Getting the Goods

Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor, and the Logistics Revolution

Edna Bonacich
Jake B. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7v8p3
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  • Book Info
    Getting the Goods
    Book Description:

    In Getting the Goods, Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson focus on the Southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach-which together receive 40 percent of the nearly $2 trillion worth of goods imported annually to the United States-to examine the impact of the logistics revolution on workers in transportation and distribution. Built around the invention of shipping containers and communications technology, the logistics revolution has enabled giant retailers like Walmart and Target to sell cheap consumer products made using low-wage labor in developing countries. The goods are shipped through an efficient, low-cost, intermodal freight system, in which containers are moved from factories in Asia to distribution centers across the United States without ever being opened.

    Bonacich and Wilson follow the flow of imports from Asian factories, exploring the roles of importers, container shipping companies, the ports, railroad and trucking companies, and warehouses. At each stage, Getting the Goods raises important questions about how the logistics revolution affects logistics workers. Drawing extensively on interviews with workers and managers at all levels of the supply chain, on industry reports, and on economic data, Bonacich and Wilson find that, in general, conditions have deteriorated for workers. But they also discover that changes in the system of production and distribution provide new strategic opportunities for labor to gain power. A much-needed corrective to both uncritical celebrations of containerization and the global economy and pessimistic predictions about the future of the U.S. labor movement, Getting the Goods will become required reading for scholars and students in sociology, political economy, and labor studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5976-4
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. Part I: The Logistics Revolution and Its Consequences

    • CHAPTER 1 The Logistics Revolution
      (pp. 3-22)

      A quiet change has been occurring in the way consumer goods are being produced and delivered. It has not received much public attention, but it has had a sizeable impact on society and the way it is organized. We call this change the logistics revolution.

      A military term, logistics refers to a system that continually supplies an army in the field with both the means of living and the means of effectively waging war. Keeping an army adequately supplied, especially during the chaos of a distant war, is a huge and complex undertaking, as one can imagine. The concept of...

    • CHAPTER 2 Importers
      (pp. 23-42)

      In the trade and transportation industry, importers and exporters are called shippers. Confusingly, the owners of ships are not called shippers but carriers. Shippers are the companies that own the cargo that needs to be moved or shipped, while carriers are transportation providers, including the steamship lines, railroads, and trucking companies that the shippers employ to move the cargo. Shippers sit at the top of the system of production and transportation of imports, serving as the instigators of the import trade and ultimately footing the bill for it. They employ carriers to do the actual work of shipping, but they...

  7. Part II: Moving the Freight

    • CHAPTER 3 Containerization, Intermodalism, and the Rise of Los Angeles and Long Beach
      (pp. 45-69)

      In Southern California, two gigantic ports lie adjacent to each other near the San Pedro Bay. Physically, they appear to be a single entity, and it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but they operate as separate jurisdictions under two different city governments. The port of Los Angeles (POLA) is run by the much bigger city of Los Angeles, while the port of Long Beach (POLB) is run by the coastal city of Long Beach. The two ports both cooperate and compete with each other, but together they serve as a major gateway for imported...

    • CHAPTER 4 Steamship Lines
      (pp. 70-95)

      Containers are carried across the oceans by steamship lines. These companies are central to the movement of freight in the global economy. Not only do they ply the oceans, but they also play a major role in overseeing the delivery of the containers to their destinations on land. They are an important part of the connective tissue that holds the global economy together. The steamship lines are among the first truly global companies.

      As is true for most of the topics covered in this book, there is a tremendous amount to know about the steamship lines. Entire journals are devoted...

    • CHAPTER 5 Landside Transportation
      (pp. 96-122)

      Once it has landed at the ports of LA/LB, where does the cargo go and how does it get there? Who takes charge of these freight movements and how are they coordinated? In other words, how does intermodalism actually work? In this chapter we try to answer these questions. Two major modes of landside transportation are involved, namely, rail and trucking. Important to this story is the process of deregulation and its impact on these modes. The issue of control is another important question—which actors in the complex importing and transportation industry are in charge of freight movement? Apart...

    • CHAPTER 6 Warehouses and Distribution Centers
      (pp. 123-156)

      Warehousing is a central supply chain function.¹ Goods must be unpacked, sorted, stored, repacked, and sent out to their correct destinations. Sometimes warehousing involves more than these basic functions. It can entail value-added processes, such as simple assembly, checking for errors and correcting them, and making the goods store-ready. Warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) serve as nodes in the supply chain where the state of inventory is assessed and from which replenishment orders are placed. They are vital to the entire process of moving the goods.

      The logistics revolution has changed the character of warehousing. In the old days of...

  8. Part III: Labor

    • CHAPTER 7 Maritime Workers
      (pp. 159-198)

      The logistics revolution, without a doubt, has made business enterprises more efficient. Inventory has been cut, transportation costs have declined, and the prices of manufactured consumer goods have been slashed. The delivery of goods to retail stores has been streamlined so that even though the number of specific products (SKUs) has climbed enormously, the right goods find their way to the right stores at the right time far more frequently. Both stockouts of high-demand products and excess inventory that can only be sold by fierce promotions have diminished. No question: the logistics revolution is good for business!

      But is it...

    • CHAPTER 8 Landside Workers
      (pp. 199-224)

      Moving inland from the waterfront, we can ask: How have railroad workers and port truckers been affected by the logistics revolution? Have they too experienced increased contingency, racialization, weakened unions, and deteriorating wages and working conditions? If so, how have the workers and unions responded?

      The centrality of rail transportation to the nation’s economy, especially in the early years of the country’s economic development, helps to explain the considerable militancy among early railroad workers, and it has also shaped the legal regime under which they labor. Unions emerged in the railroad industry shortly after the Civil War. The workers formed...

    • CHAPTER 9 Warehouse and Distribution Center Workers
      (pp. 225-240)

      Our final group of logistics workers is employed in warehouses and distribution centers. What has happened to them as a result of the logistics revolution?

      One set of warehouse workers was connected with the waterfront. These workers handled the cargo that was brought on and off the ships. Out of the 1934 maritime strike and the formation of the ILWU came efforts to organize. In August 1934 the Weighers, Warehousemen’s, and Cereal Workers Union Local 38–44 in San Francisco became active as part of the ILA and started an organizing drive, which was supported by the longshoremen. It later...

  9. Conclusion: Winners and Losers
    (pp. 241-252)

    The logistics revolution has, without question, brought increased efficiency to the production and distribution of goods. Products are made that are more likely to suit the precise demands of consumers. They are delivered with greater speed and accuracy and at lower cost. It can be argued that these changes have created a win-win situation for everyone. Corporations have cut costs, enabling them to be more competitive and (presumably) to improve their profitability. Consumers are able to buy the goods they want when they want them and, often, for a lower price. The clear benefits are demonstrated by the success and...

  10. Interviews
    (pp. 253-256)
  11. References
    (pp. 257-266)
  12. Index
    (pp. 267-274)