Who really constitutes the maritime Establishment?
The establishment, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, is “the people in a society or a profession who have influence and power and who usually do not support change”. The last part of the definition is significant. The establishment is rightly seen as slow to change, or even impervious to change, like the majestic monolithic rock in Claude Monet’s 1886 The Manneporte near Étretat (pictured above).
So who constitutes the maritime Establishment? Most people would name the International Maritime Organization (IMO), national maritime administrations, local and international shipping associations, and — not the least of all — the industry bigwigs with their yachts and fat bank accounts. These are the entities that exercise power and influence over matters of policy. However, the list would not be complete without the following being added:
• The maritime press
The press is often referred to as “the fourth estate”. This is an indication of the influence it wields in society even though it is not regarded as part of the political system. However, today’s maritime press hardly merits the label.
With a few exceptions, maritime news media often serve as mouthpieces for the moneyed class and the powers that be (just look at how they unthinkingly mouth IMO slogans and platitudes). To use a vulgar American phrase, they like to kiss ass. In this sense, they have become one body with the Establishment in much the same way that a harlot and her john are conjoined as described in one Biblical verse.
• The seafarers’ unions
It may seem strange to consider the unions as being part of the maritime Establishment. After all, the labour–management dichotomy has never gone away. The unions negotiate with shipowners on wage issues, but they generally have to adopt an adversarial role as part of their fight for seafarers’ rights.
Still, the fact remains that the maritime unions need the shipowners and manning agents. How else can they obtain collective wage agreements, which is their very lifeblood? It’s a kind of symbiotic relationship. This explains why some unions play footsie with the employers. They may even keep silent on certain issues in their desire to preserve the status quo. Biting the hand that feeds you is just not good policy.
• Those who refuse to question the maritime Establishment
Many people in the industry regard certain institutions (e.g., the IMO) and customs (e.g., the use of maritime cadets as unpaid labour) as sacred crows. They include journalists, maritime NGOs and other parties with some degree of influence who fail or refuse to make their voices heard on issues that affect seafarers. Worse, they tend to be criticial of those who dare to question and criticise. Without their knowing it, they been co-opted into the maritime Establishment.
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