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Against Apartheid, For Civil Rights: Dockworkers and Social Justice Movements in Durban & San Francisco

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Prof Peter Cole presented his paper entitled Against Apartheid, For Civil Rights: Dockworkers and Social Justice Movements in Durban & San Francisco on 24 February 2016 as part of the Labour Studies Seminar Series which is run by Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.

Prof Cole is a professor of history at Western Illinois University (USA). Currently, he is writing a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race, Technology and Unionism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. Previously, he wrote Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia and edited Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly. Cole is a Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand. He writes on contemporary politics, especially labour, race, and social movements.

Prof Cole draw attention to enormous structural power, wielded by dockworkers, who can disrupt the ports so vital to capitalist economies in their respective cities and countries -- and militant dockworkers have often exerted this power for overtly political ends. He explore how dockworkers in Durban (South Africa) and the San Francisco Bay Area (United States) built working class and anti-racist solidarity, and committed themselves to struggles well beyond their narrow workplace interests. Durban dockworkers repeatedly went on strike from the 1940s through the 1970s, for example, contributing to the  anti-apartheid struggle, and the revival of black unions from the 1970s. In San Francisco, dockworkers played a key role in US movements for racial equality. Workers in both ports also engaged in many transnational solidarity actions. Durban dockworkers refused to unload military supplies for the Mugabe regime, in solidarity with the Zimbabwean labour movement and opposition. In San Francisco, dockworkers helped the global fight against apartheid, flatly refusing to unload cargo from South Africa. Given that dockworkers and their unions have been decimated in many places by changes in technology and the economy, can they still preserve some of their power, and remain a potent force for change?



 Peter Cole -Durban Strike       Peter Cole-Durban Loading Grain 

 Durban Dockworkers striking in 1973 and Dockworkers Loading Grain