Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

The Giant Container Ship Stuck in the Suez Canal is a Metaphor for Capitalism in Crisis

With the giant container ship MV Ever Given blocking the passage of ships through the Suez Canal, capitalists around the world are scrambling to figure out how to deal with yet another blow to their global supply chains that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Cooper

March 27, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
The photo shows a small bulldozer moving earth as it tries to free a huge container ship grounded in the Suez Canal.

You’ve likely seen the memes: what appears as a tiny bulldozer at water’s edge, moving the earth in an effort to dislodge a giant container ship. It has come to represent everything from taking a daily walk in a coronavirus-riddled world to the effort required in the struggle to complete a PhD dissertation.

But for global capitalism, there’s no joke.

One of the world’s largest container ships, the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen) has lodged itself sideways in the narrow waterway of Egypt’s Suez Canal after running aground when a gust of wind blew it off course on Tuesday, March 23. The ship is longer than four football fields, almost as long as New York City’s Empire State Building is tall. The nearly quarter-of-a-mile-long, 247,000-ton ship is blocking the southern entrance to the canal from the Red Sea, bringing marine traffic to a standstill along one of the busiest trade routes on the planet.

As dredgers, heavy earth-moving equipment, and tugboats work around the clock to free the ship, salvage experts are warning that it could be weeks before traffic can resume again. That is likely the truth, despite the Egyptian president’s advisor on seaports — who also happens to be the former chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) — telling Agence France Presse on Thursday that navigation through the canal “will resume again within 48–72 hours, maximum.”

At this writing, the ship hasn’t budged. The SCA said on Thursday that “about 19,600–26,000 cubic yards of sand had to be moved, reaching a depth of 40 to 50 feet along the canal’s bank, to dislodge the ship.” 

The SCA’s pronouncements seem to be little more than wishful thinking. On Wednesday, the agency allowed 13 ships to enter the canal’s northern end from the Mediterranean Sea, but they made it only as far as a mid-canal lake where they have just been “idling.”

What looms for global capitalism is to be forced to reroute cargo ships around the southern tip of Africa, which would be a devastating blow to global supply networks that have already taken a huge hit from Covid-19. Going through the Suez Canal saves nearly nine days of travel from Singapore to Rotterdam, for example, shaving off some 6,000 kilometers of travel. By contrast, a trip through the canal takes about six hours.

Beyond the obvious costs, the environmental impact is significant. The canal route cuts carbon dioxide emissions by nearly half.

Nearly a third of the world’s shipping container freight on any given day passes through the Suez Canal, which is about 12 percent of the total goods traded globally by volume, according to Reuters. The shutdown has an acute effect on Egypt, which counts on canal traffic for much of its hard currency — some $5.6 billion in 2020, even with the generalized slowdown of global trade due to Covid-19.

The blockage of the Suez Canal — which is holding up about $9.6 billion in goods every day and costing an estimated $400 million per hour — is exacerbating the crisis of capitalism. It has caused crude oil prices to jump — more than 10 percent of the world’s crude oil passes through the canal — and is expected to force major price increases on just about everything that typically makes its way between Asia and Europe, regardless of the direction the goods are headed.

This could not have come at a worse time for the capitalists. As the Financial Times explains, the accident “has drawn attention to the inherent fragility of tightly stretched global supply chains at the very moment when they are already being buffeted by a pandemic and in an era when the philosophical underpinnings of global trade are being challenged. The strains created by Covid-19 … have exposed problems in the global trading system. Those difficulties could plausibly push governments and businesses alike to rethink a just-in-time supply-chain model that has arguably wrung efficiencies from the system at the cost of resilience.”

The pandemic, the article continues, “was already exposing vulnerabilities in global supply chains. Container shipping rates have more than tripled as companies that control shipping lines took out capacity in expectation of falling demand. Now it costs about $4,000 to ship a 40-ft container between east Asia and the U.S. west coast, up from $1,500 at the start of 2020.”

That’s extra money the capitalists do not want to be spending — even with goods moving. To expend such resources so ships can sit idly in the Suez Canal does nothing to help expand the field of profit-making and exploitation global capitalism desperately needs to sustain itself. But, as one supply chain consultant put it, such situations seem unavoidable: “The industry’s supply chain is several miles long, but only an eighth of an inch deep.”

Stuck in the muck, desperately trying to dig out of a crisis — it’s a metaphor for capitalism, especially since the start of the Great Recession in 2008. When the ship will be freed is anyone’s guess. The one thing we can be certain of is that whatever that costs the capitalists, they will find a way for you and me to pay the price.

Facebook Twitter Share

Scott Cooper

Scott is a writer, editor, and longtime socialist activist who lives in the Boston area.

Middle East-Africa

Israel Begins Horrific Ground Invasion of Rafah, Reminding Everyone that Ethnic Cleansing was Always the Point

On Tuesday, Israel began its ground assault on Rafah, where over 1.5 million Gazans are sheltering after being displaced from their homes. The United States is continuing to enable Israel’s violence. The movement for Palestine still has the power to resist.

Sou Mi

May 8, 2024

U.S. Imperialism Is Pushing Tensions in the Middle East to a Boiling Point

U.S. Imperialism's support for Israel is driving the tensions behind Iran's attack and the escalations in the Middle East. It is all the more urgent for the working class to unite with the movement for Palestine against imperialism and chart a way out of the crisis in the region.

Samuel Karlin

April 15, 2024
Destruction in Gaza following Israeli invasion.

From Cease-Fire to Liberation

With over 30,000 dead and much of Gaza turned into rubble, a ceasefire is insufficient, even more so if it does not include an immediate and permanent withdrawal of all Israeli troops and an end to the siege on Gaza.

James Dennis Hoff

March 6, 2024

The United States Is Trapped in the Middle East

As a result of Israel’s offensive on Gaza, the United States is again becoming deeply entrenched in the Middle East. This is a humiliating blow to President Biden, who promised to reassert U.S. imperialism by moving away from direct involvement in the region.

Samuel Karlin

February 22, 2024

MOST RECENT

Two large signs that read "UC Divest from Genocide" and "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" behind the two signs a "UAW on Strike sign" pokes out

Dispatch from Day 2 of the UC Santa Cruz Picket Line

Left Voice member and City University of New York worker Olivia reports on the second day of her trip to Santa Cruz for UAW 4811’s historic strike to talk to workers.

Olivia Wood

May 25, 2024

Why Won’t PSC-CUNY Stand with Palestine Now?

While other higher education unions are going on strike in defense of their workers and against the genocide in Gaza, the bureaucratic leadership of PSC-CUNY just crushed a resolution calling on the university to divest from Israel and to drop the charges against Palestinian activists arrested on April 30. 

James Dennis Hoff

May 24, 2024

Attack on Pro-Palestinian Protestors at UMich Latest Example of Democrats Defending Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Capitalist apologists from the Democratic Party have chosen their business partners in Israel’s far-right government over Palestinian lives. In Ann Arbor, those same so-called “progressive” Democrats decided to bring felony charges against protestors earlier this week, encouraging harsh police violence against the University of Michigan encampment.

Ryan McCarty

May 24, 2024
Activists in Detroit speaking at a press conference condemning repression of the pro-Palestine movement on May 20, 2024.

Detroit Activists Hold Press Conference to Condemn Repression of Pro-Palestine Protesters

Detroit Will Breathe organized a press conference to discuss the police violence and repression against pro-Palestine protesters. The movement must stand in solidarity and unite to combat the increase of repression.

Kyle Thibodeau

May 23, 2024