Crewless Shipping Future?

By Dr. Ann Griffiths, 13 September 2021

Technology marches inexorably onward. Resistance is futile! Or is it? It’s interesting to see that the President of the US International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), representing thousands of workers in the United States, says that union workers will not load or unload unmanned/automated container ships. This is part of a fight against automation in the shipping industry – and has been going on since containerization in the 1970s. In 2018, the union negotiated a new six-year contract for its workers. One of the main elements of the final agreement was restrictive clauses to block ports from implementing automation technology or equipment. To get this clause, the ILA pledged to “keep productivity levels above what automated equipment could produce,” a bold pledge. The ILA provided support to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada in 2019 when this union sought to limit automation in ports on Canada’s West Coast. It’s easy to feel sympathy for people who stand to lose their jobs as the shipping industry becomes automated, but I suspect that in the end resistance will be futile. See ILA Says Union Will Not Service Automated Ships Without Crews (


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