Sweatshops at Sea

Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant Seamen in the World's First Globalized Industry, from 1812 to the Present

Leon Fink
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807877807_fink
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  • Book Info
    Sweatshops at Sea
    Book Description:

    As the main artery of international commerce, merchant shipping was the world's first globalized industry, often serving as a vanguard for issues touching on labor recruiting, the employment relationship, and regulatory enforcement that crossed national borders. InSweatshops at Sea, historian Leon Fink examines the evolution of laws and labor relations governing ordinary seamen over the past two centuries.The merchant marine offers an ideal setting for examining the changing regulatory regimes applied to workers by the United States, Great Britain, and, ultimately, an organized world community. Fink explores both how political and economic ends are reflected in maritime labor regulations and how agents of reform--including governments, trade unions, and global standard-setting authorities--grappled with the problems of applying land-based, national principles and regulations of labor discipline and management to the sea-going labor force. With the rise of powerful nation-states in a global marketplace in the nineteenth century, recruitment and regulation of a mercantile labor force emerged as a high priority and as a vexing problem for Western powers. The history of exploitation, reform, and the evolving international governance of sea labor offers a compelling precedent in an age of more universal globalization of production and services.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0332-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This is not a book about pirates, but let’s begin with pirates. In April 2009, most Americans were startled to learn that a U.S. flagged merchant ship, theMaersk Alabama, had been attacked by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa and equally relieved when the destroyer USSBainbridge, which happened to be patrolling in the area, arrived to rescue the captain and literally blow up his captors. A sporadic and generally marginal phenomenon across two centuries, the incidence of oceanic piracy has picked up in recent years due to the juncture of rising Asian exports (especially for transshipment through...

  4. PART I Mastered and Commanded
    • 1 The Nation’s Property NINETEENTH-CENTURY SAILORS AND THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE ATLANTIC WORLD
      (pp. 9-34)

      InThe Wealth of Nations(1776), Adam Smith famously anticipated a world in which a relatively unfettered marketplace would maximize production, trade, and wealth for all those who could participate in its self-regulating mechanism. Yet, even as he identified the welfare of “nations” with the expansion of “wealth”—both of which, he believed, required restraint from governmental interference—Smith allowed himself some wiggle room when it came to shipping and sea power. It was no accident, he suggested, that the “first civilized” nations were those, around the coast of the tame Mediterranean Sea, that had first succeeded in “the infant...

    • 2 Liberty before the Mast DEFINING FREE LABOR IN LAW AND LITERATURE
      (pp. 35-64)

      The sailor’s freedom—or rather lack of it—exercised a peculiarly powerful hold on nineteenth-century imaginations across the Atlantic world. Images of the tyrannical captain applying the cat-o’-nine-tails, the drunken wastrel snatched from a seaside rooming house and dumped in a fetid foc’s’l, or the runaway chained in a ship’s hold awaiting criminal charges have long mixed fascination with discomfort in the landlocked reader. Though applied to what often appeared an exotic, separate world of its own, however, the drama of liberty versus license, rights versus authority, and independence versus dependency as enacted on the high seas, as writers of...

  5. PART II Strategies of Reform
    • 3 Wave of Reform THE SAILOR’S FRIEND AND THE DRIFT TOWARD A WELFARE STATE
      (pp. 67-92)

      Perhaps never did the plight of the ordinary seaman command more attention from the British public than in the mid-1870s. To be sure, evidence of the problem abounded. Since 1830, some 20 percent of the nation’s seamen regularly died at sea, and in some passages of the coal trade, the casualty rate of ships reached an astounding 70 percent. Nor did the men themselves have much recourse. In 1870–72 alone, 1,628 sailors were sent to jail for refusing to go to sea in ships they feared “unworthy.”¹ Yet, although social causes have multiple and complex triggers, so too do...

    • 4 The Nationalist Solution THE LA FOLLETTE ACT OF 1915 AND THE JANUS FACE OF PROGRESSIVE REFORM
      (pp. 93-116)

      Nineteenth-century American seamen and their advocates had long called for “emancipation” from coercive regulations. By the end of the century, workers in this most “unfree” of occupations were still subjected to various forms of physical punishment from superiors and denied the “right to quit” work without facing potential criminal prosecution. Famously, the seamen finally won their freedom in one of the hallmarks of Progressive Era legislation, the U.S. Seamen’s Act, signed by President Woodrow Wilson on March 4, 1915, a date that Senator Robert M. La Follette, the bill’s chief author, called the seamen’s “emancipation day.”¹ Upon reexamination, the La...

    • 5 Workers of the Sea, Unite? THE INTERNATIONALIST LEGACY OF THE PRE–WORLD WAR I YEARS
      (pp. 117-142)

      In August 2005, theAmerican Prospect’s savvy editor-at-large, Harold Meyerson, noted with approval that within the umbrella of the recently formed Union Network International, a new alliance of service sector unions had determined to coordinate organizing campaigns of janitors and security guards across India, Poland, Holland, Germany, South Africa, and the United States. “As recently as two years ago,” exulted Meyerson, “it was unlikely that any labor-force futurologist would have predicted that the first de facto global union would consist of the people who guard and clean office buildings and factories.” Focusing on U.S. participation in the new alliance, Meyerson...

  6. PART III A World Fit for Seafarers?
    • 6 A Sea of Difference THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION AND THE SEARCH FOR COMMON STANDARDS, 1919–1946
      (pp. 145-170)

      If the age of sail regularly rendered seafaring a romantic, if also forbidding, occupation in the eyes of landlubbers, the realities of the age of steam presented a rather different picture. Though sailing vessels continued to carry a substantial portion of the world’s trade up to World War I (even if these often applied steam engines as auxiliary means of propulsion), the twentieth-century configuration would be one of iron (and later steel) hulls and steam (and later diesel) engines. The transformation also inevitably complicated an older comradeship below deck. Employers increased the percentage of unskilled workers: not only was the...

    • 7 Cooperation and Cash LABOR’S OPPORTUNITY IN A POST-DEREGULATORY ERA
      (pp. 171-202)

      The presence of strong trade unions in the maritime industry, as in many other industries in the United States and Britain, was all but taken for granted in the mid-1960s. Neither the unions nor their employer counterparts likely imagined that their worlds would be shaken to the core within just two decades. Yet, if the loss of union influence became a common theme of contemporary political history across Europe as well as North America, the sustained “renewal” of maritime unionism at the end of the twentieth century stood out as a dramatic exception. The players involved in this transformation, encompassing...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 203-240)
  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 241-258)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 259-260)
  10. Index
    (pp. 261-278)