This class began on October 11, 2012 as a series of workshop modules that met to read and discuss a series of 5 readers (themed around the class composition and struggles of the various work sectors along supply chains). Participants expanded the project with supplementary readings and further research that has continued biweekly ever since. Extracurricluar sessions have included film screenings, presentations of the project to likeminded radicals in Europe (Briston, London, Paris, Prague and Berlin) in the summer of 2013, tours of supply chain infrastructure (railyards, warehouse clusters, ports, etc.), even a field trip to the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex for a guided tour by a longshore worker in ILWU Local 13 in August 2014, and helping co-organize a series of rail safety conferences with Railroad Workers United. We've created a working group within a network of those following supply chain -- especially production and distribution -- worker struggles on the ground in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, Hong Kong, and China. This study group has spun off a larger collective around international class struggle down commodity chains that continues beyond these workshops.
The group has morphed into Global Supply Chains Study/Research Group; below is the original course of study when the group began in 2012:
Challenges to Capital and Changing Class Composition
• Read chapter “California Labor: Total Engagement,” in California: The Great Exception (1949) by Carey McWilliams about near-general strikes on the San Francisco waterfront in 1886, 1893, 1901, and 1916 (setting the stage for the waterfront general strike in 1934), pp. 127 – 149
• Read excerpts from Men and Machines: A Story about Longshoring on the West Coast Waterfront (1963) jointly produced by ILWU and PMA to announce the Mechanization and Modernization Agreement of 1960.
• Read “Effects of Automation in the Lives of Longshoremen,” in Singlejack Solidarity (1983) by Stan Weir, pp. 91 – 106
Neoliberalism and the Rise of Cargo Containers
• Read chapter titled "The Rise and Limits of Lean Production," in Workers in a Lean World (1997) by Kim Moody for background on Toyota-ism and the use of networks of subcontractors in manufacturing, pp. 85-113
• Read excerpts from A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005) by David Harvey for political, economic and ideological changes that wrought neoliberal globalization
• Read excerpts from The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (2006) by Marc Levinson
• Watch The Box that Changed Britain (2010), 58-minute documentary history of intermodal cargo containers and changes in transport industry
Global Supply Chains the Logistics Revolution
• Read “Logistics – The Factory Without Walls” (2006) in Mute Magazine, by Brian Ashton (http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/factory-without-walls; see also http://www.labournet.net/docks2/0703/logistics1.htm)
• Read excerpts from Wal-Mart: The Face of 21st Century Capitalism (2006) edited by Nelson Lichtenstein
• Read “Pulling the Plug: Labor and the Global Supply Chain” (2007) in New Labor Forum by Edna Bonacich
• Review maps and charts in “The Cargo Chain: Workers Who Make Our Economy” (2008), produced by a collaboration of The Center for Urban Pedagogy, Labor Notes, and The Longshore Workers’ Coalition (http://welcometocup.org/cargochain.pdf)
• Watch Is Wal-Mart Good for America? on PBS’ Frontline (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/walmart/view/)
Internationalist Class Struggle Across Borders and Oceans
• Read “On the Front Lines of the World Class Struggle: The Cargo Chain” (March, 2010), CounterPunch by JoAnn Wypijewski (http://lwcjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/counterpunch-on-cargo-chain-march-2010.pdf)
• Read “Offshoring US Transportation Jobs to Mexico – The Looming Deadline” in Monthly Review, (2006) Volume 57, Issue 09 (February) by Richard Vogel (http://combatingglobalization.com/articles/Offshoring_US_Transportation_Jobs_to_Mexico-The_Looming_Deadline.html)
• Read “North American Free Trade Zones (FTZs): Undermining US and Canadian Transportation Workers” from a LaborFest presentation on July 19, 2009 at ILWU Local 6 Hall in San Francisco by Richard Vogel (http://combatingglobalization.com/articles/north_american_free_trade_zones.html)
• Read “Logistics and Opposition” (August 2011) in Mute Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 2 by Alberto Toscano (http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/logistics-and-opposition)
• Read “Supply Chains in Capitalism Today: From Foxconn to Wal-Mart – From Longview to FamilyMart” (2012: work-in-progress) by Will Barnes and Gifford Hartman
• Read “Eight Days in May” (2004) Daniel Borgström's account of the 8-day wildcat action at the Port of Oakland's APL gate in 2004 (http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2004/05/for-8-days-in-may-truckers-closed-port.html)
• Watch Race to the Bottom (2008) 20-minute documentary about troqueros working the Port of Oakland
Web of Food Supply Chains
BREAD RIOTS Along Global Supply Chains: From Cairo to Longview
The world’s most bountiful wheat harvest ever was in 2008 yet bread riots broke out in 33 countries, adding in that year another 250 million to those without enough to eat everyday — pushing the world’s “food insecure” to over 1 billion. Food as a percentage of total household consumption costs has reached 73% in Nigeria, 63% in Nigeria and 61% in the Ukraine. Bread riots in Egypt were preceded by the April 6, 2008 general strike of textile workers, who demanded higher wages to cope with wheat prices that had risen 130% (rice also went up 74%). Egypt is the world’s leading wheat importer; the U.S. is the world’s top wheat exporter. The Goldman Sachs Commodity Index of 18 foodstuffs was created in 1991 to allow speculators to invest in financialized futures on ingredients like hard red spring wheat, the world’s most popular high-protein ingredient in bread. After the 2008 food bubble collapsed, 200 million bushels of wheat were sold for animal feed while hundreds of millions went hungry. As Asian countries become more affluent, they eat less rice and more meat and bread. EGT Corporation in Longview, Washington has built a rapid just-in-time grain delivery system to allow speculators to move wheat, corn and other grains for food and animal feed down global supply chains to growing markets in Asia. Japan is the world’s #1 corn importer; the U.S. is the #1 exporter. EGT is doing what Wal-Mart does, but in reverse. Multinational food giants like EGT monopolize commodities from the farms of North America to food consumers across the planet. This multimedia presentation of recent struggles will be followed by an open discussion of ways we can contribute to the decommodification of not only food, but our lives and society as well.
• Read "The Food Bubble: How Wall Street starved millions and got away with it" by Frederick Kaufman (http://frederickkaufman.typepad.com/files/the-food-bubble-pdf.pdf)
• Read "It's the Baladi, Stupid" by Wendell Steavenson (http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/wendell-steavenson-egypt-cairo/)
• Further readings to-be-decided
• Watch Revolution Through Arab Eyes: The Factory (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/revolutionthrougharabeyes/2012/01/201213013135991429.html)
All of this is tentative. This would be done on a seminar model where participants could alter, add, delete, or modify any of the materials and topics as needed. Another proposed activity is physically following the supply chains to-and-from the ports, while ideally interviewing as many supply chain workers as possible.