IAS X SIR Speaker Series

Professor Peter Cole: "Transnational Solidarity": Dockworkers and Liberation Struggles"

 Peter Cole, Professor of History at Western Illinois University

 My presentation examines dockworkers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Durban (South Africa) and other ports from the 1950s to recent times. In many port cities, militant dockworkers—generally their unions—at times have exerted shocking power for overtly political ends. While many unions have been decimated by changes in technology and neoliberalism, organized dockworkers have preserved some of their power. This presentation uses both comparative and transnational methods to examine efforts to express working class and racial solidarity as well as anti-fascist ideals. In particular, activists in Local 10 (San Francisco Bay Area) of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have an eighty-year-and-counting history of boycotting vessels hailing from nations whose politics ILWU members disliked. Local 10’s efforts were initiated and led by African American members, who promoted racial equality, socialism, and African liberation. This presentation highlights three decades of Local 10’s anti-apartheid activism, culminating in its eleven-day boycott of South African cargo in 1984. Similarly, dockworkers in other ports also boycotted South African cargo to demonstrate opposition to apartheid. Dockworkers proved to be among the most important forces in the global struggle. Dockworkers continue to engage in transnational solidarity activism, most recently against a Saudi ships to protest its ongoing war in Yemen. Examining this subject demonstrates how working-class people and unions can advocate for and act radically. Their activism is particularly noteworthy considering the long-term decline in union membership and power in worldwide.