Maritime Men of the Asia-Pacific

BookMaritime Men of the Asia-Pacific

Maritime Men of the Asia-Pacific

True-Blue Internationals Navigating Labour Rights 1906-2006

Studies in Labour History, 18


October 1st, 2022



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Maritime workers occupy a central place in global labour history. This new and compelling account from Australia, shows seafaring and waterside unions engaged in a shared history of activism for legally regulated wages and safe liveable conditions for all who go to sea. Maritime Men of the South Pacific provides a corrective to studies which overlook this region’s significance as a provider of the world’s maritime labour force and where unions have a rich history of reaching across their differences to forge connections in solidarity. From the ‘militant young Australian’ Harry Bridges whose progressive unionism transformed the San Francisco waterfront, to Australia’s successful implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, this is a story of vision and leadership on the international stage. Unionists who saw themselves as internationalists were also operating within a national and imperial framework where conflicting interests and differences of race and ideology had to be overcome. Union activists in India, China and Japan struggled against indentured labour and ‘coolie’ standards. They linked with their fellow-unionists in pursuing an ideal of international labour rights against the power of shipowners and anti-union governments. This is a complex story of endurance, cooperation and conflict and its empowering legacy.

‘While maintaining a focus on their Australian and New Zealand central actors, Kirkby et. al. offer a comprehensive examination of seafaring and dock labor conflicts across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Altogether, an impressive tribute to the marriage of scholarly resolve with underlying democratic political idealism.'
Leon Fink, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Illinois, Chicago

'Considering maritime labour, internationalism and race in the twentieth century, this is an intellectually innovative study based on very extensive research. At a moment of urgent industrial and political struggle over the conditions of maritime labour, it should be widely read.'
Professor Sean Scalmer, University of Melbourne

Author Information

Diane Kirkby is Professor of Law and Humanities, University of Technology Sydney and Research Professor (Emeritus) at La Trobe University. Dr Lee-Ann Monk is an Adjunct Research Fellow in History at La Trobe University. Dmytro Ostapenko is Research Associate at La Trobe University.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Chapter 1: ‘By the nature of their calling’ Themes of region, race and militancy
Chapter 2: ‘Navigation as it affects the Empire’: Australasian Labour Standards and British Merchant Shipping
Chapter 3: ‘The Commonwealth and the Lascars’: Protecting Maritime Workers in a White Australia 1901-1914
Chapter 4: ‘to break down the barriers which separate races and countries’: Socialists, Maritime Unions and Organising Internationally Before 1920
Chapter 5: ‘Our duty is to foster a spirit of internationality’: Maritime Unions and International Labour Organising in the Aftermath of War
Chapter 6: ‘To ensure…fair conditions of labor’: Navigating Class, Nation and Empire in 1920s
Chapter 7: ‘Seamen of the Orient’: Globalising the ITF and Embracing Asia c.1920s-30s
Chapter 8: ‘Lascar Seamen Stand Up for Rights’: Asserting Independence c.1930s-1949
Chapter 9: ‘… standards for all seamen, Indian, Chinese and European’: Internationalism in the Cold War Asia-Pacific
Chapter 10: ‘Bogey-men of the Pacific’: Trans-Pacific Dockworker Organising, 1940s-60s
Chapter 11: ‘Giving us a voice in world affairs’: International Leadership and Activism, 1960-80
Chapter 12: ‘protect[ing] workers against shoddy foreign companies’: International Labourers and National Unionists, 1960s-2000