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Response to Review of Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area

I wish to thank Ross Webb for his detailed summary and thoughtful analysis of my book, Dockworker Power. I do not wish to split hairs with his review. Rather, I wish to echo and expand on some of his comments as they relate to certain aspects of my work.


As I note in my book, containerization – as a technological process – truly was revolutionary but remains underappreciated and understudied. This seemingly simple technology resulted in an explosion of global trade, by orders of magnitude, in the past few generations. It also resulted in the movement of manufacturing from the first group of industrialized nations (in Europe and North America) to other regions in Asia and elsewhere. To think about globalisation and not center containers is to misunderstand what has occurred. However, historians and other scholars (geographers, sociologists, etc.) interested in work and unions, shipping and the maritime world, technology and other fields, and so on have produced shockingly little on this world-historic phenomenon. Even those who have written about dock work and dockers have engaged in precious little research on the containerisation era. Further, few studies examine ports in the global South and Asia. We particularly need more work about the history of ports and port workers in East Asia considering that is where nine of ten of the world’s busiest ports now are located.


I should add that I, interested in the history of labour and other social movements, had no intention of writing on technology when I began my project. However, I became compelled to do so because its history, current state, and future trajectory are so important and interesting. I cannot think of a workplace issue more pressing, in the 21st century, than technological change so I chose to explore some of its history.