New Books Network

Peter Cole

Dockworker Power

Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area

University of Illinois Press 2018

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in African StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network February 19, 2020 Amanda Joyce Hall

Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Illinois Press, 2018) is a fascinating, densely researched account...

Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Illinois Press, 2018) is a fascinating, densely researched account of dockworkers and their organized responses to seismic economic and technological changes in the shipping industry between the 1940s and 1970s. Peter Cole examines the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and San Francisco’s Local 10 from its desegregation through its involvement in local and regional civil rights and anti-apartheid struggles. In Durban, Cole shows how South African unionists’ used stay-aways and strikes to fight racial capitalism, ultimately setting off a wave of protest in the early 1970s, only a few years before the Soweto Uprisings.

Dockworker Power is a refreshing mixture of two methodological approaches that situates the study of black internationalism among workers. Cole boosts our understanding of the radical tradition on the world’s docks by dexterously shifting between comparative and transnational analysis. This approach importantly reveals the global consequences of containerization on workers who tried to insulate themselves from the excesses of technological change. Cole’s book shows the significance of dockworkers as power-players in regional politics, the world economy, and transnational social movements, as they fought for, established, and wielded their collective power to secure their own prosperity and assist others in struggles near and far.


Amanda Joyce Hall is a Ph.D. Candidate in History and African American Studies at Yale University. She is writing an international history on the global movement against South African apartheid during the 1970s and 1980s. She tweets from @amandajoycehall