Are container ship backups and supply chain disruptions a communist conspiracy?

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In late 2021, the United States faced a supply chain crisis during a global pandemic. In numerous ports, including along the west coast, cargo ships were stowed, which led to a nationwide shortage of various goods.

But this was not limited to the USA. Around 584 container ships were stranded in ports around the world in mid-October.

This, of course, sparked rumors and speculation about the reasons for the backlog. Our readers sent us screenshots from across social media suggesting that the entire backlog of ships was a “manufactured crisis”.

Some of our readers asked us if this was part of a “communist conspiracy” while others claimed that unions were behind it. For example, we received a message that said, “The unions do not allow truckers, employees, anyone to unload these containers. The employees are paid not to work … but that is not their choice. ”

In the news reports about the delivery backlog, we learned that the main reason for these issues was the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. There is no evidence that this was a “fabricated” crisis, let alone a communist conspiracy, but it exposed the flaws in the current systems on which the world and the US depend.

A Washington Post report analyzed the reasons for the shortcomings in the ports. First and foremost, during the pandemic there was an overall decline in spending on restaurants, theaters, and sporting events, as well as an increase in spending on goods such as laptops and bicycles, triggering a sudden surge in imports that overwhelmed freighters.

According to the BBC, 25% more cargo was shipped from Asia to the US in the first eight months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.

In 2021 alone, the port of Los Angeles should handle 10.8 million containers of goods, a record amount, also due to the high demand for goods during the pandemic. As a result, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) had even increased the training and hiring of workers, making workers feel overworked and exhausted. At least 20 ILWU members died while working on the pandemic, the union reported.

Transport systems were also weak before the pandemic. Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, told the Washington Post that US ports are “decades behind” overseas ports in getting shippers, terminals and shippers to give each other access to commercial data for planning purposes procure. Privacy concerns resulted in a “fragmented” system in which individual ports operated independently rather than as part of a nationwide system.

But it wasn’t the first time shipping and transportation workers sounded the alarm. In September 2021, industry groups, including the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), warned of a “collapse of the global transport system”. In an open letter they said:

Our demands were consistent and clear: freedom of movement for transport workers, for governments to use protocols approved by international bodies for each sector, and priority for transport workers for vaccination, as called for in the World Health Organization’s SAGE roadmap for prioritizing applications by COVID -19 vaccines related to limited supply.
[…]The effects of the almost two-year exposure, which was exerted in particular on the workers in sea and road transport, but also on the flight crew, are now becoming visible. Their continued abuse puts pressure on an already crumbling global supply chain. We are experiencing unprecedented disruption and global delays and bottlenecks in essentials such as electronics, food, fuels and medical supplies. Consumer demand is rising and delays are likely to worsen before Christmas and last through 2022.

We all continued to keep global trade flowing during the pandemic, but it has taken a human toll. At the height of the crew change crisis, 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships, with some seafarers working up to 18 months beyond their original contracts. Flights have been restricted and aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of boundaries, travel, restrictions, and vaccine restrictions / requirements. Additional and systematic stopping at road borders has meant that truck drivers sometimes had to wait weeks before they could finish their journeys and return home.

President Joe Biden announced a number of changes to address the crisis in mid-October, in particular an increase in hours for the ports and workers in Los Angeles:

After weeks of negotiations and working with my team and with the major unions, retailers and carriers, the Port of Los Angeles – the Port of Los Angeles announced its opening today – is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This follows the Long Beach port’s 24/7 commitment that it announced a few weeks ago.

Twenty-four / seven system – which most of the world’s leading countries are already using, except us, until now.

This is the first important step in moving our entire freight transport and logistics supply chain nationwide to a 24/7 system.

Workers had not stopped working in ports. Rather, they were overwhelmed by the pandemic and their working hours only increased.

Biden also urged major retailers to increase and decrease the bottleneck by moving goods out of ports, adding that Walmart has committed to increasing the use of off-peak hours to move products by 50% increase, and FedEx and UPS also planned to move more goods at night. He added special thanks to workers groups and unions such as Teamsters, Transportation Workers Union and others.

A White House factsheet also listed some of the reasons for the disruption:

The pandemic has seen a surge in e-commerce, with sales up 39 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020. At the same time, COVID has disrupted workers at key transportation and logistics hubs – the jobs of 1,800 dock workers in Southern California were disrupted earlier this year due to COVID.

John Wolfe, CEO of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, which oversees container traffic for the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma, spoke after Biden’s announcement, pointing out that trucks carrying containers from port to warehouses were in short supply. “When part of the supply chain reaches its limits, it is like a domino effect,” he said on October 13th. “When a domino falls [….] the other parts of the supply chain then begin to fail, and that is exactly what we are experiencing. “

The transportation and shipping industries depend on the nature that every part works without a hitch, and as Wolfe pointed out, when one part of the supply chain fails, so does the rest. This problem was occurring around the world, but the U.S. shipping and transportation industries suffered a major blow, in part due to increasing demand for certain goods during the pandemic. This resulted in the White House and relevant industries pushing to increase working hours in order to reduce the backlog.

There is no evidence that workers and unions coordinated this backlog and deliberately stopped work. There is also no evidence that it was a “communist conspiracy”. The crisis was a failure of the existing systems of global transportation and markets. We therefore rate this claim as “false”.


Sources:

“FACT SHEET: The Biden Administration is working to fix bottlenecks in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and move goods from ship to shelf.” The White House, October 13, 2021, https: //www.whitehouse. gov / briefing-room / statements-releases / 2021/10/13 / fact-sheet-biden-administration-efforts-to-address-bottlenecks-at -ports-of-los-angeles-and-long-beach-goods-transport- from-ship-to-shelf /. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

“Joint open letter – Transport Heads call on leading companies worldwide to secure global supply chains.” International Chamber of Shipping, September 29, 2021. https://www.ics-shipping.org/press-release/joint-open-letter-transport -heads-call-on-world-leaders-to-secure-global-supply chains /. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

Lynch, David J. “Inside America’s Disrupted Supply Chain.” Washington Post, October 2, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/interactive/2021/supply-chain-issues/. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

Pasricha, Akash. “Hands on deck in the ports of Seattle and Tacoma as supply chain bottlenecks persist.” The Seattle Times, October 13, 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/business/all-hands-on-deck-at-seattle-and-tacoma-ports-as-supply-chain-bottlenecks-persist/. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

Plimmer, Gill and Harry Dempsey. “The Waiting Game: Where Are The Worst Port Delays In The World?” Financial Times, October 15, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/24583d1b-7c65-40ec-8516-711c54495163. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

“Comments from President Biden on efforts to address bottlenecks in the global transportation supply chain.” White House, Oct 13, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/10/13 / remarks-by-president-biden-on-supply-chain-bottlenecks /. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

“Shipping disruption: Why are so many queuing to get to the US?” BBC News, October 16, 2021. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/58926842. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

Smith, Costas Paris and Jennifer. “Freight piles up as California ports scramble to fix delays.” Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2021. www.wsj.com, https://www.wsj.com/articles/cargo-delays-are-getting-worse-but-california-ports-still-rest-on-weekends -11632648602. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

Ziady, Hanna. “The workers who keep global supply chains moving are warning of a ‘system collapse’.” CNN, September 29, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/29/business/supply-chain-workers/ index.html. Retrieved October 18, 2021.

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