Two Ages of Waterfront Labor

“Two Ages of Waterfront Labor,” [PDFLabour/Le Travail, no. 26 (Fall 1990), pp. 1-9. (Review of Bruce Nelson, Workers on the Waterfront and William Finlay, Work on the Waterfront.)

There are two crucial watersheds in the modem history of waterfront labour (1) the successful struggle, beginning with the Pacific Coast revolts of the 1930s, to set-up union-dominated hiring halls; and (2) the technological revolution in cargo handling and ship design associated with the introduction of containers in the 1960s and 70s. Bruce Nelson’s historical treatment of waterfront labour focuses on the first of these watersheds, with particular emphasis on the interactions between seamen and longshoremen during the “syndicalist renaissance” of the late 1930s. William Finlay’s sociological study is concerned with the effects of the second watershed — the technological revolution in cargo handling—on skill levels, job control and status hierarchies within the longshore labour express.

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