Peter Cole

Peter Cole is a professor of history at Western Illinois University. He holds a BA from Columbia University and PhD from Georgetown University. He is the author of 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). He co-edited Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW (Pluto Press, 2017) and edited Ben Fletcher: The Life & Times of a Black Wobbly (Charles H. Kerr Press, 2007). He has written many scholarly articles and book chapters, but also published dozens of non-academic essays in the Washington Post, TIME, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), History News Network, Africa Is A Country, Jacobin, In These Times, and more. Cole also is a Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole — watch out for Peter Cole’s presentations in the Bay Area, March 9-16, on his Twitter account.

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.