Posted by: kokoro | 5th Apr, 2009


I think my favorite part of the whole book may have been the appendix. I found it very interesting to read about how Wellman integrated himself into the longshore community. I’m used to thinking of ethnographies as based on accounts from tribal people from far off lands, so this book is a nice reminder than ethnography can be right here at home.

The part I found particularly interesting is that Wellman recognized that he wasn’t a neutral observer, as he had a natural slant towards the union, but both the longshoremen and the managers saw him as neutral and put him into that position. They expected it of him, so he had to act in that fashion by going to meetings of both sides, sitting in between the two sides during joint meetings, and what not.

I think Wellman’s book provides, aside from a great ethnographic study of San Francisco longshoremen, an intriguing counterpoint to the argument that the natural trajectory of unionization is towards business unionism. However, I don’t think, as Wellman mentioned himself, that his account alone proves that the ILWU isn’t an exceptional union or that it is proof that radical unionism isn’t dead. Still, Wellman’s study is a good starting point to investigate other unions for comparison to the ILWU.

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