8. Juni 2024

Photographer of “Earthrise” died in a plane crash. His picture changed our perception of planet Earth

The photographer of “Earthrise” is dead. Astronaut William Anders was killed in a plane crash. I had used his famous photo Earthrise as a reference in an essay some time ago. RIP

“Earthrise” is the name of the NASA photo AS8-14-2383HR taken on December 24, 1968 by astronaut William Anders during the Apollo flight. It is undoubtedly one of the photos that has profoundly changed and shaped our perception of our planet and our place in the universe. Anders’ photo taken with a Hasselblad-500 camera makes it immediately sensually clear that the Earth is a blue planet. The world’s oceans cover 71 per cent of the planet’s surface, and are essential to the global climate and ecological balance, to the habitability and existence of life on the planet. At the same time, the oceans are the largest and one of the most important fields in which “man’s metabolism with nature is mediated, regulated, and controlled by his own actions” (Marx and Engels 1968: 192).

Jörn Boewe, Major Trends in Work at Sea: Outline of a Political Economy of Maritime Labour, in: Handbook of Research on the Global Political Economy of Work, edited by Maurizio Atzeni, Dario Azzellini, Alessandra Mezzadri, Phoebe Moore, Ursula Apitzsch (Hrsg.) 708 pp., 2023, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-83910-657-6



11. August 2022

Let's roll again. ITF Baltic Week of Action goes on, after two years of forced interruption


I am glad to hear that after a two-year forced interruption due to the pandemic, the ITF Baltic Week of Action will be held again this year in September. Albeit small-scale and rather symbolic, it embodies the idea of immediate workers' solidarity across national, professional, organizational and bureaucratic boundaries. It can be read as a seedbed for a holistic cross-sectoral politics of solidarity from below, as we need it more than ever today, in times of increasingly self-and all-destructive late capitalism.
Is this idea an unrealistic pipedream? This is a typical objection from bureaucrats and narrow-minded people who don't realize how much the ground is burning beneath our feet. In a contribution to the hopefully soon to be published "Handbook of the Political Economy of Work", I try to develop such a strategic vision on a materialist basis.

The sea is a transport route for people and goods, a reservoir for food (fishing and aqua farming), a source of raw materials (offshore mining), energy (both fossil fuels such as oil and gas, and renewable ones such as wind and tidal power), a space of military conflict, human recreation (or the illusion that the modern tourism industry sells for that purpose) and, last but not least, a place of human contemplation and inspiration. The oceans are the fluid that enables and holds together the economic cultural and ecological existence of humanity as a global species.

I remember, when one of the traditional East German shipyards, Volkswerft Stralsund, slid into insolvency (not for the first time) in the fall of 2012, Hamani Amadou, Inspector of the International Transport Workers' Federation ITF, from neighboring Rostock paid a spontaneous visit to the shipyard workers, accompanied by a team of volunteers, dock workers from Lübeck and Rostock. Actually, they wanted to inspect incoming ships from flag of convenience states for compliance with minimum collective bargaining standards as part of the international "Baltic week of action".

Why were they here, at a shipyard, in the organizational area of the German metalworkers' union IG Metall?

"This is where the ships are built on which the seafarers we organize are sailing, the ships our members load and unload in the ports," Hamani said. "Seafarers, dockers, shipyard workers - we are one family. If you suffer, we suffer too."

What may sound like sentimental maritime poetry is actually nothing more than straight prose. Since the 1990s, the conditions under which workers in the maritime or ocean-related economy perform their work have been subject to similar or even identical trends. Accelerated capitalist globalization, the financialization of the economy, the triumph of neoliberalism have led to increased de-unionization, precarization and devaluation of labor and the pitting of workers against each other in highly fragmented global labor markets. New technological possibilities have not mitigated the socially destructive consequences of these developments, but rather exacerbated them. A cross-sectoral, integrated theoretical and political approach to maritime work is therefore more necessary than ever.
Of course I know, that the practice of trade unions is still far from that holistic, cross-sectoral approach. So this has to be changed. It has to be done. It's that simple.

(Thanks to all the friends and companions who inspired and encouraged me to maritime writing.)

12. April 2022

It is clear where this is bound to lead. It's a pity, as perhaps the West is indeed the best of worlds

"I have been living in the West for more than half of my life now, but the bigotry of this 'best of worlds' still amazes me, and continues to do so. The West is simply incapable of understanding anything. In the current Spiegel, a cover story - well done for the most part - about young Muslims from Germany who join ISIS. Reporters try to find answers to the question of why, and they do an excellent job, researching, going into courtrooms, talking to parents, friends, experts, visiting mosques, tea shops, clubs - whatever you do as a reporter.

And then they say that the young men come "from a world in which war and religion have been banished from political self-understanding. The 70-year peace that has reigned in Western Europe has made warlike violence taboo ..."

What baffles me about this is the matter-of-factness with which West (Is Der Spiegel "the West"? Yes, it is.) passes over its own warlike actions here (not least in the Muslim world), as if that had nothing to do with the topic. And let's stay with Germany: 15 years after the air strikes on Yugoslavia, five years after the negligent bombing at Kunduz, we see ourselves as a society that has "made warlike violence taboo"? This is interesting.

The FRG was incapable of understanding the GDR, West Germany is incapable of understanding East Germany, Obama, Merkel, Spiegel, ARD and ZDF are incapable of understanding Russia. They are incapable of understanding Putin, and they are even proud of it. The West is incapable of understanding anything. Everything foreign to it is just an opportunity for self-congratulation, and good opportunities must not be missed.

It is clear where this is bound to lead. It's a pity, as perhaps the West is indeed the best of worlds." Notebook, November 21, 2014

19. November 2020

Maritime writing

Ever since I did research for my reportage "Rearguard action in Gdansk" at Stocznia Gdanska in 1996, I have written again and again about the connection between men and  sea. Reasons are simple. The ocean breeze, the wide horizon, seagull cries, fish, salt water. All that does me good in every respect. I don't have any romantic idea about working in the maritime logistic complex. Navegare necesse est - seafaring is a must, but it is most beautiful if you can do it for pleasure. Unfortunately, it is one of the pleasures I cannot afford as often as I would like to. Far too seldom I manage to spend my vacations on the coast, at sea and on islands. So what can I do? I just have to find some suitable work ...

26. August 2019

Endlessly traveling to Honolulu

"Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased. I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu."

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

9. April 2019

Fixing up things

I've done a lot of different things journalists do over the last 25 years, but my favorite discipline is still to drive around the country and write stories about unspectacular people - workers, refugees, hillbillies of all kinds. Unlike politicians, artists, scientists or people who want to sell something, they don't push themselves forward. On the contrary, they have a certain basic mistrust of "the press," which, in my opinion, has increased in recent years.

This is not surprising. Since we have the internet and above all the "social media", people pay much more attention to their privacy. Today, nobody can be photographed as easily as 15 years ago. Those who are not already people of public interest prefer not to read their name in the newspaper (i.e. on the internet).

The other point is that they perceive journalists - if at all - either only as scurrying piecework workers in a media industry that seems incomprehensible but suspect to them (with which they are intuitively perfectly correct) or as part of the elites - no less suspect to them. They rarely, if ever, come into contact with the latter type in their world, but if they do, it seems self-evident to them that there is an unbridgeable gap between them and those "alpha journalists" that has rapidly widened in recent years.

The crazy thing is that most of the people I've written about in the last 25 years, when they've read my lines afterwards, have reacted with an overwhelming and touching thankfulness to me (at least if I haven't allowed myself any major mistakes in my job and haven't written any nonsense about them).

ITF Baltic week of action, Sept. 2018, Wismar

22. Januar 2019

Vote for Lula

As long as I remember, I know Lula as a person who works for social justice, the liberation of the poor and excluded, peace and democracy. In the early 1990s, I co-organized a public discussion with him at the Technical University of Berlin. At that time, Lula was still under the impression of the political defeat in the Brazilian elections, which was a direct consequence of the changed world political climate after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The situation was confusing and questioned almost all the certainties of the political left. I remember Lula as a modest and reflective person, without all the airs and graces that political leaders often have. When I see where Brazil stands today, I fear that he made many mistakes in his time as President. I say this without really knowing and certainly without malice. But whatever mistakes he may have made, for me it is evident that he is an intergre person. The reason why they are prosecuting him now is certainly not his wrong decisions, but what he has done right.