At Israel's Ashdod Port, a Tale of Mind Over Body

The port workers, in fact, represent a species that is becoming extinct: people whose body is their trade.

The port workers’ problem is that they are porters. Porters are people who lift things up and put them down. Lifting things up and putting them down is hard, tiring and dangerous − after all, a container could always fall on your head − but it is physical work. And physical work is not worth a lot of money, because anyone can do it. Since anyone can do physical work, then, according to the laws of the free market, there is no point in paying a lot of money for it because if one person doesn’t agree to lift objects, then the next person will ‏(and, it follows, if that person doesn’t agree, someone else will‏).

The problem that longshoremen, harbor pilots, forklift operators, cleaning people, security guards and waiters have is that physical difficulty on the job is not compensated for in the free market, sweat isn’t worth money, and the only truly important question is how many people can do the same work that you’re doing. If the answer is that an awful lot of people can do the same work you’re doing − you will remain poor.

The longshoremen’s problem is that they aren’t doctors or lawyers or accountants or project managers or high-tech people. They don’t work at a job that requires years of study, an understanding of algorithms with two unknowns, or the ability to cite statute 13G/456 by heart. The reasonable individual looks at them and says to himself: “What an absurdity. While this person studied for seven years before he became a doctor, all that person does is lift crates − and he is earning more than the doctor is.” And the fact that during the seven years the one was studying, the other lifted a whole lot of heavy crates isn’t really interesting.

The longshoremen’s problem is that they represent the body. Not the narcissistic body that cultivates itself beyond all reason, investing tremendous energy in aesthetic needs. They represent the body in its primitive function − the body that uses its muscles for practical purposes and not for six-pack abs; the body that gets burned by the sun or wet in the rain, and not for advertising photos: the body that becomes strong because of lifting heavy items, and not because of boring workouts in a room with air-conditioning, neon lights and a television broadcasting some morning show.

Looking at the body that the longshoremen represent − likewise the ordinary porters who carry the refrigerator down from an apartment on their back − stirs the memory of the days when a “strong” person was someone whose body was strong, and a “weak” person was someone whose body was weak. And of the era when physical strength was of value and weak people, or people who weren’t strong enough compared to others, lived under constant threat.

That era ended because too many people − nearly the absolute majority of them − had an interest in reloading the concept of “strong” with content that doesn’t stem from something that is deterministic ‏(i.e., genes‏).

The mind’s conquest of the centers of power took many years and involved several important revolutions ‏(industrial, scientific, technological‏), and now that it is completed, there is a new equation: A “strong” person is someone who has acquired power with the help of the mind ‏(learning‏) and a “weak” person is someone who remains with the body as a working tool. Therefore, there is also a prohibition on attributing a high price to physicality that isn’t for the sake of display ‏(athletes, models, etc.‏).

The port workers, in fact, represent a species that is becoming extinct: people whose body is their trade. They want money for physical effort at a time when the mind is the dictator. And since the mind is always busy shoring up that dictatorship, it decides to reward only what reinforces its position ‏(learning as a status symbol‏). And since physical work − i.e., limited use of the mind for earning a living − subverts the dictatorship of the mind and makes it recall the days when it was weak, the “body workers” are ill-fated and certainly not due NIS 30,000 a month.

Ashdod port union boss Alon Hassan is a problematic individual. A monopoly is a bad thing, as are nepotism, favoritism and violent unions. But on the backdrop of the dictatorship of the mind, sometimes the body has no alternative but to use its advantages: muscles, intimidation and violence.

Ilan Assayag