Ateliers > Histoire du travail maritime

Histoire maritime du travail




Session 1 : Vendredi 3 novembre, 09:00-10:30 




Seafarers in Rotterdam and Antwerp in Times of the “Migration Crisis” around 1900

Christina Reimann (University of Gothenburg, Institutionen för Historiska Studier & Centre for European Research - CERGU). 


This paper investigates how the “migration crisis” at the turn of the century changed the public representation of foreign seafarers in the port cities of Antwerp and Rotterdam. It asks how the construction of the “deviant migrant” in public discourse impacted on the representation of foreign seafarers in the harbours.

In late 19th and early 20th century, migrants from all over Europe and from other parts of the world reached the port cities of Antwerp and Rotterdam. Many of them, coming especially from Eastern Europe, were planning to get on a steamboat to the American continent. However, due to reformed US-immigration laws, numerous emigrants were sent back to Europe, finding themselves in the port cities. At same time, the harbours’ intensified activity attracted not only workers hoping to find a (casual) employment in the dockyards, but also foreign seafarers. After the end of their contract of employment, many of these seafarers remained in the port cities, sometimes without any means of subsistence. According to the city authorities, the dockyards were populated by migrants and by impoverished foreign seafarers. These areas came to be seen as a specific city space where different groups of “deviant people” stayed, as in fact, the presence of migrants and foreign seafarers alike was perceived as a danger for the cities’ social order. According to the national and city administration these people represented a problem in terms of poverty and vagrancy, of criminal behaviour, of politically revolutionary intentions and in terms of hygiene and contagious illnesses. But, the degree to which they were rejected depended on their nationality, race and ethnicity whereby Russian Jews were particularly stigmatised.

This paper investigates on how “the law” as a social practice was deployed within the endeavour to take control of the various migration movements to and through the port cities. How did the different actors, the central and local authorities, the shipping companies and hotel-owners cooperate in setting up new regulations? In how far did they ground their actions such as the registration, health examination, imprisonment or expulsion of unwanted migrants and foreign seafarers on “the law”? How did the migrants and seafarers themselves use the increasing amount of legal regulations for their purposes?



Extra-European seafarers employed by British imperial shipping companies during the interwar years (1919-1939): being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Justine Cousin (Université Paris IV Sorbonne)


Seamen from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean became more and more employed by the British imperial shipping companies from the 1850s, after the repeal of the Navigation Acts. But these coloured seafarers were less and less welcomed aboard from the beginning of the 20th century, as strangers became simultaneously targeted in Britain with the 1905 Aliens Act.

Popular racism had increased from the end of the 19th century but it became very vivid after the First World War. Confronted with a post-war slump and a recovery crisis on jobs and housing the British authorities used coloured seafarers as scapegoats for that dire situation. The authorities also suffered from pressures of the trade unions – the National Sailors’ and Firemen’s Union (NFSU) played a crucial part - and the Shipping Federation. In order to resolve this employment crisis the authorities and the NFSU took measures to ensure a colour ban in shipping recruitment practices.

This legal action also tackled with the social crisis going on in Britain, and especially in port cities. Britons resented the fact that some coloured seamen had married British women and taken their homes while they were at war. Racial tensions grew in dockside areas right after the war, exploding in racial riots in 1919 and the years after. As a result British authorities, the Shipping Federation and trade unions united to enforce segregation targeting coloured seamen, with measures such as the Aliens Restriction Act (1919) and the Coloured Alien Seamen’s Order (1920). Foreigners who were not from the British Empire had to register to the police and could easily be deported back, while deserters should be actively searched by the shipping companies.

As a result the number of African and Caribbean seafarers dropped while more and more lascars from India were recruited, as they could prove they were British subjects. This led to numerous complaints from coloured seafarers to official authorities.

But this intent voluntarism from the British authorities might be misleading as the principle of white-only crews proved quickly unworkable in practice. Shipowners didn’t have enough cheap British seamen to replace coloured crews, while many of them seek naturalisation at several British ports. These legal obligations had to be suspended after the declaration of war when crews became urgently needed to replace mobilized British seafarers.      



A time of transition: Foreign seamen on Belgian ships in the port of Antwerp, 1850-1914

Kristot Loockx (Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium).


The second half of the nineteenth century is characterised by a fundamental transformation of the European economy, which intertwined with increasing levels of mobility and migration. My PhD project aims to study how the internationalisation of the maritime labour market and shifts in mobility patterns, on the one hand, and technological innovations in the maritime sector, such as the changeover from sail to steam on the other, had an impact on the maritime workforce in Belgium. As such, my research is situated at the crossroads of maritime and migration history and will study the changes in profiles and migratory trajectories of this highly mobile labour group between 1850 and 1914.   


The growth of the shipping business and the large-scale introduction of steam increased the demand for seafaring labour, which, in turn, stimulated international migration to maritime commercial nodes. The transformation of the maritime labour market, however, did not create a single international market, but a multitude of local markets, each affected by local wage levels and employment opportunities. The port of Antwerp represents an interesting case for this study. During the second half of the nineteenth century, it transformed into a flourishing international port and booming trade centre, which increased the demand for shipping masters and seamen. Unfortunately, we still know little about the maritime labour force on Belgian ships. Therefore, the Antwerp seamen’s registry serves as the main source of the PhD-project, because it contains all seamen that worked on a Belgian merchant vessel from 1844 onwards. The sample years 1850 and 1890 form the basis for a profound analysis of the seamen’s geographical origin, age profile and position on board. As such, this study will evaluate the impact of changes in the maritime labour market during a period of internationalisation and professionalization. Analysing the port of Antwerp as a major international player will thus not only contribute to a better insight into the maritime history of Belgium but will also provide contributions to several international debates, such as the transformation of the maritime labour market and the nature of a so-called ‘mobility transition’.


Framing the Portuguese Maritime Labour under a corporatist organization for fisheries: welfare and social order (1933-1974)

Álvaro Garrido (Faculdade de Economia da Universidade de Coimbra. Investigador do CEIS20)


Under the dictatorship regime of the “New State” (1933-1974), the Portuguese industrial fisheries, mainly for cod in the North Atlantic and sardine along the national coast, were high regulated by corporatist institutions. This regulatory institutional frame took the name of “Organização Corporativa das Pescas” (corporatist organization for fisheries) and it was composed by mandatory guilds, from the side of the owners, and “national trade unions”, from the side of seamen. An exclusive and singular corporatist institution was created in 1937 in order to keep the social order in the maritime communities: “Casas dos Pescadores” (Fishermen Houses).

This paper describes the functions of this institutional building for fisheries regulation, pointed out the concrete sphere of maritime labour.

After this brief description, we will examine how the Fishermen Houses and the National Trade Unions for fisheries managed the social order of crews and maritime communities using social assistance and some welfare programmes. To understand these particular combination, we will analyse some data about social insurances and social benefits.



Session 2 : Vendredi 3 novembre, 11:00 - 12:30



Seafaring Masculinity: The Gender of Maritime History in the Age of Trump

Valerie Burton, Memorial (University of Newfoundland, Canada)


With Donald Trump’s presidential election victory having renewed talk of a crisis of masculinity, the breadwinning concerns of the popular classes again beg our attention. Trump’s anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, and anti-social welfare invective is lodged on a logic of men’s dispossession. Historians have a part to play in saying that “regular” men and their families did not in the past find their way to stable and well-adjusted lives in households headed by patriarchal breadwinners. Historians of the merchant marine have particularly strategic evidence to hand: it shows capitalist appropriation to have been advanced by an industrial wage system inimical to men’s provision for households.

Between the rhetorical structures of breadwinning and those of its foil, the mythologized “whoring, drinking ‘sailor’”, there are material truths to be recovered about how seafarers and the on-shore communities of their mothers, wives and lovers made sense of recurrent subsistence crises; of technological redundancy and out-sourcing in an international recruitment pool; and of organized labour’s failure to build on radicalization across the multiple fronts discomforted by racist and misogynistic prescriptions to self-help and personal aggrandizement.

My evidence comes not from present-day America, but from nineteenth century Britain. While they are linked by an aggressively imperialist commitment to making market values the measure of all things, the two are nevertheless different for the intervening shift from classic economic liberalism to protectionism. If time is too short to tackle the many implications of this reconstitution of the political economy, its hegemonic consolidation, and the origination of new forms of popular resistance, my presentation makes a start on a response by suggesting that the absence of disciplinary refutation is problem.

The extraordinarily widespread and long-lived gender binary underpinning maritime activities and reinforcing the orthodoxies of a male-gendered producer/provider class drew feminists into maritime history between the 1980s and 2000s. Fruitful then, their contributions are now selectively and imperfectly remembered. The reckoning with structures of power that they embraced hardly breaks the surface of what is currently contemplated as “maritime masculinities”. Colonized by a cultural discourse narrowly self-referential in nature, maritime history is now gendered through sensibilities that leave its protagonists unresponsive to the intellectual connections and political imperatives fore-grounded in this presentation.

On the eve of the Presidential investiture, writing this proposal, I am however uncomfortably aware that the narrowing of ground for interventions via temporally-considered perspectives will affect the reception of its subject matter and arguments at a conference almost a year away: will the logic of men’s dispossession still be playing out via an historically questionable model of male breadwinning? The ephemerality of public discourse in the Age of Trump should trouble all historians, but it will have particularly strategic implications for scholars who continue to advocate for social justice.


A Historical Overview of Decent Working Conditions on board.  International Attempts for a “Decent Workplace” in Merchant Shipping

Despoina Kiltidou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)


This presentation focuses on how maritime labor law and especially the regulation of decent working conditions on board in merchand shipping formed in international level. We will focus on the ancient codes and maritime practices that were the forerunners of the current international maritime labor law.  Moreover, we will examine the current criteria for decent working conditions as they are expressed in international conventions and guidelines.

We will discuss how the working conditions of seafarers were regulated through the ancient times until nowadays. At the ancient times, little attention has been given to the way these people were working and living on board. Firstly, we will examine the history of the working conditions on board as it was defined in the medieval collections, such as the Roles D 'Oleron (14th century), the decisions of the Hanseatic Association (14th century) and the Consoloto del mare (1340 AD), which are collections of judgments that have been influenced from the maritime customs of the Atlantic and Mediterranean ports. A forerunner of the above collections is the Medieval Naval Law of the Rhodes, which introduced concepts that have been preserved in the contemporary maritime codes of the Western world. Subsequently, a positive line between the history and the prehistory of the Maritime Law was the “Code de Commerce de 1807”, the French “Ordonnance Touchant le Marine of 1861”, and at the end of the nineteenth century the newer codes began to appear. All these of the above mentioned collections of law indicate not only the particularity of the maritime labor law, but also mention the inevitably “globalized ” vision of maritime labor law. Furthermore, by examining all these texts, we will recognize the conception of decent working conditions at that time and the means by which the working conditions were protected.

Secondly, we will examine the connection between this ancient Labor Acts and the provisions of international law concerning decent working conditions. In this vein, we focus on the importance of International Organizations such as ILO and IMO that insist on implementing decent working and living conditions on board, through international Conventions and guidelines.

Thirdly, this presentation undertakes the protection of decent working condition in the European Union’s environment. Especially, it is given that European union has realized the uniqueness of maritime labor and as a consequence, does efforts of regulating the working conditions on board by legal acts such as directives. 

As a conclusion, in this presentation, the importance of the forerunners of current laws concerning the decent working conditions on board merchant shipping is highlighted. Furthermore, it is revealed that the international environment of maritime labor participated in the improvement of the working conditions of seafarers, although the way to the construction of a completely safe and decent maritime workplace has not succeeded yet.




Transatlantic Crises: Fishermen’s Wives’ Organizations in Gloucester and Hull

Colin J. Davis (University of Alabama at Birmingham).


My proposed paper will detail how fishermen’s wives responded to crises that directly affected their husbands’ work. These women created  organizations in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Hull, England.  During the late 1960’s women organized on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to protect the interests of their husbands and sons.  In the U.S. case wives organized the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association (GFWA).  The catalyst for such action was the appearance of large foreign fishing fleets off the coast of New England.  The New England fishers were hopelessly outclassed by such modern fishing vessels and the fleeting system of catching fish.  Correspondingly, fish stocks plummeted directly the livlihoods of fishermen.  The women argued that their men folk spent considerable time at sea and therefore could not present their case before local and national politicians.  Correspondingly, the wives organized and agitated to rid foreign ships from the traditional fishing grounds of George’s and Brown’s Banks.  Their tactics included giving testimony before Congress and the Massachusetts Legislature, creating a fish recipe book, and demanding an extension of the territorial limit to 200 miles to protect the traditional New England fishery.  In the Hull case, wives and female supporters organized to improve safety aboard trawlers.  The spark was a series of disasters where three Hull trawlers were lost during the winter of 1968.  Known as the Triple Trawler Disaster, the loss of three trawlers and 60 men galvanized the women to act.  The women captured the attention of the general public and the British Parliament.  The actions of these women were instrumental in persuading the British government to create a wide-ranging inquiry on safety in the trawling industry.

Each movement was characterized by women stepping out of their traditional roles of mothers and wives, to becoming active agents in their husbands’ working worlds.  The Hull experience was much more spontaneous and volatile.  With trade union support, they succeeded in galvanizing a community to demand recognition of the perils of fishing in the North Atlantic, and for both employers and the government to address and rectify the high accident and fatality rates.  The GFWA was more long lasting.  Their fight would take years until the U.S. government relented and created a 200 mile territorial limit.  Even then, the GFWA continued to function as a lobbyist for the men and the fishing industry generally.



Session 3 : Vendredi 3 novembre, 14:00-15:30 



The Maritime Porters of Barcelona in the crises of the first-quarter of the nineteenth century: work cultures and family networks in the reconstruction of the labor force.*

 Brendan J. von Briesen (Universitat de Barcelona)


In this paper, I analyze the strategy for the reconstruction the labor force of maritime porters (bastaixos, also called faquines de capçana) in the port of Barcelona during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  A series of existing political and economic crises worsened with the French occupation of Barcelona (1808-1814), which coincided with the abolition of the guilds by the Cortes de Cádiz from 1813-1815.  With the return of Fernando VVI to the throne, the guilds were legalized, but the government continued with the Enlightenment policy of reforming their monopolistic privileges.  This process was cut short by the arrival of the Liberals to power through the Revolution of 1820, when they re-implemented the abolition of 1813.  Once again, the return of Fernando VII brought the legalization of the guilds and another attempt at reforming their privileges.  From the perspective of the guilds, the first quarter of the nineteenth century can be understood as a combination of military, economic, socio-political, and labor crises.  Using primary sources, I compare the composition of guild membership and, particularly, the new members that entered the Guild of Maritime Porters before and during this period.  I look at the role of social and family networks and work cultures in this process.



View from Below : New Perspectives on the History  of the Thessalonikian Dockers in the Port of Haifa (1933-1935).   

Shai Srougo (University of Haifa)


In the struggle of Jewish labor in the port of Haifa during the British Mandate, the Thessalonikian dockers played a major role. Until recently the story of their absorption was analysed "from above". Accordinally, the Thessalonikians arrived equipped with professional skills and enthusiasm which ostensibly was to be sufficient for their successful occupational integration at the waterfront.

The presentation looks again on (1) the push-pull factors of  migration, (2) the professional and economic absorption in the waterfront of Haifa but according to a social history approach and "from below"- from which emerges a much more complex  story. I note failures and successes to gain a foothold in the maritime labor market, the persistence involved, and the partial withdrawal from the struggle. The deepening chasm between national idealism and social reality brought an ongoing polemic between the Thessalonikian dockers and the Zionist elites of the interwar Yishuv, with both sides failing to bridge the gaps.



The contracting system at the Port of Thessaloniki during the Post-War era

Kostas Paloukis & Christos Mais (Research Associates of the Thessaloniki Port Authority S.A)


The organizational model of labor at the Port of Thessaloniki until the Post-War era was heavily based on a problematic contracting system. This issue resurfaced in the 1950s, after the end of the Greek Civil War, for a number of reasons. The -until the Interwar era- dominant Jewish dock workers that had their own traditions and rights were now extinct. The Port resumed operations within the framework of the Civil War strife and its pivotal role during the Civil War defined the political and cultural characteristics of its new labor force.

The contracting system directly intertwined with the political issues and played its role in the broadening of the social base of the regime of the winning side of the Civil War. On the one hand, the contracting system functioned as a traditional system of paternalistic integration. It served its purpose, in order to reconstitute a patronage state and to preserve the subjugation of the latter to the “nationalist” State of Athens, by meeting the needs for settling the lower social dynamic that either fought or sided with it. On the other hand, as a traditional system of vertical pyramid management and control of labor, contractors have preserved port operation in turbulent times. Despite the “positive” aspects of the contracting system, its reintroduction reproduced many of its consistent its built-in flaws against the ideal of a rationalized organization of port labor.

The contracting system was identified as a problematic issue during the early 1950s. The foundation of the Free Zone and Port of Thessaloniki, as a single organization for managing commercial traffic, spawned expectations, but despite these expectations the issue remained unsolved. The French company CEGOS was hired to draft a study with regard to the port development. Among others, the issue of organizing stevedoring was assessed. The foundation of the Thessaloniki Port Authority in 1970 was the mature outcome of these processes. In contrast to prior Port of Thessaloniki organizations, this was more than a mere renaming of a preexisting organization. The establishment of the Thessaloniki Port Authority should be seen as the end product of a course of a “modernist” transformation of the organization of port labor.




Session 4 : Vendredi 3 novembre,16:00-17:30



In February 2017 has started an international research project (H2020 – ERC Grant 2016-STG) entitled Seafaring Lives in Transition. Mediterranean Maritime Labour During Modern Globalization, 1870s-1920s. Acronym: SeaLiT. Our proposal is to organize a monographic session dedicated to this project, with four papers on different lines of research representing some of the national teams, beginning with the presentation of the five years project and its goals by the Principal Investigator.  Depending of the structure of the ELHN Conference, we can dispose the papers and interventions in different ways according to the instructions of the Scientific Committee.



A new challenge for Mediterranean maritime history: labour and communities in transition from sail to steam.

Apostolos Delis (Principal Investigator, Institute for Mediterranean Studies (IMS-FORTH)


 The transition from sail to steam revolutionized the life of many people and societies in Europe and beyond and restructured the cultural and socio-economic pattern of all those related in maritime professions. In the Mediterranean as well, the phenomenon of the transition from sail to steam affected the structures and everyday life of individuals and communities dependent from shipping business. However, so far, the study of this transition in the Mediterranean societies has been carried out in a fragmented way, as far as its objectives, its main questions and its geographic scope. Now, for the first time, and thanks to the ERC StG 2016 project “Seafaring Lives in Transition. Mediterranean Maritime Labour and Shipping during Globalization, 1850s-1920s”, recently approved by the European Commission, is given the opportunity to bring together specialists from different Mediterranean countries, who are going to examine this complex historical phenomenon under a unified research agenda and with the aim to analyze the multiple aspects of this transition in a comparative and interconnected way, encompassing most of the Mediterranean regions and part of the Black Sea.



“Joys and Sorrows of Seafaring Life”. A Biographical Profile of The Captain Carlo Costantini (mid-19th Century)

Erica Mezzoli, (Ph.D - Institute for Mediterranean Studies (IMS-FORTH),


The aim of the paper is to draw the outlines of life and activities of Trieste’s Captain Carlo Costantini through his writings.  Alongside his activity as Captain, Costantini also devoted himself to the writing of some “handbooks”, especially addressed to boys who wanted to take up a seafaring career. His books offer a vast repertoire of advice, suggestions and warnings – both of practical and moral nature – from his personal seafaring experience. In more general terms, we can consider his literary work as the portrait of how working activities, habits and lifestyles were going to change at the moment when steaming started predominating in the Adriatic Sea. 

The present paper is one the first and provisional outcomes of SeaLit ERC Project whose primary scientific goal is to investigate the changes of work and life conditions of the seafaring communities of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea basins, from mid-19th Century to the first quarter of the 20th Century.



Sources for the Study of Maritime Labour in Liguria in the Era of Transformation 1850-1920. Notes for a New Research.

Luca lo Basso & Paolo Calcagno (Università di Genova
Laboratorio di Storia Marittima e Navale (NavLab).



Maritime Labour History in Spain for the Contemporary Period: Sources, Problems and Alternatives.

Jordi Ibarz & Enric Garcia (Universitat de Barcelona).

The sources for the study of the Spanish Maritime History (including maritime labour history) are not easy to handle at present. Disappeared or scattered archives, or even concentrated in a distant place and closed to the researchers nowadays, did not help to deepen in the knowledge. Problems arise especially when dealing with Contemporary History. So we can find alternative sources to find answers to the main questions. In this paper we will summarize the problems and the proposed solutions to draw a picture of the maritime labour history for the XIX and XX centuries, and especially for the period of the transition from sail to steam in the context of the SeaLit project. The paper focuses on the port of Barcelona, its maritime community and the Catalan shipping industry from mid-19th Century to the first quarter of the 20th Century.




* This paper is part of consecutive research projects: “La reconstrucción de la actividad económica en la Cataluña contemporánea: trabajo, demografía y economía familiares (HAR2011-26951)” and “Crisis y reconstrucción de los mercados de trabajo en Cataluña (1760-1960): Ocupaciones, culturas del trabajo y estrategias adaptativas(HAR2014-57187-P)” which were funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.

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