Cover for NELSON: Workers on the Waterfront: Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s. Click for larger image

Workers on the Waterfront

Seamen, Longshoremen, and Unionism in the 1930s
Awards and Recognition:

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

Looking at an era of action and activism among maritime workers

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.


"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


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

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