Independant researcher @ Independent
Dr David Featherstone is a reader in Human Geography at the University of Glasgow. His publications include Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism and The Red and the Black: The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic (co-edited with Christian Høgsbjerg). He is currently working on a Leverhulme funded project examining trade unionism and processes of democratisation with his section of the project focusing on the National Union of Seamen and the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers in Britain.
Geographical location :
Research Area and Interest :
Labour and governance
Organised Labour and Post-colonial Democracy in the West Indies
In this paper, we take forms of labour organising as the starting point for interrogating spaces of democratisation and the spatial politics through which democratic politics is envisioned and practiced. We examine the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) in Trinidad and relations between Britain’s National Union of Seamen (NUS) and Caribbean seafarers’ unions. Our focus is the contested relations between unions and the state in relation to the decolonising/post-colonial period. Following independence, the OWTU developed a democratic critique of the post-colonial state in Trinidad, and the wider Caribbean, from a Third Worldist and anti-imperialist perspective (Prashad 2007; Getachew 2019). The OWTU consistently linked the organisation’s sectoral disputes to a broader effort to defend Trinidad’s national democracy from manipulation and subversion by Metropolitan multinational corporations and imperialist powers (OWTU 1982). Further, the OWTU consistently stood against the numerous attacks on workers’ rights and civil liberties launched by the Trinidadian government in the 1960s and 1970s. In the post-war period the NUS was the site of key attempts to democratise this notoriously autocratic and racist union, which challenged the union’s close links with both shipping companies and the state. This paper explores tensions regarding the extent to which these attempts to democratise the NUS challenged the union’s racist culture. We do this through exploring debates between the NUS and unions such as the Barbadian Association of Seamen in the 1970s. These linkages are used to examine some of the contested forms of the democratisation of trade union cultures and how they related to broader racialized imaginaries of the left.