Workers on the Waterfront

Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s
Author: Bruce Nelson
Looking at an era of action and activism among maritime workers
Paper – $27
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/1990
Buy the Book Request Desk/Examination Copy Request Review Copy Request Rights or Permissions Request Alternate Format Preview

About the Book

With working lives characterized by exploitation and rootlessness, merchant seamen were isolated from mainstream life. Yet their contacts with workers in port cities around the world imbued them with a sense of internationalism. These factors contributed to a subculture that encouraged militancy, spontaneous radicalism, and a syndicalist mood.Bruce Nelson's award-winning book examines the insurgent activity and consciousness of maritime workers during the 1930s. As he shows, merchant seamen and longshoremen on the Pacific Coast made major institutional gains, sustained a lengthy period of activity, and expanded their working-class consciousness. Nelson examines the two major strikes that convulsed the region and caused observers to state that day-to-day labor relations resembled guerilla warfare. He also looks at related activity, from increasing political activism to stoppages to defend laborers from penalties, refusals to load cargos for Mussolini's war in Ethiopia, and forced boardings of German vessels to tear down the swastika.

About the Author

Bruce Nelson is an emeritus professor in the Department of History at Dartmouth College.


"A fascinating story that holds the reader's interest from beginning to end. It is well written and thoroughly researched, and makes a real contribution to American labor history."--Journal of Economic History

"Nelson has, to my mind, written the definitive account of one of the most dramatic episodes in American labor history. It should appeal to a wide audience: not only to students of the labor movement but also to those interested in questions of class consciousness, working-class radicalism, and American communism."--Contemporary Sociology


Winner of the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians, 1989.