“On the Waterfront: Longshoring in Canada,” in Craig Heron and Bob Storey, ed. On the Job: The Labour Process in Canada (Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 1985), pp. 281-308.
The words, “On the Waterfront,” for most people carry an air of mystery and suspense, vaguely evoking images of Marlon Brando and the New York harbor of the early 1950’s. But the sense of otherworldliness that clings to the longshore labour process goes far beyond its history of exploitation and violence, and arises instead out of the very nature of work relations. As one authority has put it, “the conditions of ‘boom and bust’ that determine the daily life of the world’s ports have produced a labour jungle that few laymen have ever penetrated.” To a greater extent than in most industries, long shoring has been shaped not by managerial imperatives, but by the imperatives of the workers themselves. It has, therefore, been characterized by a pattern of development that sets it apart from all other workplace environments. What has been true in the past, however, may or may not be true in the future.
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