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Jul 22, 15

Violence in Capitalism’s Ocean-Based Logistics

From Jnana Yuddha

Radical leftists have been talking more about the logistics of global capitalism–supply chains, energy flows, shipping lanes–their role in political economy, and implications for revolutionary struggle. For example, Endnotes published this piece titled “Logistics, Counterlogistics, and the Communist Prospect” in 2013; and Viewpoint Magazine published three pieces on the relationship between the State and logistics infrastructure in Issue 4, released in late 2014. Mass struggle also seems to have become prescient of logistics (and its vulnerable nature), with blockades being a key feature of anti-racist protests and riots in the United States, and rebellious indigenous groups steadily escalating their attacks on energy and resource extraction infrastructure.

The role of oceans, however, seems to be somewhat absent in practice. This is notwithstanding the key role that port worker unions have been playing worldwide; what I have in mind is the nature of the actual shipping lanes, between the ports. This might be changing: Empire Logistics published an article a few days by a woman who traveled across the Pacific on a massive container ship. The New York Times has also apparently been investigating into the “lawless” nature of the oceans, and is in the middle of an extensive, in-depth four-part series on crime, violence, and disorder on the high seas, which carry 90% of global trade. Here is part one. A section near the beginning that stood out (emphasis added):

Murders regularly occur offshore — thousands of seafarers, fishermen or sea migrants die under suspicious circumstances annually, maritime officials say — but culprits are rarely held accountable. No one is required to report violent crimes committed in international waters.

Through debt or coercion, tens of thousands of workers, many of them children, are enslaved on boats every year, with only occasional interventions. On average, a large ship sinks every four days and between 2,000 and 6,000 seamen die annually, typically because of avoidable accidents linked to lax safety practices.

Ships intentionally dump more engine oil and sludge into the oceans in the span of three years than that spilled in the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez accidents combined, ocean researchers say, and emit huge amounts of certain air pollutants, far more than all the world’s cars. Commercial fishing, much of it illegal, has so efficiently plundered marine stocks that the world’s population of predatory fish has declined by two thirds.

It is worth pondering how much current econometric models on the benefits of free trade and globalized economies would change if they accounted for the social and ecological costs of shipping.

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