From Portland to Long Beach on Monday, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who had been kicked out of encampments at parks and city centers picketed shipping companies instead, and tried unsuccessfully to shut down port traffic. That makes a certain kind of sense for a group that's as incensed about corporate misdeeds as it is by failures in government policy, but we're still not sure it's aiming at the right targets.
In some ways, going after shipping companies is a brilliant next step. At the Port of Long Beach, protesters picketed SSA Marine, a giant port operator partially owned by Goldman Sachs; at the Port of Hueneme, about 150 protesters targeted Del Monte Foods, which is owned by the leveraged buyout firm KKR. These shippers hit about half a dozen hot buttons common to Occupy protesters: They're owned by big financial companies that contributed to the global economic meltdown, they're a stand-in for all the woes brought by globalization, and they tend to have questionable environmental records (SSA is involved in plans to build a highly controversial coal-shipping terminal in Washington state) as well as labor practices. By hiring nonunion, independent contractors as truckers, SSA Marine has raised the ire of the Teamsters and other local activists.
Yet at the same time, these companies make terrible scapegoats for our country's economic ills. Although Goldman Sachs is assuredly guilty of past malfeasance, to target the companies it has financed is both unfair and strategically clueless. SSA Marine isn't responsible for Goldman's shenanigans involving mortgage-backed securities. Further, financing provided by the likes of Goldman keep businesses alive and the economy flowing; without it, joblessness would be worse than it is. Moreover, blocking projects meant to transport fossil fuels will do little or nothing to end their use; the only sensible way to solve our climate and pollution problems is to change government emissions policies. And by injecting itself into the port trucking issue, Occupy is stepping into a legal and political morass.
Photos: Occupy protesters converge on Port of Long Beach
The shipping industry didn't get America into this economic mess, and there is little it could do to get us out. In times of rising joblessness, it's common to blame foreign competition for the losses at home. But blaming ports or shippers for the changes wrought by an increasingly global economy is sort of like fingering automakers for urban traffic congestion. In its search for a new direction, Occupy Wall Street would probably do better to occupy the National Mall than San Pedro.