Dockers block Russian shipping

As the chattering classes tweet and write for Ukraine, a less visible auxiliary corps steps in: longshoremen. In ports in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States and elsewhere, dockers have simply refused to handle cargo from Russian ships. And without dockers, the cargo isn’t going anywhere.

It’s a reminder of how manual labor underpins almost everything we consume, even in supposedly highly developed economies – and how powerful a part of that labor can be, in ways many people have forgotten. Virtually no one grows up in the West today who is encouraged by parents, teachers, or society to become a dock hand, train driver, or repairman (or woman).

On the contrary, politics and society are belittling manual labor, a sad trend meticulously documented by Harvard philosopher Michael Mandel in the United States The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good?? Last month Tony Blair, who as UK Prime Minister had set a target of sending 50 per cent of all young people to universities, upped the ante by proposing that 60 to 70 per cent of young people should enroll in higher education.

As the chattering classes tweet and write for Ukraine, a less visible auxiliary corps steps in: longshoremen. In ports in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States and elsewhere, dockers have simply refused to handle cargo from Russian ships. And without dockers, the cargo isn’t going anywhere.

It’s a reminder of how manual labor underpins almost everything we consume, even in supposedly highly developed economies – and how powerful a part of that labor can be, in ways many people have forgotten. Virtually no one grows up in the West today who is encouraged by parents, teachers, or society to become a dock hand, train driver, or repairman (or woman).

On the contrary, politics and society are belittling manual labor, a sad trend meticulously documented by Harvard philosopher Michael Mandel in the United States The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good?? Last month Tony Blair, who as UK Prime Minister had set a target of sending 50 per cent of all young people to universities, upped the ante by proposing that 60 to 70 per cent of young people should enroll in higher education.

But manual labor keeps the world moving. Global shipping efficiently moves 11 billion tons of cargo every year, 1.5 tons for every person on the planet. This is thanks to the nearly 1.9 million seafarers who crew the world’s more than 74,000 merchant ships – and the hundreds of thousands of dockers who load and unload the cargo, even after decades of automation.

In fact, global shipping is so efficient that most people just take their services for granted and pay minimal attention to seafarers — hundreds of whom are still stuck in Ukrainian ports whose ships cannot navigate the Black Sea or the Sea of ​​Azov to the dockers. The public’s only wake-up call is when dockers announce they may go on strike, as more than 22,000 dockers on the US West Coast did in March, threatening raids at the US’s largest port, Los Angeles.

And by mid-March, it’s safe to say that the Kremlin woke up to the power of international dockers. At this point, the Swedish dockers’ union announced that its members would refuse to handle Russian and Russian-affiliated ships calling at Swedish ports, as well as any Russian cargo arriving on other ships. “When Russia invaded Ukraine, we were like everyone else; we felt sorry for the Ukrainians,” Martin Berg, the union’s leader, told FP. “And we wanted to help our Ukrainian colleagues, but with their ports closed or destroyed, there wasn’t much we could do. But we can’t handle Russian cargo.” Dockers diligently avoid any Russian cargo, not an easy task given a cargo ship carrying thousands of containers. “We’re almost certainly missing some ships, but a lot of people, especially journalists, are sending us tips,” Berg said. “The public has been incredibly supportive.”

The dockers immediately caught the attention of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “I am grateful to the Swedish Dockers’ Union. … This is a good example that all public structures, all trade unions and business associations should emulate,” the Ukrainian president said on March 18.

Swedish dockers have a lot of company in ports around the world. In early March, British dockers refused to service a ship carrying Russian oil. On April 30, workers in the ports of Rotterdam (the largest in Europe) and Amsterdam refused access to the oil tanker Sunny liger, which transported Russian oil. “If dockers anywhere else in the world refuse the cargo, we will refuse that too,” said Niek Stam, head of the maritime department of the Dutch Confederation of Trade Unions Bloomberg. “We’re doing this on the basis of international solidarity.” The European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States have imposed sanctions on ships owned or managed in Russia, but other ships can continue to deliver and receive unsanctioned Russian cargo.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which organizes dockers in the US and Canada (and announced the planned strike in March), also said in March that its members would no longer touch Russian cargo. “The dockers of the West Coast are proud to be doing our part to join those around the world who are bravely taking a stand and making sacrifices for the good of Ukraine,” said ILWU International President Willie Adams as he addressed the blockade announced.

No matter what sanctions Western governments impose on Russian goods, if dock workers refuse to handle Russian cargo, it will not reach its destination. Little noticed by the public and despised by the university class, this labor force has the power to shut down the Russian economy. Most Russian oil comes to Europe via ships, not pipelines.

This enormous power, coupled with an international sense of responsibility, has been used time and again by the port workers. In 1980, the International Longshoremen’s Association halted handling of Iranian cargo in response to the hostage crisis and halted handling of Soviet cargo in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 2010, Swedish, South African and other dockers announced their refusal to service Israeli ships bound for Gaza, and in 2008 dockers in Durban, South Africa, refused to offload Chinese weapons destined for the regime of then-Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe . Questioned by the Washington Post In 1980, a supervisor in charge of US shipping to Odessa (then) and Murmansk, Russia, astutely remarked, “It seems to me that the union is running foreign policy.”

Regarding the Swedish dockers and Ukraine, Berg said: “We know that we cannot stop this war on our own.” The Swedish dockers must indeed stop long before the end of the war. At the end of April, the association of Swedish port owners reported the blockade to the authorities, and on May 6 the Swedish dockers’ union and the port owners met in court. Even if the court orders the dockers to end their blockade immediately, they have prevented around six weeks’ worth of Russian goods from being unloaded. “This is not a global lockdown,” said Victoria Mitchell, marine analyst at Control Risks. “The incident in Amsterdam with the Sunny liger was an act of solidarity by the dockers there with their Swedish colleagues. The effect of these blockades will depend on the strength of each union.” This means that it is unlikely that there will be a global dockworker blockade, but, as Mitchell noted, “where it happens there is a clear impact. If a ship is rejected once, it could be rejected elsewhere.” And while the dockers’ blockade (alone) won’t bring down the Russian economy, it does have a significant symbolic and financial impact with sanctions. The Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based think tank, estimates that Russia’s GDP will contract by 15 percent this year.

Elsewhere, too, craftsmen prove how indispensable their work is. Thanks to Ukrainian railway workers, Ukrainian refugees can leave the most dangerous parts and equipment of the district and be delivered to Ukrainian troops. It is one of the few positive Soviet legacies in the country – a highly professional and extensive railway system with a strong sense of serving the nation. In Belarus, meanwhile, railroad workers sabotaged a Russian offensive designed to bring Russian troops from Belarus into Ukraine, thanks to Belarus’ excellent rail system. And Ukrainian utility repair teams have been busy keeping lights running across the country, even managing to restore power to the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant after Russian occupying forces withdrew.

While longshoremen, railroad workers and utility crews have emerged as key players in containing Russia’s war against Ukraine, most university graduates can end the war by speaking out on social media and indiscriminately launching cyber-aggression for the volunteer Ukrainian ” IT Army”. As for maintaining one’s land – well, consider what happens if the bathroom floods or the power goes out. Let’s recognize the extraordinary social value of workers. Let’s give them credit for keeping society going. And let’s thank them for using their power to help end Russia’s war against Ukraine.

About Christine Geisler

Check Also

Increasing demand for high-tech fittings in the marine sector

UNITED STATES, ROCKVILLE, MD, May 16, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The marine valves and actuators …