‘Second to none in the international fight’: Australian seafarers internationalism and maritime unions against apartheid

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Journal Article
Journal of Contemporary History, 2019, 54 (2), pp. 442 - 464
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© The Author(s) 2017. The participation of trade unions in the anti-apartheid movement is a subject which arguably merits more attention. This article brings into focus a group of unionists whose activism against apartheid was in the forefront of key initiatives. Drawing on new research the argument recounts the role of Australian seafarers on the international stage, particularly its association with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), and shows how knowledge of events in South Africa passed from the WFTU to educate the union membership. By the 1980s, Australian seafarers were taking the lead in bringing European unionists together in united action to enforce the United Nations’ embargo on oil supplies to South Africa by founding a new organization, the Maritime Unions Against Apartheid (MUAA). Reconstructing these events demonstrates two aspects of significance: the growing importance of monitoring shipping as an anti-apartheid strategy coordinated and led by European unions, which we point out relied on ships’ officers and crews for knowledge, and the breaking down of the ideological divide between the WFTU and the anti-Communist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) working together in the MUAA. The article contributes new understanding of connections between anti-apartheid activism and its Cold War context.
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