Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Forging Regional Connections: The Cold War Internationalism of Asia-Pacific Dockworkers

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2016), 111, (1), 59–77.

Abstract

This article focuses on the actions of the three leading Pacific dockworkers’ unions – the US-Canadian International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union, the Australian Waterside Workers’ Federation and the Japan Dockworkers’ Union – in forming a broad regional coalition of organised waterfront labour in the post-World War II decades. At that time, the Cold War hostilities organisationally divided the global trade union movement into pro-Western and pro-Soviet labour camps. While this ideological split somewhat discouraged US, Australian and Japanese waterfront unionists from formally joining either side, their commitment to working-class solidarity and internationalism prompted them to take an independent lead in forging regional labour links across the Pacific. The article demonstrates that the Cold War politics eventually made the Asia-Pacific dockworkers’ association unsustainable. As the participants from pro-socialist Asian countries attempted to use the newly formed coalition for their own political purposes, an irreconcilable conflict broke out with US and Australian representatives who viewed their internationalist objectives from a more pragmatic economic perspective.

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Ostapenko, Dmytro