The Next Wave of Invaders

Corporate Research E-Letter EXTRA - March 25, 2003


by Philip Mattera

The fighting is not completely over in the Iraqi city of Umm Qasr, but the Bush Administration is rushing ahead with plans to reopen that key Persian Gulf port. On Monday night, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that an American company is being awarded a $4.8 million contract to manage the seaport. The flow of food, medicine and other supplies through the port is considered by U.S. war planners to be essential to their effort to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), the contractor chosen for this task, has never worked in a war zone, but it has been in the middle of another kind of struggle: the battle between labor and management in the West Coast ports of the United States. In fact, Seattle-based SSA -- the largest marine terminal operator in the country -- was considered the main corporate culprit in the lockout of dockworkers last fall; the International Longshore and Warehouse Union accused the company of union-busting. “While most employers want to work with us to implement new technologies,” ILWU President James Spinosa said last September, “SSA is undermining negotiations because their primary interest is breaking the union.”  ILWU spokesman Steve Stallone was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying” “It’s ideological with these people. They are ideologically anti-union and anti-ILWU.”

According to recent press reports, SSA is unhappy with the compromise agreement reached by the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association. In February, SSA was one of four companies cited by Washington State for requiring longshore workers to remain on the job as much as 17 hours straight without adequate rest time.

SSA has also been at the center of controversy in Bangladesh, where it has proposed to build a $500 million containerized terminal in the city of Chittagong. The project has faced intense opposition from local trade unions and their members, who fear that the new terminal would result in large job losses. Workers have staged hunger strikes, work sToppages and other actions to dramatize their cause.

SSA has used the U.S. government to press its case. Last year, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mary Ann Peters, spoke out publicly in support of SSA, implying that the country would pay a price if the project did not go forward. She told Agence France Presse: “Future investments in Bangladesh by American companies might be threatened if the plan for the SSA port is not approved by the Bangladesh government.” In November, the High Court of Bangladesh ruled that the project was illegal because of inadequate feasibility studies, but the company could appeal that ruling to the country’s supreme court.

SSA, a privately-held company with annual revenues of about $1 billion, is headed by Jon Hemingway, a member of one of the two families that have controlled the firm since 1949. Originally involved simply in loading and unloading cargo, SSA expanded rapidly into terminal operations in the 1970s and 1980s. SSA has operations around the world, in countries such as Chile, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa and Vietnam. It is one of two companies seeking to develop the Houston-Galveston Megaport in Texas City, Texas.

Note: This is the first in a new series of short reports that will be produced by the Corporate Research Project to highlight the role of corporations in the new Gulf War and its aftermath. These reports will supplement our recent Corporate Research E-Letter entitled “Privatizing the Spoils of War.” It and other editions of the monthly E-Letter can be found at