The Big Sleep

For nine days in November/December 2012, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach lay sleeping. Fifteen container vessels sat anchored off the coast. We were told that “featherbedding” will not be tolerated and the management complains of operational “nightmares”. The supply chain oneiric aspires toward an efficiency it can never obtain under capitalism, but it won’t ever be able to believe this. Instead, it intends to produce/instrumentalize more docile and flexible humans—and fewer of them.

The clerical workers of the main Southern California ports struck against this logic. According to “Bloomberg” (the man, the business organ), the workers were hurting no one but themselves. Their economic impact to industry was $2.5 billion per day — yet, “Bloomberg’s” chief concern had, of course, nothing to do with market impact—the true concern was for their beloved truckers… “They’re dying,” says the organ.

The clerical workers have arisen. They struck to protect themselves from the company axe. Management hopes to outsource or casualize the labor force in order to adhere to Lean dogma—an efficiency imperative with it’s roots in Taylorism’s scrupulous accounting of non-essential action, but made even more sadistic by the newer ‘just-in-time’ gospel of late-capitalist globalization. Essentially, value is denied whenever workers stand idle. Ironically, 800 clerks triggered a chain reaction of idleness—a repudiation of the new rhetoric of the ‘value chain’. Their picket lines weren’t crossed by their comrades on the docks—and the entry point for nearly half of all goods flowing into the U.S. was effectively at rest—asleep in the harbor.

What if this idleness spreads? Then the nightmares of management and capital will intensify. The man (quoted above) who speaks of nightmares is a logistics operative in the Southern California trade corridor. One of his specialties is the importation of hunting trophies—animals of distinction that were killed elsewhere and that must now enter the country as sculpture. This section of their website includes informative features on “hunting drones” and “hunting the pressure” created by other hunters—the technocratic management of animal death.

photos: huntingtrophy.com (a subsidiary of Coppersmith Global Logistics)

 

Empire Logistics

NOTE: Over the next several months, this site will be collaborating with Empire Logistics. The following is an introduction to the project.

“The strength of the capitalist class is – apart from economic compulsion – its State apparatuses and its ability to work together in order to save the capitalist world system. This new spirit of class solidarity within the capitalist class has its basis in global production chains and in the dependence of all countries on a functioning world market. But at the same time, this is its weakness, because a local crisis can today, faster than ever, send a shock wave through-out the capitalist nerve system. ”  —Peter Åström, “Crisis & Communization”

Empire Logistics is a collaborative initiative to research and articulate (through online mapping, video, text and other media) the impact and ‘externalized costs’—human, economic, social and environmental— of the international goods movement industry. An initial area of focus has been “The Inland Empire,” an area of Southern California that was hit hardest by the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 and the ensuing depression. The Inland Empire continues to face some of the highest home foreclosure rates in the country, staggering unemployment far above the national average, a rise in homelessness, and a decline in the median wage.

One of the reasons for the severity of the crash in this region is the structural link between the housing boom and the goods movement industry. An astonishing 40-plus percent of all the goods that enter the United States move through the Inland Empire, making it one of the largest distributions hubs in the country.

Initial class projects initiated by EL at Cal Poly, Pitzer College and UC Riverside focused on Mira Loma, a census-designated area where there exists the highest density of warehouses in the United States, where big firms like Wal-Mart and Target house their goods in massive distribution centers before moving them to their retail outlets all over the country.

Unsurprisingly, Mira Loma is also the epicenter for struggles in labor and environmental justice. Most notably, Warehouse Workers United (WWU) has been organizing the goods movement workers to unionize and attain the power of collective bargaining against distribution firms like Wal-Mart and the sprawling complex of satellite temp agencies that provide an effective deterrent against unionization by destabilizing job security. Likewise, in the environmental realm, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) is attempting to pressure local government to better regulate air quality in Mia Loma, which has some of the worst air pollution in the country.

The EL collective will soon begin mapping other West Coast trade corridors and hopes to complete a supply chain portrait of the U.S. by the end of 2013. In providing useful and accessible information, a supply chain poetics, compelling stories, and windows into the lives and resources affected by the supply chain, we aim to facilitate direct response to immediate social/economic problems through collective actions that bypass official media channels, and to help forge connections and solidarity among related struggles.

Currently, the project is focused on creating “node profiles” of ports, warehouses, trucking companies, and other key elements of the global supply chain.  If you are interested in creating a node profile or in joining the project as a researcher, contributor or collaborator, please contact us.

 

Contributors:
University of California-Riverside students
Pitzer College students
Art Institute of California students
California Polytechnic State University students
Gifford Hartman (The Bay Area Public School)
Sheheryar Kaoosji (Warehouse Workers United)
Kenneth Rogers
Victor Valle
Michael Wilson