Friday, 10 June 2011

The contained and purposeful energy of the maritime proletariat

What one sees in the harbor is the concrete movement of goods. […] If the stock market is the site in which the abstract character of money rules, the harbor is the site in which material goods appear in bulk, in the very flux of exchange. […] But the more regularized, literally containerized, the movement of goods in harbors, that is, the more rationalised and automated, the more the harbor comes to resemble the stock market.
From Allan Sekula's essay 'Red Passenger' available from

Excerpts from The Death Ship by B. Traven

It was that same sea on which thousands and thousands of decent and honest ships were sailing at this very time. And I, of all sane persons on earth and on sea. I had to ship on this can that was suffering from leprosy. A bucket that was sailing for no other reason but that the sea might have pity on her. Somehow, I felt that the sea would not take this tub, which had all the diseases know under heaven, for the simple reason that the sea did not wish to be infected with leprosy and pus. Not yet at least. She, the sea, still waited for the day when the Yorikke would have to be in some port far out of the way and when this old maid, for some reason or other, would then burst or explode or fall apart and so save the sea from being used as cemetery for this pest of the oceans. p.136

A merry life. Hundreds of Yorikkes, hundreds of death ships are sailing the seven seas. All nations have their death ships. Proud companies with fine names and beautiful flags are not ashamed to sail death ships. There have never been so many of them since the war for liberty and democracy that gave the world passports and immigration restrictions, and that manufactured men without nationalities and without papers by the ten thousand.

Sailors, on the other hand, are slaves that are not brought and that cannot be sold. Nobody is interested in their well-being, because if one of them falls overboard, or dies in the dung, no one loses any money on him. Besides there are thousands eagerly waiting to take the place of him who is thrown into the ditch along the road to the progress and prosperity of the shipping business.

Sailors are certainly not slaves. They are free citizens, and if they have established residences, they are even entitled to vote for the election of a new sheriff; yes, sir. Sailors are free labourers, they are free, starved, jobless, tired, all of their limbs broken, their ribs smashed, their feet and arms and backs burned. Since they are not slaves, they are forced to take any job on any ship, even if they know beforehand that the bucket has been ordered down to the bottom to get the insurance money for the owners. There are still ships sailing the seven seas under the flags of civilized nations on which sailors may be whipped and lashed mercilessly if they refuse to ship double watches and half of the third watch thrown in.

We, the gladiators of today, we must perish in dirt and filth. We are too tired even to wash our faces. We starve because we fall asleep at the table with a rotten meal before us. We are always hungry because the shipping company cannot compete with the freight rates of other companies if the sailors get food fit for human beings. The ship must go to the ground port, because the company would be bankrupt if the insurance money would not save her. We do not die in shining armour, we gladiators of today. We die in rags, without mattresses or blankets. We die worse than pigs in Chic. We die in silence, in the stokehold. We see the sea breaking in through the cracked hull. We can no longer go up and out. We are caught. The steam hisses upon us out of cracked pipes. Furnace doors have opened and the live coal is on us, scorching what is still left of us. We hope and pray that the boiler will explode to make it short and sure. 'Oh, down there, those men,' says the stateroom passenger who is allowed to look through a hole, 'those filthy sweating devils, oh, never mind, they do not feel it, they are accustomed to the heat and to such things as a ship going down; it's their business. Let's have another cock well iced'.

Of course, we are used to all that may happen. We are the black gang. If you are hungry and you need a job, take it. It's yours. Others are waiting to take it for less.

We go to hell without martial music and without the prayers of the Episcopalian. We die without the smiles of beautiful ladies, without holding their perfumed handkerchiefs in our hands. We die without the cheering of the excited crowd. We die in deep silence, in utter darkness, and in rags. We die in rags for you, O Caesar Augustus! Hail to you, Imperator Capitalism! We have no names, we have no souls, we have no country, we have no nationality. We are nobody, we are nothing.

Next Full Unemployment Cinema event is:
Awash With Work: a working on water special

June 26th

by Marco Santarelli, 2009
(fwith other shorts and excerpts TBA)

>>> Check the website closer to the time for details >>>

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