Ocean Cargo: ILWU takes a holiday

By Patrick Burnson · July 6, 2011

U.S. West Coast seaports honored Independence Day by shutting down operations on Monday, July 4. As well they should. It may come as a surprise to many, that the ports were closed on July 5th as well. That’s because for the past several decades the International Longshore and Warehouse Union – which controls all dockside operations – insists that its union struggles in 1934 be commemorated by honoring “Bloody Thursday” on the 5th (even if it’s not a Thursday). Three rioting longshoremen were killed during that shameful episode, and there’s no argument that it was a black day for San Francisco shipping.

But closing down all ports on the U.S. Pacific Rim for two days in a row sends another signal to beneficial cargo owners who have other shipping and sourcing alternatives. Witness the startling growth in cargo throughput at Canada’s Port Prince Rupert. Or look at the shift in some vessel deployments away from the transpacific altogether. The Asia-EU trade is trending upward, with East Coast and Gulf ports reaping the benefits of vessel first calls.

The labor situation is far more forgiving at those ocean cargo load centers, one might add, with no “Blood Thursdays” or any other “virtual” Thursday being taken as an extended holiday.  Readers will also note that other ad hoc work stoppages at U.S. West Coast ports have occurred recently to honor the unrelated deaths of Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez.

So as we wait to see what other martyrs may be used as an excuse for holding a parking lot barbeque, we may well reflect upon the fact that shippers don’t share the same sentiment. For them, the issue is, and will always, be finding the most efficient and cost-effective solution for distribution of goods and services.

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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