven," and is exemplified by autos and heavy machinery). The originator of this model is Wal-Mart and it has been emulated by other large retailers, various marketers, and branded manufacturers. These buyer-driven goods are things like textiles & apparel, consumer electronics, toys, footwear, and furniture. An example of a manufacturer in the buyer-driven network is Foxconn, founded by Taiwanese businessman Terry Guo in 1974. It currently has 1,300,000 employees, making it the 5th largest employer in the world. Foxconn is the world's largest manufacturer of electronic products and has 920,000 employees in China -- with 470,000 at the factory complex in Shenzen alone. Other factories are spread throughout China, with more being built in the hinterlands. There are an additional 25 factories in 12 countries. In an interview in BusinessWeek (September 2010, titled "The Man Who Makes your iPhone"), Terry Guo joked "In 20 years, there will be only two companies. Everything will be made by Foxconn and sold by Wal-Mart."

The world's third largest film industry is Hollywood (#1 is Bollywood; #2 is Egypt), also located in Southern California (which if it was a country, would be near the top 10 in the world). It's a multi-billion dollar industry that is another pillar in the California economy.

The greatest weakness of the December 12th West Coast Port Shutdown was the failure to affect the L.A./Long Beach port complex for more than a few hours in the morning. And Occupy activists only targeted the Port of Long Beach and more specifically the Stevedoring Services of America terminal because its majority owner is Goldman Sachs. It had an activist focus rather than a class struggle direct action emphasis, even though the troqueros who called for the action have had wildcat strikes at the port in 1993, then a continuous sequence of strikes from 2004 to the near-complete shutdown of the entire complex on May Day 2006. Since the majority of truckers at the Southern California ports are Spanish-speaking, I attribute this lack of connection between the Occupy Movement to cultural factors as well. Additionally, when commerce at the port peaked prior to the economic crisis in 2007, there were 16,500 short-haul truckers at the port. Today, troquero militants say their own numbers have dropped to around 12,000. With the firing in October 2011 of 26 truckers for wearing Teamster jackets by the Toll Group, an Australia-based logistics and shipping company, fear may have been another factor preventing another wildcat strike.

Since the West Coast Port Shutdown had only limited success, much of it facilitated by technicalities invoked in the ILWU contract that allowed arbitrators to send some workers home with pay, I would say it was a failure because the goal of shutting down the ports with worker agency, class unity, and solidarity was not achieved. And here the scale of the different ports must be pointed out: L.A./Long Beach moves $376 billion in goods per year, while Oakland only moves $39 billion (L.A./Long Beach are #1 and 2 in the U.S. by volume of containers; Oakland is #3 on the West Coast) . And these numbers are dropping with the crisis. The only increases in the movement of goods have been exports of foodstuffs. In Oakland, they have been continually rising, especially with commodities like meat, fruits and nuts. The latter is due to factors like California now controlling 80% of the world's premium almond crop. And meat, fruits and nuts were once considered luxuries in Asia, but are now readily available and demand for them is growing. Another effect of changing diets in Asian is decreasing consumption of rice and the increase of other grains like wheat. Hence the importance of the EGT grain terminal at Longview, but that's another story...

Some recommended readings to see how global supply chains have created "factories without walls":

• “Logistics – The Factory Without Walls” (2006, Brian Ashton, Mute Magazine):

• “The Cargo Chain: Workers Who Make Our Economy” (2008, produced by a collaboration of The Center for Urban Pedagogy, Labor Notes, and The Longshore Workers’ Coalition):

• “On the Front Lines of the World Class Struggle: The Cargo Chain” (2011, JoAnn Wypijewski, CounterPunch):

• "Logistics and Opposition" (2011, Alberto Toscano, Mute Magazine):

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (2006, Marc Levinson, Princeton University Press)

Some films

• “Race to the Bottom” (2008, 20-minutes; documentary about troqueros working the Port of Oakland)

• “The Box that Changed Britain” (2010, 58-minutes; documentary history of intermodal cargo containers and changes in transport industry)

Apr 11 2012 07:48

Hieronymous - Can you recommend anything on the history of the CIO? I've read Strike! by Brecher.

Apr 11 2012 14:29
Malcy wrote:
Hieronymous - Can you recommend anything on the history of the CIO? I've read Strike! by Brecher.

Here's a few for starters:

George Rawick, "Working Class Self-Activity," Radical America, Vol.3 No.2, March-April 1969, pp.23-31

E. Jones, "The CIO: From Reform to Reaction," Root & Branch Number 6 (I promise I will scan this and post it on libcom this weekend)

Lorin Lee Cary, "Institutionalized Conservatism in the Early CIO: Adolph Germer, a Case Study," Labor History, Vol. 13, no. 4 (Fall 1972), pp. 475–504.

Apr 11 2012 20:59


Martin Glaberman, Wartime Strikes: The Struggle against the No-Strike Pledge in the UAW during World War II (1980).

Staughton Lynd (editor), "We Are All Leaders”: The Alternative Unionism of the Early 1930s, (1996), especially the section in Staughton's Introduction called "Alternative Unionism and the CIO."

Nelson Lichtenstein, Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II, (2003).

Steve Fraser, Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor , (1993).

James B. Atleson, "The Law of Collective Bargaining and Wartime Labor Regulations," in American Labor in the Era of World War II, (1995) edited by S. Miller and D. Cornford, pp. 43-68

Boyden, Richard, “The San Francisco Machinists and the National War Labor Board,” in American Labor in the Era of World War II, pp. 105-119.

(PM me if you want a pdf copy of the articles)

Apr 13 2012 00:33

Thanks mate. I've got a couple of those. The Glaberman and Lynd books are really good. I look forward to reading the Jones article.



Juan Conatz
May 6 2012 07:57

The ISO responded to some of this

Tactics and the port shutdown

I thought I saw another response that is directed at the ISO (possibly from another Bay Area insurrectionary type group?) but can't find it.