Port politics: Indian Seamen, Australian Unions and Indonesian Independence, 1945-47

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Labour History, 2008, 1 (94), pp. 43 - 68
Issue Date:
2008-05-01
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In September 1945 a boycott of Dutch shipping in Australian waters was called in support of the Indonesian declaration of independence at the end of World War II. Inspired by the Atlantic Charter, a new decolonised world seemed possible. It was working people of Australia, Indonesia and India who co-operated in the boycott and attempt to win freedom not only in Indonesia but also in India. This article compares the Australian accounts of the boycott with Indian perspectives, found in the records of the Indian Seamen's Union in Australia and in oral histories of Australian activists who supported the Indians in this boycott. This comparison demonstrates that the Indian seamen played a substantial role in the practical implementation of the boycott, as it was they, not Indonesians or Australians, who were the main body of seamen obstructing the departures of the black-banned ships. The article asks why the Indian story has been absent in the Australian accounts to date and locates the sources of that marginalisation in the assumptions and stereotypes developed over a century of hierarchical and competitive colonial labour practices. The boycott which seemed to be about the end of colonialism was nevertheless shaped by and remembered within the constraints ofthat colonialism.
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