Cruise Ships: Continuity and Change in the World System
Cruise ships present a useful context to study contemporary developments in globalization. U.S.-owned cruise companies have managed to create the “ideal” context for contemporary corporations: very little government oversight of labor relations, an available pool of very cheap labor dispersed across the globe, lax environmental regulations, high profit margins, and corporate tax rates around 1%.
A typical cruise ship leaving the U.S. contains workers from 75 to 90 nationalities. Crewmembers performing menial service work are recruited exclusively from “poor countries” in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Crewmembers typically sign 10-month contracts stipulating 10-14 hour workdays/7 days a week without vacation or sick days. There is a striking correlation between workers’ pay/status and their countries’ position within the world system. Staff members are usually white Westerners, while crewmembers are exclusively from the global south. On cruises the legacies of imperialism and colonialism are often the basis of workers’ racialization as appropriate servants.
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