You know, when the lines come off the dock and the boat gets on the water, everything bad in your life goes away... You're on the ocean.

Johnny O, The Pirate

Forty percent of everything that the United States imports — car parts, bananas, lumber, jet engines, grain, shoes, phones, sofas, and so much of what fills the aisles of Nordstrom, Walmart and Home Depot — comes through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Together, these harbors form the busiest port complex in the United States, and the ninth busiest in the world.

From a distance, cranes tower like dinosaurs and metal boxes the size of small houses are hoisted from giant ships in an inhuman, industrial landscape.

Zoom in and you’ll see workers fighting to join the union, harbor pilots navigating massive vessels through narrow channels, and linesman tying ships to the docks by hand.

The ports are in the midst of a technological revolution, affecting the lives of thousands of workers and their families. Automation is changing the way cranes and ships and trucks work, threatening livelihoods that go back generations. Dockworkers share an anxiety of becoming obsolete.

Cargoland follows the workers at the harbor, the goods they touch, and the changes that are forcing a new way of life on America’s busiest waterfront.


Support KCRW’s in-depth programming

Explore Cargoland