How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck Drivers
Photo Credit: Michael @ NW Lens via Flickr
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It's the time of year when lights are strung, trees are decorated, and holiday cheer is spread. It's also the time of year when people pepper-spray fellow shoppers and camp out in front of box stores, and retail clerks risk death by stampede. Savvy shoppers prowl the malls for the best deals, the cheapest bargains, looking to see if they can find the lowest of low prices.
Astute consumers may know that the rock bottom we see advertised on endless TV and internet commercials are often the result of companies manufacturing their goods overseas, using sweatshop labor where poorly paid workers often toil in dangerous and unhealthy conditions so that we can enjoy the latest electronics, the coolest pair of jeans.
But what many people may not know is that these sweatshop conditions don't end when those goods hit American soil. Between the dock where the cargo is unloaded and the shelf from which you pluck your treasure, there are several critical lynchpins. One of them is port truck drivers. These drivers (around 110,000 of them in the United States) are responsible for moving approximately 20 million containers a year from the ports to railway yards and warehouses. Drivers operating large trucks are expected to safely haul loads up to 80,000 pounds. It's a job for professionals, only these professionals are earning poverty wages, sometimes even less than you'd make flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant. Once a middle-class profession, the port trucking (or drayage) industry has now been dubbed "sweatshops on wheels."
Drivers, along with clergy and their union, environmental and community allies have been fighting for years for better working conditions and wages, but their plight has recently caught the attention of the Occupy movement. On Nov. 2, during a day billed as a general strike, tens of thousands of people swarmed the Port of Oakland, temporarily stopping work during the evening. Now, Occupiers are calling for a shutdown on Dec. 12 at all West Coast ports.
Occupy organizer Kari Koch in Portland says that their action is aimed at disrupting business as usual for "Wall Street on the waterfront." In particular, they are targeting EGT (Export Grain Terminal) and Goldman Sachs. EGT is part of a multinational conglomerate, and the company is engaged a labor struggle with the International Warehouse and Longshore Union in Longview, Wash., and Goldman Sachs, much maligned for its shady business dealings, which were part of the economic collapse, owns half of SSA Marine, which operates four terminals at the Port of Long Beach and also owns the trucking company Shippers Transport Express (more on them below).
"We will be creating a community picket in front of the port, and we expect to have a work stoppage, and we expect the workers to not cross the picket line," said Koch. "We are disrupting it for one day, but it is also a symbolic action to show that the workers are actually the ones with the power in this country." Actions are planned at major West Coast ports such as Oakland, Portland, Long Beach, San Diego, Seattle, and others, but solidarity actions are springing up as well in Albuquerque, Denver, Houston, Salt Lake City, and even in Japan, where Doro Chiba railway workers plan to strike at a trading partner of EGT.
If work is shut down at the ports, "It's one more day that Goldman Sachs and Wall Street firms are unable to create profit," said Koch. And as the website for the action says, "U.S. ports have thus become economic engines for the elite; the 1 percent these trade hubs serve are free to rip the shirts off the backs of the 99 percent, who turn their profits."