Thank you so much Alexey for this amazing transcript!
[0:00] I'm David Torcivia.
[0:02] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:03] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky, the end of the world.
[0:12] But if we learn from all this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be. [0:21] In the early 1850s Napoleon III surveyed Paris and felt disappointed. He saw it as crowded, dirty, chaotic and developmentally stunted compared to cities like London which had aesthetically pleasing parks and modern infrastructure. So in 1853 Napoleon hired a man named Georges-Eugène Haussmann to radically transform the city. And Haussmann did many things: he made the first detailed map of Paris and established a new bureaucratic institution to centralize all planning projects. He planted trees, improved the sewage system and installed gas lighting. But he also demolished over 12,000 buildings and displaced thousands of people from their homes to make way for long and wide corridors: a move that many have criticized as ripping the historical heart out of Paris.
[1:13] These corridors were deliberate. A decade before Houseman was hired another Frenchman was waging war against guerrilla fighters in Algeria as part of French colonialism. Even though this Frenchman's Army outnumbered Algerian peasant fighters 10 to 1, he was still losing. But then he discovered that if he plowed through whole neighborhoods and homes, segregated the people with the roads on which military convoys could be deployed: it’s suddenly became much easier to control the populace. And this is exactly what Haussmann did with these Paris corridors.
[1:45] The roads allow domestic military forces to rapidly respond to the complaints of working class people. The roads also segmented the population, weakening the organizing power of working class people as well as segregating the wealthy from the poor. And these changes took place at a time when the rail infrastructure around France was rapidly expanding. And part of the new layout was aimed to integrate with this new infrastructure.
[2:11] And for all the outrage against Haussmann for these changes this transformation helped Paris evolve into a “modern” city. Not only were they necessary to maintain the type of order the Empire wanted to impose domestically but the segregation of people and the military role in that are important characteristics for any city that wants to be an important link in the modern logistics chain.
[2:33] Okay, David, I think we need to hit the pause button right here, because we're talking about Paris, we’re foreshadowing logistics, and that's a very strange topic in the context of slavery and especially following part 1 where we talked about the slave camps that people are part of, chopping down trees and mining rocks.
[2:51] Pirates, don't forget pirates!
[2:52] Oh yeah, well, pirates, that's also an important thing we talked about last week that's going to return this week as well. Look before we get into this part 2, I think it's important to point out at the beginning that the way that this discussion starts out, it may seem unrelated to the topic of slavery, but the goal here is to kind of highlight this very important underlying structure of our world and that is the system of moving goods from one place to another. We talked last week a bit about the slavery involved in the bottom of the supply chain: the mining of a rock that then works its way up onto a retail shelf or the cutting of a tree that gets made into charcoal that melts iron that then finds itself in our car. But there is not enough discussion about the work that goes into the establishment and maintenance of Supply chains themselves. The industry that makes the supply chains possible, it's a system that in so many ways has been hidden in plain sight and simply accepted, I think, across the board as a very natural and necessary process in the evolution of civilization. But as we start to explore some of the history of logistics and its place in the world it should become more clear, as we go forward, how this system plays into this very terrible practice of slavery.
[4:09] But maybe even more importantly, Daniel, I think this topic is a window into the future and, as always here, a dark future unfortunately. And it may not seem scary at first, we're just talking about logistics here, that's business, how scary can it be? But the implications of organizing the world into segments separated intentionally from each other and then “securing” these segments with things like surveillance, guns, technology: all for the sake of ensuring that there are never any interruptions in this flow of goods has scary implications for all of us, especially those of us who break their backs to make this system work.
[4:46] A lot of these concepts about logistics that we're going to be talking about today comes from a book by Deborah Cohen, it's called “The deadly life of logistics: Mapping the violence of global trade” which was by the way recommended by a listener so thank you for that. Military And Logistics [5:01] Jumping back to this Paris example, what's so interesting about the way Paris was transformed is that it kind of foreshadows the way military and logistics go hand-in-hand. The corridors that cut through Paris and Algerian neighborhoods allow people and equipment to flow rapidly through the system, just like trade corridors today allow containers of shoes to transfer quickly from factory to retail store. And at the same time it took force to construct these quarters in the first place: the ripping down of buildings, the displacing of people, and many opposed the construction of these systems. And we see parallels there with the modern logistics corridors that we’re building all over the world.
[5:42] But of course logistics has always played an important role in militaries. Sun Tzu wrote extensively about logistics in his very famous “Art of War”, many Greek and Roman armies were organized based solely on their logistical needs. Alexander the Great placed huge emphasis on logistics: he did things like reducing the number of horses in armies to help reduce the need for supplies and once even said, quote, as quote as we can for Alexander the Great, however many years later, but, ‘My logisticians are humorless lot: they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.’ And Napoleon was also obsessed with the logistics, in 1795 offered a money reward for anyone who can invent a better way to preserve food so that he could field larger armies and not have to worry about constantly having fresh food to feed them. And what did this give us? Well, modern metal food cans. that's what this created. You can see how important very quickly logistics are and why logistics has always been important to warfare, it's significance was equal to things like strategy and tactics: in fact these are the three essential components of war. But that begin to change during World War I with the introduction of petroleum, oil and lubricants. And by World War II logistics itself was itself what determined above everything else the success or failure of armies.
[7:01] Churchill said of the war, ‘Above all, petrol governed every movement.’ Adolf Hitler said, ‘To fight we must have oil for our machine.’ General Patton said, ‘The officer who doesn't know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.’ A Navy Admiral Lynde McCormick said, ‘Logistics is all of war-making, except shooting the guns, releasing the bombs and firing the torpedoes.’ And of Desert Storm a US Lieutenant General simply said, ‘Forget logistics: you lose.’
[7:34] Okay, I think we're getting the point here, Daniel.
[7:37] The quotes on logistics are endless. But all this is important because the military's emphasis on logistics is what has led to a radical transformation of our world, a transformation like the one in Paris but occurring now on a global scale and these changes have huge implications for the people they impact. Logistics Transforms The World
[7:55] Okay, so logistics became more and more important to military functions after World War II culminating in the invention of the shipping container by U.S. forces for Vietnam. This very quickly became standardized across international shipping and from there just about in every single logistics operation worldwide. And so around 1960 a number of factors came together at once and forever changed the way business operated. This was the Logistics Revolution. Before the revolution businesses thought of distribution, production in very simple terms: production was at place where you had a factory, and you made goods, widgets, whatever; distribution was when you delivered that good from your warehouse to the store, so its just shipping it from point A to point B, simple; as for transportation that was its own separate thing, you didn’t worry about that. But then a few things changed. We saw the introduction of something called Systems Theory, which originated actually from a biology science, and it found its way into the business world. Business people began looking at their processes not in discrete parts but as entire systems, the output of which depended on every single interlinking piece. At the same time the rise of computers made it possible to actually calculate all these possibilities that can never be worked out by hand. Very quickly consultants figured out that the cost of delivering a good went way beyond the simple fuel cost of driving it from the warehouse to the store. The cost of delivering a good involved, well, technically everything the business did.
[9:21] And what the business does encompasses so many things. Where before using that very discrete “production vs. distribution vs. transportation” model of logistics, the calculation might be, ‘okay, we have to move 50 widgets from our warehouse at point A and we have to move them to point B, what's the cheapest way to get them there?’ But under this now “total cost systems thinking” applied to logistics that question got turned on its head, and the relevant question is no longer ‘How do we get 50 widgets from point A to point B’ but ‘Should we even be making 50 widgets? Should we even have a warehouse in point A in the first place? Where should our supplies be coming from? What's our customer service? How many warehouses should we have total?’ And all these get put against each other in very complex algorithms to give you the best possible profit scenario. [10:14] And all these things historically were separate from distribution but now they became part of the distribution system, in fact, everything a business did is now considered into the distribution equation. And while computers made it possible to conceptualize logistics as a total system, the invention of the container that you alluded to, David, made it a reality. Because in the same way that logistics was historically important to militaries but took center-stage only after World War II when we had new technologies, logistics evolved from a business consideration to an entire industry that enables modern companies to exist, in large part thanks to these new technologies that make intermodal transportation much easier that results in standardization across the board. And this had huge implications for conceptions of geography and space, the people in those spaces and the people who made up logistics labor as even basic concepts like the factory took on new identities. You see the factory is no longer a building someplace where a good is produced, the factory is stretched across multiple locations.
[11:20] All this sounds really complicated when we spell it out like this, but these are things at this point that I think most of us understand innately. We've heard the term supply chain, we understand this concept that, ’oh, our laptop, our phones, our cars, they are made in lots of little different pieces scattered all around the world, they are assembled somewhere else, maybe they’re assembled in Mexico or the United States, or China, wherever, put together, and they finally make the way to us.’ We understand there is not like a factory that just makes every single piece of a phone or a car right there in one place: it's not practical anymore, the factories are global at this point, and the transportation between these factories are part of these massive conveyor belts, you can think of it that way, but also this logistics process that enables is queued globalized supply chain.
[12:04] So if you're looking at logistics as a total system and you're using computer-assisted algorithms to help you figure out the best way to orient this system, and it encompasses every single function of a business, the will to make changes that result in massive disruptions to people in the places where they live, well, that decision becomes much easier. See, if a multinational company can save cost or boost profits by some X percent by moving a warehouse from point A to point B or by expanding the land under its control at some port, it's going to do that. Does this system thinking consider whether location B might be on land in dispute between local government and indigenous groups? It's likely that it's just going to steamroll over both of these groups especially considering how this system is intertwined with military functions and as in many ways supported by the full force of the military, the US in particular, in protecting and maintaining this system, something we’ll get to later on in the show.
[13:03] Okay, you got to be asking yourself at this point, ‘David, Daniel, what are you doing? I thought the show was going to be continuing our conversation on slavery, that's why I'm here cause I can't wait to hear the positive show about slavery today, right?’ Well, I promise that this is all going to tie back in together, and to understand slavery today, to understand our global economy, you really have to understand logistics which is why we have this introduction here. And the vast majority of what makes logistics work is things like shipping, intermodal transport. And to really understand how these function, that enable this giant globalized system that creates a slavery, that we talked about in the last episode, maybe we should look at some of the individual laborers in the transportation networks. And so, this narrative starts with the deregulation of the shipping industry, of actually the ships themselves, of the intermodal transport that carries these supplies from the ships to rail or whatever other system that's going out. And this had a huge effects on individuals, some of which are plunged today into what is functional slavery.
[14:03] Deregulation and in some cases the lack of regulation play such an important role in the expansion of logistics around the world. The major deregulation occurred in the United States in the early 1980s and this affects workers in logistics across the board. In that first decade alone worker wages declined significantly: in the trucking sectors workers lost 5.7 billion dollars in that first 10 years, workers in telecom lost 5.1 billion dollars, airline workers lost 3.4 billion and railroad workers 1.2 billion.
[14:38] And once again, that's a lot of numbers, so let's look at some specific examples, particularly at first in how deregulation affected the shipping industry. Flags Of Convenience
[14:45] David, let me introduce you to the idea of flags of convenience on sea vessels. And this is where the show starts to get a little bit more interesting and where we get back on track with this topic of slavery, so, David, you own a business, okay? Now, let’s say the purpose of this business is to service a shell company through which we can hide our assets from the music industry looking to collect on that 1 billion dollar fine.
[15:09] I'm way ahead of you all this, Daniel.
[15:12] Yeah, but on the face of it the stated purpose of this company is to ship towels for Target from ports in China to ports in California, okay? Your company is American, you conduct business out of an office in the United States. And to get this business running you purchase a ship, so you put the American flag on your ship, right?
[15:34] Not only am I putting an American flag on the ship, Daniel, I’m painting the hull whole in the stars and bars, baby. Let's go, America!
[15:41] David, that is a terrible idea, you do not want to do that.
[15:44] Is this like an aesthetic thing, Daniel? You have a problem with all this red, white and blue or like, what, tell me, explain.
[15:49] That's not necessarily aesthetic, but if we put the American flag on your ship that means that we have to obey American laws and we don't want that.
[15:58] Oh, okay, I see where you are going with this. Wait, why don't we want to follow American laws here?
[16:05] Well, think about it this way: if we're going to be in the shipping industry where it's very competitive, and we're trying to make some money, what we want to do is find a country that really lacks labor laws, that won't make us pay our workers very much, you see what I mean?
[16:18] Yeah, okay, I like where your mind is gone.
[16:20] They're not going to give us a hard time, that kind of thing.
[16:23] Okay, yeah.
[16:24] And so we want to register our ship under their governance.
[16:26] Okay, now we're thinking like business people, let's keep going with this.
[16:29] And that is what a flag of convenience is, even though I'm an American business I want to conveniently register my ship with a different country: that way I'm only subject to their laws and not American laws. And that is why today the largest ship registry in the world is Panama, and you'll never guess the second-largest so, David, I'm not even going to quiz you on this one.
[16:49] Is it the Republic of Marshall Islands?
[16:51] Wow. David, you are a genius.
[16:54] Just a random guess, but.
[16:56] Yeah, I'm sure it was but you're right the second most common flag or a ship to fly is a small group of coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean, it's the Republic of Marshall Islands, it has a population of just 53,000 people. And despite all the trade that we’re involved in just 1% of the world's ships are registered with the United States.
[17:17] So let's look at a way that these flags of convenience have very real effects on individuals onboard these ships. And I mean a typical container ship has a very small crew, I mean even one of these super tankers, 10 to 11 people, maybe 20 people on especially large one. Yeah, there are labor violations but they're not affect a huge amount of people on board. But where these lacking labor laws really start being a problem are on ships with huge amounts of employees on, and there are no ships with more people working on them that in the cruise industry. Cruise Of Convenience [17:46] So real quick, just in the cruise industry 77% of the cruise ship market is controlled by just three companies. Each of them are American companies, and they're all headquartered in Miami.
[17:58] Well, not for long, David, not when that ocean rise swallows Miami, well, I guess, they'll just move up the coast.
[18:03] Or you just keep moving up higher and higher on the skyscrapers and just fuck the people below you. But anyway we’re getting back to old episodes here. But almost all of these ships these three American companies own registered under foreign countries. Carnival Cruise Lines for example, they mostly register under Panama and Liberia. And Carnival coincidentally also has some of the worst labor complaints made against them.
[18:27] And they do this of course because it allows them to use exploited labor. So today one third of all workers on cruise ships are Filipino, they come from the Philippines, and their working conditions are brutal. Before being accepted as employees workers must sign contracts they often don't understand that stipulate their pay around $450 per month regardless of the numbers of hours they work. And in signing the agreement they often waive the right to seek damages under US law if anything happens to them. Once they get on the ship it's common for men and women to be worked well past the hours agreed to even in these contracts. And when they get injured, which is common, I think there's over 4,500 cruise ship workers that are sent overland to doctors each month.
[19:14] Which of course doesn't even count all the ones that are treated on board, there's really no numbers at all for this, so we have no idea how common that is.
[19:21] Right, well when these workers go to these doctors, they learn that they agreed to lopsided deals in the event of injury, in some cases medical records are withheld from workers, and doctors which are on cruise ship payroll are incentivised to recommend them for work even when they are not fit to work. And like I said, the hours can be brutal, oftentimes they're forced to work every single day pulling 80 hours a week for as little as a $1.75 an hour. One worker describes working for Carnival as, ‘It's like you're in a jail but you're earning money.’ And to be clear when this worker says he's earning money, he's actually talking about a lot of the side hustles and workers come up with in their spare time. Like impromptu barbershop operations and DVD rental services, and tattoo parlors, all working out of their tiny bunks at the bottom of these cruise ships.
[20:12] So, I mean a $1.75 an hour is what these people are being paid more or less, and because they're technically salaried for practically no money, it gets aside from the idea of minimum wage or something. But these are American companies that are paying these poor employees a $1.75 an hour on cruise ships they cannot leave, oftentimes with very complicated contracts that it's difficult to impossible to get out of without forfeiting a large amount of this pay. This is functional slavery today, and you'll notice a lot of these workers are Filipinos, and that’s because the practice of exploiting these people's labor is something that is carried over from traditional American imperialism within the Philippines. And so the Philippines that used to be an American colony, the US Navy used huge amounts of the Filipino workers as maids, as stewards to serve American officers on their ships. And today though the US Navy no longer uses this very low-cost labour from the Philippines to augment the sailors that are on board, Filipino still make up a huge majority of people washing dishes and cleaning rooms on private American ships for well below these American wage standards which were already mentioned. And so we like to think we've moved past this period of colonialism, of imperialism when we’re directly removing wealth from one nation and transferring it to this conquering nation.
[21:28] Often using slavery to do that.
[21:30] Yeah, of course, I mean that's a good point, but it's so much about removing natural resources and exploiting the local labor to do just that. Well, as we’ve transitioned away so much from this natural resource exploitation, especially in a “developed’ economy like you see in America, where things are focused so much on services, on technical products, it's no longer so much about directly removing these raw natural resources, it's about taking this cheap pool of labor, putting it somewhere else and using that as your pool of service, of exploiting these people because of a variety of conditions in their homeland, of loopholes in international laws, of ways of screwing around American labor practices, and creating a functional huge underclass of slaves built on the backs of not-too-distant imperialism: all to serve people mojitos and other ridiculous drinks on cruise ships. Speeding Up Goods And Death
[22:23] And to get back to this logistics discussion. Part of the reason for discussing this is to highlight how this global system of moving goods, it no longer just impacts a native population somewhere else that were exploiting but any worker who now finds themselves in this system of logistics is now subject to the force is required to maintain the system in its most efficient form, and that means that workers right here at home, whether we're in the United States or in Europe or wherever we might think of ourselves as a rich developed country that has, you know, progressive labor laws and protections, these people are going to be affected in these places. And so, as the transformation of logistics from discrete functions to a total system that encompasses every business process has progressed massive efforts have gone into making logistics global, seamless and faster and faster at circulating goods. And there are many ways to do that: you can standardize container sizes across the board, which we’ve done, increase the size of the container, we’ve done that too, deregulate industries so that firms can more easily coordinate intermodal routes. [23:31] But there's another way and that's to isolate the workers within the system, target ones that are more vulnerable than others with things like that debt traps, like we talked about last week, and then make them work faster, longer and for less pay. Let's look at that for a second, right here in the United States. We did mention that in the United States workers lost a ton of wealth from the 80s to the 90s on the heels of deregulation, but another thing they lost and continue to lose is health and safety, a result of this need to keep the flow of goods circulating faster and faster.
[24:06] When we traditionally think about dangerous jobs, I mean, the one that everyone always in meetings just as like, ‘oh police officers, that's dangerous, that's deadly,’ but in fact, that's nothing compared to how many people are killed annually in the transportation and material moving occupations, that that's what it's actually called by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but this field of moving object from point A to point B, of logistics of bringing products from factories and distributions centers to the stores you buy them from and ultimately your doorsteps when you order them, this represents 25% of all U.S. work-related deaths, this field. It's huge, it’s a huge amount of people die each year in this field, and it is getting worse every single year. In fact, California has ranked warehousing and trucking the state's highest hazard occupation. Driving Faster Logistics
[24:53] So let's look at one of these jobs. How about, David, the short haul truck drivers that move goes from California's two main ports and into nearby warehouses. These are the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And real quick, to clarify, some of these people that were talking about including these Filipino workers on cruise ships, the truck drivers that we're about to discuss: these are not included in those slavery figures that we quoted last week, that 40 million people who are hard slaves around the world, that does not include the type of people we’re discussing in this show. And so, USA Today did a year-long investigation into the conditions of short haul truckers serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
[25:33] This this sounds really boring but I highly recommend you read this article if you find any of this interesting, it's a fabulous piece of investigative journalism, and really a lot of respect to the journalist at USA Today that did this, it's a great piece.
[25:45] Well, it’s mind-blowing, David, I couldn't believe the things that I was reading, that this was actually happening right here in the United States. Anyway, let's get into it. So these ports are responsible for 50% of all retail store imports that are coming into the United States, and the truckers move this cargo from the port to warehouses nearby where the goods can then be sorted and distributed from there to regional warehouses across the United States. And what the investigation found is that trucking companies have for a long time now been forcing drivers to take on massive debt in the form of non-negotiable lease-to-own contracts for their trucks and then using that debt as leverage to get drivers to work well past the federal limit of 11 hours each day with some truckers having to drive 20 hours each day 6 days a week. Owners and managers have even physically prevented drivers from going home.
[26:40] So how does this debt work and where does it come from? In 2008 California passed a new law requiring trucks that enter the ports to be up-to-date with cleaner engines.
[26:51] Sounds reasonable so far.
[26:53] Yeah, this is a good law, the diesel fumes from these ports were highly toxic, it was bad for the workers there, it's bad for people who live close to the port. And this was a law that was intended to make everybody's lives substantially better.
[27:05] And these all trucks, they were really concentrated in this area because being old, a lot of these trucks were not capable of going the distance on long distribution routes but they could stand the very short-haul back-road routes that these drivers did from port to initial warehouse. And a lot of people who wouldn't be able to afford those really nice trucks could afford some of these clunkers for lack of the better word.
[27:32] Yeah, exactly, and on these routes, there is a lot of idling, waiting in lines, waiting for you to be loaded, and so the diesel fumes add up, and so they introduced this law to try and clean up the air and make everybody's health a little bit better. But this meant that 16000 trucks needed to be replaced almost overnight. The trucking companies instead of accepting the cost of upgrading their own equipment devised a method instead to pass the cost onto individual drivers themselves. So what happened is this: the company financed the trucks and then told their drivers they’d have to sign lease-to-own contracts on the new trucks or be fired. Many drivers went from owning their own trucks to having over a hundred thousand dollars worth of debt just to keep the same job basically overnight. And because of this, their wages plummeted.
[28:18] Every week drivers make money based on the number of containers that they deliver, not the hours they work. And then their company subtracts out the lease payment on their truck, the insurance that they're overcharging the drivers for, the gas that they put in their tank and any repairs the trucks need, so that at the end of the week some drivers who work 20 hours will owe their company money or will take home a paltry sum, not sufficient to feed their family.
[28:45] You know, listening to this I really couldn't figure out what actually these companies are even doing, so they are making their drivers pay for the trucks, they make drivers pay for the gas, they make their drivers pay for the insurance, like what else are they doing? They own like a headquarters and they're paying for themselves I guess, when the drivers are paying for all the cost of the company, it's like what the hell is the point of? I'm sorry, this thing kinda makes me angry, but...
[29:12] But David, what you don't understand is that these managers are very educated. You see, they set up the contracts, they make the phone calls, this is not something that a poor, recently immigrated worker in America could do, they just aren't educated, you see it?
[29:26] Oh, I see it. Well, then because of this, these drivers just put up with the abuse and felt they couldn't escape because of the thousands of dollars they’d already put towards owning this new truck. And as part of the contracts companies make them sign the company can fire the driver at any time and take that truck back. So even if I owe initially $100,000 on this truck and I work and I’m paying this truck off every single week and I paid $99,000 towards this truck, and then for whatever reason company decides to fire me while I'm one payment away, my last payment to get this truck, I lose out all that money, I lose out on my truck and I lose at $99,000: the company keeps all of that.
[30:06] I just want to point out that many of the major retailers that are contracting with these trucks, these are companies like Target, Walmart, TJX which owns TJ Maxx and all this: they have come out publicly and said how innovative and forward-looking these policies are. And then when they're questioned about this practice they say, ‘oh, we're not responsible for that, that's the truck companies that employ the labor, we have nothing to do with that.’ But go on, David.
[30:29] So one of the ways this played up practically is that in one case a driver's truck broke down, and because he made so little, as low as $0.67 for one whole week of work despite working well of the legal limits prescribed for truck drivers, well, he could not afford the repairs, which I guess the truck drivers are also responsible for, and the company fired him and seized his truck despite him having already paid the company $75,000 towards owning that very truck. All that went down the drain, all the money gone. Other drivers have been fired and have their truck seized for refusing to work illegal hours. One driver’s truck was taken after he went home to bury his dead mother.
[31:07] I'm beginning to see how these companies thought of this system as innovative.
[31:12] Yeah, I mean, if you were the company that is doing the logistics processes, this is great, this is the innovation, this is disruption of an industry. I’m going to take my profitable industry, put all my costs off me and onto my employees and then I'm going to scoop up all the excess profit from that. I mean, what a great business model, imagine thing like this in a military, you know, like we're going to pay you to be a soldier, but you have to supply your gun, your bullets, you need to pay for your own tank, and if that thing gets damaged, well, you know, you're out of luck buddy, you got to pay us back for the tank. Like, what? That's crazy. If you apply this to any other industry it really shows just how completely psychotic these business practices are.
[31:52] You mentioned disrupting the industry and that's so interesting because so often what it means to disrupt an industry from, you know, this startup culture entrepreneur jargon of creative disruption or destruction or whatever, it's all about creating new paradigms. And I imagine that a lot of these companies, when we discover labor practices like this, will complain, ‘well, we’re competing with companies all over the world, we have to do something to cut costs.’ But what occurs to me as we’re talking about this is that in exploiting their workers like this these companies can better compete for contracts, and that means that this practice itself is going to drive down the rates that are charged for these trucking services which means that it threatens to become the new standard, not just in California, but globally and that's a scary application to me. Because it means once you lock these types of rates in, and it's just assumed across the board that all trucking companies, all shipping industries can make this happen, can make these rates work for business, then it becomes that much harder to undo all this exploitation because now it's baked into the way the industry operates. [33:00] And I wonder, David, if we looked at the history of economic progress, I wonder how much of that we would find. Maybe a lot of the economic growth and expansion that we experience is not just a result of magic technologies that we invent as the narrative would tell us, but perhaps it is finding new “innovative” ways to squeeze more and more out of the labor that's actually doing all the work. And then making that the new standard so that it becomes impossible to go back to where we were before.
[33:30] But this is the United States, we have labor law practices and the things that these trucking companies are doing, well, I think they're definitively illegal or at least skirting the edge of these labor laws. And so over a thousand workers thus far have filed suits against their companies, and in 97% of these cases judges side with the worker, ruling the companies are illegally classifying their drivers as independent contractors and ordering millions of back pay to be delivered to the workers, the victory for the American legal system, right? Well, not so fast, most never see this money because these shipping companies have honed the science of transferring assets to new companies, filing bankruptcy with the old one, discharging the debt, dissolving and then continuing business as usual.
[34:15] This is one of the more angering aspects of this report which is just literally nothing that worker can do, even when the judge clearly says, ‘look, you’ve stolen money from this worker,’ and again, 97% of the cases this is what the judge is concluding, ‘company, you’ve stolen money from these workers, you owe them back pay,’ sometimes it's hundreds of thousands of dollars for each individual driver. The owners of these companies don't even try that hard to obscure what they're doing, one in fact opened a new company under his mother, transferred all the trucks to that company and, like you said, filed bankruptcy with the old one and then came to all the workers and said, ‘look, I have no money to pay you, take $7,000 or walk away.’ And what choice do they have?
[34:58] In the larger conversation we're having about slavery in this episode and over last week a lot of the answers are always, ‘well, we have labor laws that prevent these abuses, if it's illegal to exploit people in these ways, well, we’ll be able to shut down slavery, right? Because the judicial system, the legal system is there to help the everyman, to help us fight back against those who decide to abuse others with the power and the violence of the state behind them. But if this is happening in the United States, if this slavery occurs here at home despite the labor laws that people have fought for, have died for in many cases, well, what does that say about our economic system that continues to create these situations? And what does that say about judicial system that cannot rectify this problem? That when confronted with these abuses point-blank, staring directly in their face, they offer a solution that ultimately cannot be carried out because of other loopholes within that very legal system itself. There is no justice for the exploited, and so this exploitation, this functional slavery continues, and we all continue to benefit as the purchasers of these products that are only made possible in how cheap they are because of functional slavery.
[36:12] Another thing comes to mind, David, in episode 5 we talked about infrastructure and how a lot of the new laws that municipalities pass to try and deal with infrastructure is really just a transfer of the cost from municipalities to individuals themselves. I think your example was small cities ripping up their asphalt road to save on road maintenance costs, but what that ultimately does, it means that anyone that drives on those roads is going to incur more maintenance problems on their car, they're going to have to pay for that, and so it's really a transfer of cost. And it occurs to me that the same thing is happening to these drivers. Because they are treated as independent contractors, they're responsible for all the repairs and maintenance on their trucks, their fuel, their own insurance, not to mention things like health care, and they're paid not by the hours they work but the containers that they actually deliver. Well, as the costs that are rising all around us like infrastructure, well, these costs are going to fall directly on these drivers. When cities cannot afford to fix potholes, these workers have to take even more out of their paycheck to fix their trucks. And in the same way even the burden of this federal limit that you're not allowed to drive past the certain number of hours, we collectively still blame these drivers when they go over these limits. If a federal agent catches a driver going past the federal limit, it's the driver that's on the hook. And even when you read articles about truck drivers all across the country, they're referred to so often this owner operators. [37:41] In what article I read, it said, David, that owner-operators want a skirt this federal limit so that they can take advantage of lucrative nighttime routes, and they're putting us all at danger and they're putting us all at risk. And that is true, they are putting us at risk. I mean, there's an estimated 8.3% of the total traffic coming from just these California ports is with drivers exceeding that federal daily hour limit. But that's part of this logistics system: we have to speed it up, we have to keep people working, that puts us at risk, that puts the driver at risk because they don't get any sleep, but then we shift all the responsibility onto this individual worker who's being physically barred from entering the parking lot at their jobs, they're being threatened with a loss of a job if they refuse to work the hours that their bosses are demanding them, but those bosses are not responsible, they're not on the hook. At least not in practice.
[38:34] You know looking at all this and this like huge, very obvious labor abuse, I mean, people are being paid $0.67 for weeks worth of labor here in the United States. That's crazy and it's interesting how there's so little outrage about this, this was a huge story USA Today broke and very little, if anything, have changed, and I've hardly seen anybody talk about it since this came out. I mean, last week we talked about the Hawaiian fishers: this was another huge story that the Associated Press broke of this slavery that's happening off the coast of Hawaii. And once again, there's very little outrage about it, no one talks about it. And it's really interesting how, like we’ve talked about in the fashion history episode, that we here in the United States for example can become very superficially outraged and conscious about labor abuse in places like Bangladesh halfway around the world, but in a lot of ways we have a harder time recognizing the labor abuse occurring in our own neighborhood, in our own ports, occurring just off our coasts. And I wonder if that's part of the propaganda that if you're an American you have the opportunity to work hard and make it and we don't have a class or race division: that everybody has before them the opportunity to survive and build a better life. And anything that comes and conflicts with this popular narrative that we’re sold from the very first moments of our education, well, we brush it aside, ignore it and say it's probably their own fault, they must be doing something wrong, because the system itself guarantees that I can move up. Or at least that's what I'm told.
[40:02] And that propaganda is necessary, you mentioned the Bangladeshi garment factories, well, it's very easy even when we have public outrage here in the United States or in Europe for a company like H&M or Zara to just say, ‘oh yeah, that's right, we discovered that and we fixed it,’ and we have no choice but to simply believe them because we don't live there, we don't recognize that all they did was open up a factory that they can use as like a front for inspections while all the real work is done a block away in shadow factories. We don't know that because we don't live there, and I think that just highlights again this point we made in last week about: as long as we want global products at our fingertips no matter where we go, we're going to have slavery. And that's part of it because things that don't come out of our community are much harder to trace in terms of where they come from and what was involved in making them. And as long as it's very difficult to trace that types of things, when we all have busy lives, we're not going to be able to cover all our bases, we're not going to be able to discover all the labor abuse that's going on. And when we do discover one thing, it can just be shifted somewhere else. Meanwhile the labor abuses that happened right here in our own neighborhood, like you said, David, well, that's covered up by the propaganda: it's not the system that's failing these people, it is them, they are the owner operator, they are individuals, they have the ability to succeed, they're just lazy, they're trying to cheat, they’re whatever we come up with. [41:24] And this trucker story is awful. But to really understand why these workers are being exploited the way they are in the context of maintaining the flow of goods, it’s important to examine the way the workers are viewed politically, and that’s through the lens of security. Security Of Logistics [41:43] So part of the way logistics has evolved over the number of years is that it’s attained a bigger and brighter spotlight from the eyes of national security. So in the same way that logistics became the forefront of military strategy after World War I & II logistics has become the primary driver of economic growth, it's the glue that holds the global economy together. And for that reason, because the economy is so important to us as a nation, expanding and maintaining logistics is the defining purpose now of national security. And maybe that sounds a little bit confusing, again, we're talking about trucks, we/re talking about ships.
[42:19] Talking about people driving trucks, people working on these ships.
[42:23] What does it mean for this industry, this process to now be at the forefront of national security?
[42:30] National security, one of my favorite topics, but something we haven't really gotten into that much yet on this show though believe me, all of this is coming in very great depth in future episodes. But when we talk about national security, who are the enemies that come to mind? I mean, right now it's terrorists with bombs, plane hijackers, maybe rogue nations building nuclear weapons or aspiring to? Well, these things, no doubt, are threats to national security, but the reason they're threats might not be what you think. [43:03] So this situation really changed after September 11th 2001; airports were shut down in the short term, border security has increased dramatically in the long run and there has been a rise of a conflict between ideals of national security and what happened in international trade. There's a tension between those who want to make society more “secure” from attack and those who want the flow of goods to continue circulating around the world without interruption. But the importance of trade to economic growth resolves this tension itself. It becomes clear that we can have security and trade at the same time by just confirming the goal of security to the systems that enable this circulation of good. So, to rephrase all this down to one simple statement: the priority of national security has evolved to protecting the circulation of goods. Security means maintaining these flows and enabling them to flow faster, that's why we see policies carried out in the name of security that decrease the time it takes for cargo to clear custom borders, policies at standardize security protocols at ports around the world and policies that in general serve to render political borders irrelevant to the flow of goods at the same time that these borders are being made more difficult for people to cross. National Security is not about protecting people, it's about protecting container boxes and oftentimes at the direct expense of the security of people's rights.
[44:26] Okay, so getting back to that question you asked at the beginning, David, ‘who are the enemies of national security?’ And in this context, under this new paradigm, well, anything that would or could potentially disrupt the movement of goods and thus disrupt economic growth, well, that is the enemy and that encompasses so much, a diversity of scenarios from the natural environment, hurricanes, earthquakes, things like power grid disruptions, infrastructure failures: all of these threaten national security if national security is about protecting the flow of goods. That means terrorist are also enemies of our national security, pirates which will get to, but things that you might not expect, which we would traditionally think of as being protected by our political institutions: things like native populations who have, wait, what am I saying? the native populations have never been protected under our political institution.
[45:21] Come on, Daniel, this is a fact-based show.
[45:24] So people who have claims to land, well, those threaten the flow of goods because we might need to move our goods through their land. Wildlife, that's a threat.
[45:33] Political borders, one of my favorite.
[45:35] Right, because if I have to move a container box of shoes from country A to country B, well, that border is a barrier that's getting in my way and related to that is democracy itself, but we'll get to that in a little bit. And last but not least and certainly not all inclusive are the workers themselves. You see, these people that make up the system, they are perhaps the greatest threat to logistics because they are the ones most intimately connected with it, and they are the labor by which this logistics system moves, and the cost of their labor defines how efficient and how profitable that system can be, which of course is the goal from the very beginning. In an increasingly globalized world vulnerabilities and risks explode out exponentially for any standardized system that's attempting to connect every place and every group to just-in-time production and distribution, and trying to control for those risks means that we need to isolate every component within and around that system and strip it of self-determination. So staying on the topic of workers and how they represent threats to national security, here's a quote from PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consulting company that deliver their opinion on the security of supply chains worldwide.
[46:51] ‘Attacks on supply chains are often looking for a big return on a small investment. Because they're so vital to trade flow logistics hubs like airports or ports offer the ideal target. Possible consequences of disrupting logistics hub, for example, can be seen by taking a look at the port strike in 2002 when 29 ports on the US West Coast were locked out due to a labor strike of 10500 dock workers. The strike had a massive impact on the US economy, approximately 1 billion dollars was lost per day and it took more than 6 months to recover.’
[47:24] So this is a consulting company that's framing a labor dispute that happened in the United States as an “attack” on supply chain.
[47:33] Yeah, and we're going to get into some examples of these labor impacts in just a second, but just a couple months ago we saw a full shutdown of the Brazilian economy because of a strike of truck drivers. And it got to the point where not only just the government but individuals were calling for military direct intervention, basically calling the military in a modern state to attack truck drivers, that this was like a common thing, people were saying, in fact, some people were suggesting a military coup in order to bring trucks back, so they get fuel, so they get supplies. That is like the reality that these labor interruptions can bring out and it almost seems to be an act of war in some people's eyes so much so that they're willing to call on the military to step in and do something about it.
[48:14] That's a great example, David. Why don't we take a step back then and look at a couple examples from American history when it comes to labor and military intervention and how that has evolved over time. So to American titans of industry Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, both had openly violent relationships with their workers.
[48:36] Okay, so Andrew Carnegie, well, we all know the story of him. But he regularly employed this group of people called the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which was at the time quite literally a private army despite the name, and used them to quell strikes at his factories, and this culminated in the most famous event called the Homestead Strike in 1892 in which over 3,000 steel mill workers went on strike for better wages and working conditions. And Carnegie responded by calling in hundreds of private army men with guns to take control of the factory. I’m not going to go into details because it's such an amazing story and if you're interested that you should look it up. But it quite literally, this wasn't like a modern-day strike thing where like the people with guns come in, and they force people to break the lines, and then scabs come in, and they go back to work. No, this was quite literally a battle that happened between the striking union workers and these private military force, the Pinkertons that Carnegie pulled in, they were beating people, people were being killed. I think, Daniel, you told me that at one point that somebody found a cannon?
[49:37] There were thousands of townspeople that rallied around these workers and at one point they actually even set fire to like a train car, rolled it down a hill to try and hit one of the boats that the Pinkerton army was on, it was crazy, crazy battle.
[49:51] The early labor strikes in the United States, the labor battles that went on, that gave us things like the 8-hour work day, the 5-day work week, were quite literally written in the blood of strikers. This is what enabled our modern labor laws that we have today. And the Homestead Strike and then the Ludlow Massacre which we’ll get to in a moment are just a big part of this.
[50:11] Well, real quick too, I just thought it was interesting that this private army that industrialists for purchasing to go around and kill strikers around the country, that company is still in existence. You can actually go on their website, and they have like a timeline of all their great deeds over the years. Interestingly, the Homestead Strike is not on their little timeline but they cut some old-timey pictures of their first owners and stuff, and now I guess they they offer like services to businesses like risk management and stuff, and they talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence, big surprise there.
[50:41] That’s great, but I mean this wasn't like a one-off thing. So after this battle happened, a few years later in 1914 several thousand miners went on strike in coal mines owned by John D. Rockefeller.
[50:53] This is the Ludlow Massacre that you mentioned.
[50:55] Yeah, they were also met with violence brought on by the Colorado National Guard which was a government army, but they were being paid not by the state by Rockefeller himself. And the national guard fired into workers, fired into camps, killing not just miners but the women and children too.
[51:13] It's remarkable to me that the demands of the miners reveal similar arrangements to those slave operations we discussed last week. And as we'll see some of the labor arrangements becoming more and more common in this global logistics network. You see, the miners wanted things like the right to live outside of company-owned towns, which at the time basically had their own laws, and they were guarded by company guards armed with guns. And this has a lot of parallels with the slave operations we see around the world: you're not allowed to leave the mines, you can't leave logging camp or quarry, or factories, or the truck parking lot.
[51:48] Both of these are really huge important labor conversations that are well outside the scope of this show, I encourage you to look into them because they're very interesting pieces of American history that are rarely talked about that established labor laws not just for the US but around the world because of the impact they had. And this wasn't that long ago, the Ludlow Massacre was just a barely over a hundred years ago, this is recent history that defined the modern labor landscape today and is important part of our American history and the worldwide labor struggle.
[52:17] And political and economic power has perhaps always viewed the worker and the workers right as a threat to business, but nowhere is that more clear today now in the context of logistics, because although in the past men like Carnegie and Rockefeller could hire personal armies to control their workers, well, today we have an industry that connects the functions of every single business around the globe. Controlling that require systematic force across the board, not just within the activities of individual companies. And although the government's violent response to the Homestead, Ludlow and other strikes in historical America caused public outcry and sparked the creation of new laws, like you mentioned, David, to protect workers, it has also led to the illusion that the relationship between power and labor has somehow changed. It hasn't at all. It's just simply been outsourced like the Cambodian garment workers we mentioned in the fashion episode who went on strike and were attacked by their police. Or it's hidden in plain sight like those truck drivers. And there are countless and countless similar incidents happening all over the world. [53:21] What we see is that our global economy still depends on violence that forces people to work for far less than they are worth. But this truth that we have outsourced and hidden away, it's coming back to Western nations as this global logistics system we are building requires standardization across the board, and what is being standardized is the separation of worker from citizen and the stripping of rights for the former.
[53:49] No place on Earth has this down more to a science then Dubai. Something like 90% of people who work in Dubai are not citizens, they are foreigners who do not have the same rights that the United Arab Emirates citizens do. In fact, I think it's the law that any worker who so much as talks to a union organizer is immediately deported. But in terms of logistics Dubai recently built something called the Dubai Logistics City, it’s a major logistics hub attracting equally large foreign investment and international shipping and transport companies. To support the hub they built a village, a labor village that houses something like 85,000 beds and this type of infrastructure custom-built solely to serve logistics is the ideal in terms of that security idea we talked about when it comes to logistics: labor is foreign, easily replaceable, isolated, oftentimes stripped of their passport and constantly monitored.
[54:44] And we here in the United States, we look to hubs like the Dubai Logistics City as something to strive towards and systems that we want to replicate in our own ports and logistics networks back home. But how do we do this? We have higher legal and public standards in terms of labor rights, and we can't simply fill our ports with foreigners and threaten them with deportation the moment they talk to a union organizer, or maybe we can, David, maybe I'm getting ahead of ourselves. But it's safe to say at least that there is enough public concern about the things that we do that we have to find more indirect ways to do the same thing other countries do directly.
[55:23] So the question is: how do we apply the sort of thinking to the United States? And one of the ways goes back to framing logistics in terms of security like we discussed, and the important concept there is separating the worker from the citizen and the rights that they have, to tie back both into the rights conversation from last week and also what we see going on in Dubai right now. Workers Are Threats [55:42] So if we go back in history, in the lead up to that Ludlow Massacre one of the demands made by the workers was for the mining companies to just adhere to the law, like very simple. And a similar thing happened in 2002 here in the US: dockworkers all along the west coast went on a safety strike after a number of dock workers were killed due to low safety standards, the workers protected by following all safety protocols. That’s it, they still went to work, but when they got to work, they obeyed speed limits, they worked the legal limits, they did not do anything that would break safety regulations. [56:14] The Pacific Maritime Association responded by locking workers out of the ports. These are people who are just following the law laid out to protect them. This prompted Vice President Dick Cheney to declare the situation a threat to national security. To be clear, he was calling the actions of the workers, who were simply following safety protocols laid down by the United States, a threat to national security. Then President of the U.S. George W. Bush declared that if workers at California’s ports did not do what their employer told them to, they will be subject to criminal charges, and he would deploy the military to their location. And as Deborah Cohen points out in her book this is a perfect example of how modern logistics requires and creates new zones, new special areas where rights and laws are suspended. The precedent that the president establishes is that the laws we have in place to protect workers do not apply to logistics hubs. If workers are not working efficiently, if they disrupt in any way the process of moving goods, companies themselves can create a crisis, in this case by locking workers out and then the government will step in with the military and with the threats that go along with that to force workers back in their place.
[57:25] That's a crazy, crazy thing that happened. But, you know, there is another way that we can replicate those labor abuses all over the world, right here in the United States and that's by simply stripping worker rights from the onset and framing that in terms of security. And this is part of a broader effort to separate economics and politics much like the example of South Africa in our debt episode. If economic growth and security are seen as noble pursuits in their own right, separate from political ideology, then policies that are framed in terms of growth and security are not going to receive the scrutiny they otherwise should. The United States under the TSA created the transportation worker identification credential as an example of a program doing just that. And this is a security clearance that workers must apply for in order to work in certain logistics jobs. There are places in ports that you simply cannot go unless you have this credential. And while this may sound like a perk at first, workers within these special zones are subject to constant surveillance, biometric clearances, they are fenced-off, they are guarded. The normal rights that workers have in the United States are denied, and all of this is in the name of security. And, of course, in the name of security any worker can be denied or stripped of this credential for any reason. And this is a clear attempt to preempt the type of labor organizing that led to that strike on the West Coast. It is effectively the Dubai model in disguise, and in the US and Canada programs like these are being expanded to many jobs within logistics in what will affect millions of workers. Borders Are Threats
[59:02] Let's move past workers here and, I mean, the focus of this show is on individuals and slavery, but really to understand the situations that lead to the enabling of these systems you have to understand this large logistics security model as a whole. And beyond the security threat that workers pose, because again they are a security threat as crazy as that sounds, another obstacle in that process is that a political borders. And when you think about it this actually makes sense, if our top priority is to make sure containers of shoes can get from point A to point B as fast as possible, a border between these two points represents a threat to that speed. Logistics confronts this by supplanting old models and ideas of geopolitics with entirely new ways of thinking about what it means to cross the border and even honestly what a border is.
[59:50] And by just literally creating whole new zones, whole new regions that you won't find on a map of political borders. Here's an example, in 2010 a Chinese company bought control of the P Reyes port in Greece for 35 years at the cost of 5 billion dollars. [1:00:08] And since then China has been buying ports all over Europe: in Spain, Italy and this year they acquired the second largest port in Belgium. And of course the goal here is to expand networks of trade and give China an easier time importing their products and their containers to Europe. But it's also an example of how the expansion of logistics is laying down new zones and political regions that don’t fit the traditional definitions of space, and in this process the line between a citizen and a worker, it’s really blurry. So has the dock workers union in Greece nodded when China took control of P Reyes? China has, ‘imported the Chinese labor model to Greece,’ so the workers who are technically on Greece soil none-the-less are subject to Chinese labor models, union rights have been denied, industry standards and wages and hours don't apply, and at the same time, from the same source, ‘the result is that companies not run by the Chinese are being influenced by what the Chinese are doing and lowering the labor costs and reducing workers rights.’ So as we see, the importance of logistics expand worldwide, we will continue to see that the workers who make this system possible are increasingly at greater health and safety risk. [1:01:26] They are increasingly temporary and categorized as independent contractors with little to no rights, they are constantly surveilled, and they are increasingly segregated along race and class. Democracy And Pirates
[1:01:38] So the ultimate conclusion of all of the security talk is that democracy itself is a threat to security of these logistical systems. The flow of goods require standardized procedures and uninterrupted movement. People along the way that have the power to assert their own self-determination have the potential to disrupt those flows. But, I mean, how do you get around democracy? How do you undermine the self-determination of people and entire nations solely for the quest to deliver container boxes?
[1:02:10] Well, David, we started this show last week with pirates, so are you ready?
[1:02:16] Bad pun aside, this is what I've been going up to, let's do this Daniel.
[1:02:21] We heard a lot, David about Somali pirates a few years ago,¬¬ they were all over the news, and we heard stories and pictures about pirates with AK-47s terrorizing innocent sea vessels.
[1:02:33] They made that movie with Tom Hanks about it.
[1:02:35] And it's always this image of brown people with guns terrorizing innocent white people on cruise ships: this is the type of image that media loves to present.
[1:02:45] Yeah, well, I mean maybe it's because the brown people belong at the bottom of the cruise ship where they serve the white people while making a $1.75 an hour, or maybe I'm being a little too blunt with that.
[1:02:55] Maybe, David, but there's a lot of truth in that. But anyway, the narrative was that the modern world is simply trying to ship goods or do whatever we're trying to do. But this evil primitive Africans keep trying to disrupt us for no reason. And there were even media images of starving Africans and dying children who were dying because these pirates were preventing white do-gooders from delivering food and humanitarian aid to them. So it's very clear, pirates - evil, us - good.
[1:03:26] Well, if we learn anything about pirates last week, it's that the conventional narrative that states and media like to push about them is, well, predominantly fiction and that modern piracy is really no different.
[1:03:40] That's right, David, missing from all these narratives of starving children dying in the desert because pirates prevented us from delivering them food, so missing from these narratives were the European companies that had been illegally fishing off the coast of Somalia for years, devastating the local fisheries there and causing the local population themselves to go hungry, and at the same time large multinational companies that have been dumping unbelievable amounts of toxic waste into Somali waters that not only poison one of the most important ecosystems in the region, but also end up washing up on the shore as well.
[1:04:17] And while we might be ignorant about these crimes that have been occurring for decades, the people of Somalia weren’t. They watched as European boats came to their waters, dump toxic waste and then left with huge hulls of this illegally caught fish, fish they needed to catch to survive. How do you think the people responded? They very naturally started to patrol their own waters to enforce standards the international community was intentionally ignoring, many of these “pirates” were actually part of a Somalian Voluntary Coast Guard and continually referred to themselves as that. But this is the point, by calling these people pirates, we by definition separate them from politics, because the pirate is a criminal that exist outside of the international law. They are stateless individuals, and though these people claim to represent the state of Somalia, but here in the West we know that Somalia is a failed state, a place where laws don't apply, where people run rabid, crazy and turn to things like piracy because there is no state to hold them back.
[1:05:13] Yeah, sounds like they could use a little bit of our freedom.
[1:05:16] You're absolutely right about that, Daniel. And so we have been sure to send militaries in, Navies, coast guards, private military forces on the ships and also running their own vessels to get these pirates away from the ships of the many companies who were just trying to continue this logistic process.
[1:05:31] And inherent to calling them pirates is the idea that they don't have a reason for what they're doing, it's very clear, like you said, that they are outside the law, they’re lawless, they don't have a political agenda here, they're just pirates. Because even calling them terrorist would imply that they have some political agenda and that complicates the way countries are allowed under international standards to respond.
[1:05:54] Execute violence to be clear.
[1:05:55] Yes, so instead we just call them pirates and then we bomb the hell out of them and we continue to dump toxic waste and take their fish.
[1:06:02] Yeah, actually since the application of security forces in these waters to keep the international shipping community safe, what do you know? those ships that were doing the illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping that have been pushed off by the threat of this “Somali piracy”, well, they’re back in bigger numbers than ever catching more fish than they ever have, devastating the Somalian economy even more. The piracy, as we like to call it, has worked for the people of Somali, it protected their lands, it protected their sovereign borders and that's what a Volunteer Coast Guard would be doing. And it's what they were doing, but by the mere act of applying a different label, refusing of, ignoring of the sovereignty of these individuals and saying, ‘no this is not a coast guard, this is a pirate force,’ we were able to strip them of their rights. Just like the many slaves around the world, just like these wage slaves in the ports of the United States, that migrant workers building soccer stadiums for the World Cup in Dubai, the systematic stripping of rights around the world even of people in other nations, where we really should have no power to do so, continues and enables these systems, all for the ultimate goal of perpetuating this logistical system that continues to destroy the world on a number of levels both in the rights of individuals as well as the environmental cost of this constant consumerism that drives this logistics network.
[1:07:18] And, so in the same way we have to separate the pursuit of economic growth and the security of logistics from politics, we also separate people from any meaningful consideration. Workers are stripped of rights, the claims of native people have on land are discredited. People asserting their geographical rights are labeled pirates and separated from any political narrative. In the same way a factory is efficient when processes are broken down into isolated, trackable and controllable cogs, logistics aims to turn the whole world into a factory where every single component is made into a lifeless cog that can be tracked, surveilled, isolated from communities or organization, separated from rights and protections and made to serve the great big machine that can never stop, that can only be made to move faster and faster. And what is it all for? For a bunch of container boxes. What Can We Do?
[1:08:16] And so, Daniel, we spent two episodes to get here, but the big question remains: what can we do?
[1:08:24] You know what’s interesting, David? Just today actually I was going somewhere and I happen to have NPR on, and they ran this story: they followed this family walking around the shopping center and it was like, ‘let's see where all these products are made?’ And it was kind of like this curious little thing like, ‘let’s look at a notebook, oh, that was made in Brazil, let’s look at a pencil and a rubber eraser, where did these come from? Oh, all over the world.’ And they took a look at the shopping cart at the end of this little exploration and said ‘oh, about 50% of our products come from somewhere else, 50% or assembled in the United States.’ And it seems to be that the point they were trying to make, they said something like, ‘Trump with his trade war and his terrorist going on right now, he's attempting to keep jobs in factories in the United States, but what he doesn't understand is that we have things called supply chains,’ and then they educated the listener on what a supply chain is and why we can't have things unless they come from other parts of the world and...
[1:09:21] I bet it started something like this, ‘so first you have a slave in one country…’ or maybe not.
[1:09:37] Nah, they didn’t include that part. Their whole point was, ‘look, this is how the world functions.’ And look, maybe it’s true, that’s how the world functions right now, but it doesn’t mean it has to or that it should. The very first commercial shipping container to cross the ocean did so in 1966. That's not that long ago, it's not like the world has always been organized in terms of global supply chains. This is the world we are creating, we have a choice to go a different way, to say, ‘look, we don't need this sprawling global system that isolates and segments and enslaves people just so that we can have a product or a shirt every single day at our fingertips anytime we want it.’ [1:10:13] We don't have to have that and, in fact, as much as we center national security around this circulation of goods, this ultimately harms us and makes us more insecure. The more we rely, wherever we are, the more we rely on supply chains that are interdependent across sprawling locations, we will always be insecure. And that's in fact why this emphasis on securing goods has taken centerstage for national security, because we are so vulnerable, when the only food we eat comes from halfway across the world: that is insecurity, that is what puts us at risk and that is what creates slavery. So again, that can we do? Well, I mean, as part of this continuing conversation we have on this show which is we must scale back, we must rely more on the communities around us, we must get our food, we must get our resources from places that we can see, the places that actually matter to us. The more we outsource everything abroad, the more we outsource these supply chains, the more destruction we are leveling against the world. And that ultimately will always come back home.
[1:11:20] And like we've mentioned in several of these shows, much of the power to stop these systems, to fix these systems and the abuses that these systems enable rest in the hands of those who make up the systems themselves. In the world of logistics these are the truckers of the world, these are the dock workers: these are the employees that work to enable these global logistical systems. They move our world, they move those container boxes from point A to point B, disperse widgets from factories across the globe to your doorstep, and they are threats to the national security of every nation on Earth. That is how states see them: as a global security threat. And if they realize that power that has already been labeled and given to them by the various states of the world and make use of that to make the world a better place, well, then we'll all be living in a better world because of them. In simple words of JoAnn Wypijewski speaking at the 2010 dock workers conference in Charleston, South Carolina, ‘the people who move the world can also stop it.’
[1:12:42] As always, David, that is a lot to think about.
[1:12:46] You can learn more about all these topics, read about these poor truck drivers, dockworkers, the Ludlow strike and much more as well as a full transcript of this episode on our website at ashesashes.org.
[1:12:59] And do check out that Deborah Cowen’s book “The Deadly Life of Logistics”, it's really great. A lot of time and research goes into making these episodes possible, and we will never use ads to support this show. So, if you appreciate this show and would like us to keep going, you, our listening can support us by recommending us to a friend or giving us a review. Also, we have an email address it's contact at ashesashes.org. And we encourage you to send us your thoughts, positive or negative, we’ll read them and we appreciate it.
[1:13:31] You can also find us on your favorite social media network at ashesashescast. Next week we turn away from the world of labor and instead look back at the environment and the world around us. But until then, this is Ashes Ashes.