Northwestern Events Calendar


Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area — A Talk by Peter Cole

When: Monday, June 15, 2020
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: free & open

Contact: Danny Postel  


Co-Sponsor: Center for Historical Studies

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings, Global & Civic Engagement


Please join the Center for International and Area Studies, the Program of African Studies, the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies, and the Evanston Public Library for this discussion with historian Peter Cole about his book Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area.

about the book

Dockworkers have power. Often missed in commentary on today's globalizing economy, workers in the world’s ports can harness their role, at a strategic choke point, to promote their labor rights and social justice causes. Peter Cole brings such overlooked experiences to light in an eye-opening comparative study of Durban, South Africa, and the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Pathbreaking research reveals how unions effected lasting change in some of the most far-reaching struggles of modern times. First, dockworkers in each city drew on longstanding radical traditions to promote racial equality. Second, they persevered when a new technology--container ships--sent a shockwave of layoffs through the industry. Finally, their commitment to black internationalism and leftist politics sparked transnational work stoppages to protest apartheid and authoritarianism. Dockworker Power brings to light surprising parallels in the experiences of dockers half a world away from each other. It also offers a new perspective on how workers can change their conditions and world.

praise for the book

"Peter Cole has written a cutting-edge work that combines labor, maritime, comparative, and global history in brilliantly illuminating ways." —Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History

"The fascinating stories [Cole] centers in Dockworker Power capture the dynamics of global social movements, the significance of black internationalism, and the power of grassroots organizing." —Keisha N. Blain, Black Perspectives

"A sweeping, panoramic narrative . . . This book will have wide appeal, for historians of South Africa and the US, for those interested in workers struggles in a global context and how technology transforms the lives of working people, and for those looking for evidence that workers maintain power, even in our increasingly connected globalized world." —Ross Webb, Reviews in History

"Peter Cole's superb examination of dockworkers in San Francisco and Durban, South Africa, provides an excellent model of how to write comparative labor history, weaving together a compelling tale around issues of racial justice, intentional labor solidarity, and resistance to job-destroying technological change." —Erik Loomis, H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online

"With this brilliant work on dockworkers' power, Cole implicitly invites other labour, social and economic scholars to pick up from where he leaves off and maybe develop a new analysis of labour strategy for transnational solidarity. Hopefully, scholars will meet this challenge with the same degree of verse and insight as that displayed by Peter Cole." —Stefano Bellucci, International Review of Social History

about our speaker

Peter Cole is a professor of history at Western Illinois University in Macomb and a Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cole is the author of the award-winning Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (University of Illinois Press, 2018) and Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia (University of Illinois Press, 2007), co-editor of Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW (Pluto Press, 2017), and editor of Ben Fletcher: The Life & Times of a Black Wobbly (Charles H. Kerr Press, 2007).

He is the founder and co-director of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project (CRR19), a year-long initiative to heighten the 1919 Chicago race riots in the city’s collective memory, engaging Chicagoans in public conversations about the legacy of the most violent week in Chicago history. The Project's 11 dynamic public programs were designed to activate audiences and encourage them to examine the mechanisms through which segregation and inequality have been created, solidified, and reinforced over the past 100 years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, TIME, The Conversation, the Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), Africa Is A Country, Jacobin, In These Times, and other outlets.

He tweets from @ProfPeterCole

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