La Trobe
Maritime Unions Against Apartheid.docx (66.81 kB)

‘Second to None in the International Fight’: Australian Seafarers Internationalism and Maritime Unions Against Apartheid

Download (66.81 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 30.03.2021, 04:51 by Diane Kirkby, Dmytro Ostapenko
© 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.


Research for this article was funded by the Australian Research Council grant LP140100546. We wish to thank the ARC, the Maritime Union of Australia and three anonymous referees for their very helpful comments.


Publication Date



Journal of Contemporary History






23p. (p. 442-464)


SAGE Publications



Rights Statement

The Author reserves all moral rights over the deposited text and must be credited if any re-use occurs. Documents deposited in OPAL are the Open Access versions of outputs published elsewhere. Changes resulting from the publishing process may therefore not be reflected in this document. The final published version may be obtained via the publisher’s DOI. Please note that additional copyright and access restrictions may apply to the published version.