Networked Food Economy
Sunday, July 7, 1907. In response to an escalating labor conflict, Dutch army and naval forces entered the Rotterdam harbor in the estuaries of the Rhine and Meuse Rivers. At stake was the pneumatic pumping of bulk grain from sea vessels to river barges. Compared to the traditional manual unloading of grain sacks, the new harbor infrastructure promised to save 94 percent of the labor previously needed and boost Rotterdam’s grain trade. The German milling trade association (Verein deutscher Handelsmüller), for which Rotterdam was a major transit node, and the Rotterdam Chamber of Commerce promoted the new infrastructure. A few grain companies started to use it, but most preferred the old system— until the labor conflict got out of hand. Port workers called the new machines “bread robbers”: They sucked the lifeblood out of workers as they sucked grain out of ships. A first strike in 1905 seemed successful. When a few grain companies again started to use pneumatic unloaders in 1907, another boycott followed. Now violence escalated. Workers attacked the grain ship SS Hillhouse to assault strike breakers brought in by the companies. Port worker Hein Mol remembered how “in blind anger the workers hit on the strike breakers, there was no pardon. Some of them jumped overboard in mortal fear … many paid with broken limbs. The ones that did not jump were simply thrown over. The screaming was terrible. One policeman was knifed, others surrendered their sabers and begged for mercy.”1 The Mayor declared a state of siege and sent for the nation’s navy and cavalry. Grain trade companies closed ranks and rapidly introduced grain elevators to break the revolt. Further worker resistance proved futile. By 1913 virtually all grain that entered Rotterdam was unloaded pneumatically.
KeywordsCommon Agricultural Policy National Food European Economic Community Cold Chain Food Economy
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