Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter
Our previous collective research project, Transit Labour (2009-2012), investigated circuits of labour and logistical operations in Shanghai, Kolkata and Sydney. Transit Labour traced the informality of e-waste industries and the political economy of standards in printed circuit board manufacturing in China. An extensive period of field work, site visits and archival research made clear how the rise of ‘New Towns’ supporting the IT sector in Kolkata was made possible by land zoning policies that resulted in the seizure of land from peasants, which we understood as a process of primitive accumulation. In Sydney our research focused on labour in regimes of governance related to shipping container loading and unloading times, transport routes, warehousing and inter-modal terminals. We saw how these primary components of a logistical city present a model of space, time, labour and economy whose dynamics register in ways distinct from the global city of finance capital and the industrial city of factories. Peripheries become primary spaces of coordination and control. Global infrastructural and software standards stitch spaces, labour and operational procedures together across diverse geographical scales and modalities of time.
Anything new carries an aura of a promise and consequently an expectation. The not yet operational New Ikonion – Thriassion rail line does exactly that, as it unfolds from its origin in the heavily guarded Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT) facilities to the under construction Thriassion Freight and Intermodal Center. Scenarios about Cosco’s expansion that may generate employment in the area are futuristic and speculative. Unsubstantiated hopes have risen high amongst residents populating the areas that the rail crosses, expecting benefits for their communities, which will come, depending on their location, either from the development of Piraeus harbor and the PCT terminal, from Cosco or from the rail line itself.
A baby sardine
Saw his first submarine
And cried as he looked through the peephole
‘Oh come, come, come’, said the sardine’s mum
It’s only a tin full of people
Spike Milligan, 1968.
The container is simultaneously both one of the most concrete examples of the economic logic that enables global capitalism to function and one of the most potent metaphors for the social life of the population whose choices are shaped by this economic logic.
Labour struggles in the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) are dominated by tactics of controlling the limit between normal hours and overtime as well as occupying and bringing the port to a standstill. The division of labour along gender lines is a direct product of the composition of labour subjectivities that emerged in the docks in the long hours of paid overtime and striking. It may seem that dock work is stereotypically normalised as masculine only because in the past it required strong hands, but most of all it is the ability to work without having family or domestic care responsibilities that determine the gendered division of labour in the Port.