Peter Cole on Port Workers in the Bay Area & South Africa & the Struggle Against Racial Apartheid


In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we again talked with professor, labor historian, and author Peter Cole, who has just put out the new book, Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. The book details the struggle of port workers to build cross-racial solidarity in two of the most economically powerful port cities in the world. We also discuss the birth of international relationships of struggle, as workers took action on the job to engage in solidarity with people thousands of miles away.

In the US, when we think about the struggle against white supremacy, we often think about the abolitionist movement and the civil rights and Black liberation movements, but this often leaves out the role of militant class struggle labor unions. Throughout our discussion, Cole explains how in the 1930s and 40s, the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU), who echoed the Wobblies’ slogan of “An Injury to One Is An Injury to All,” built a culture of racial solidarity against racism and across the decades, engaged in a series of solidarity actions with global struggles. Most notably, this included fighting in solidarity with the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and in recent times, against police brutality and in solidarity with the liberation struggle in Palestine.

ILWU workers face off against police with inventive picket signs in the Pacific Northwest.

At a time when workers are attempting to reach beyond national borders such as in Matamoros, Mexico, as well as respond to capitalist “innovation” such as automation and the gig economy, we hope that this discussion sheds light on a history that workers and communities in struggle may find useful in the battles to come.

Also, if you are in the bay area, come see Peter Cole talk on the book over the next few days by checking these events.

More Info: Dockworker Power info, A Brief History of Block the Boat, Bay Area Longshore Workers Fought Against Apartheid

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