Introduction
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Introduction Why is this book needed? It seems a logical question to ask at the start of a project such as this. At the very least one should determine what this book could add to the existing body of work. Scholarly and creative treatments of the maritime world abound. This is true on the national, regional, and even state levels, and many of these works have impressive historical relevance. Some of these studies and novels concentrate on ships and shipbuilding. Some concentrate on the sailors who, often while being portrayed romantically , took these ships to the four corners of the globe and, in the age of sail, put Maine close to the center of the maritime world. Other studies have concentrated on issues of commerce, trade, and facilitating the oceanborne transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods. What has largely been neglected in most of these studies, however, has been a thorough treatment of the workers who stayed at home and who loaded and unloaded these ships—the longshoremen, otherwise known as dockworkers or, imprecisely, as stevedores. Lacking the romance of “those who go down to the sea in ships,” these hardy souls only went as far as the wharves. Their labor, though, was every bit as crucial as that of the more thoroughly documented related areas of manufacturing; agriculture; mineral and natural resource extraction, including fishing; and shipping. The dearth of documentation on these longshore laborers in New England is particularly stark given the pivotal role of the shipping industry, sailing, whaling, and all other maritime-related functions on the regional economy and the historical development of New England, generally, and the state of Maine, in particular. Ironically, other maritime regions in the United States do not suffer from this apparent oversight. Documentation of the Pacific Coast longshoremen —specifically the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen ’s Union (ILWU), led by the radical firebrand Harry Bridges—is quite 2 Introduction extensive and growing. Scholarly treatments of Gulf Coast dockworkers, particularly in the racially diverse and pivotal port of New Orleans, are readily available. Even Great Lakes shipping and longshore labor has been better documented than that of New England or Maine. This book represents a social history of a relatively large group of predominantly ethnic and unskilled laborers. It is essentially a study of this seemingly powerless group and its efforts to adapt and survive in the potentially hostile environment along Maine’s rugged coast. It documents, therefore , a history of survival and an attempt to live “the American Dream.” It records the creative thinking and actions that allowed these largely Irish and Irish-American workers to make a home for their growing families and neighborhoods. They eventually were able to fulfill their own dreams through the gains and mobility of their children and grandchildren. It is a narrative of struggle and failures but also, at its very core, one of hope and ultimate success. “The dreams of the first generation were lived by the second.” Fortunately, abundant primary records exist to document the labors of many thousands of the longshoremen of Portland over their more than 125 years of labor along the docks of Maine’s largest city. In 1985, at the urging of Dr. Robert H. Babcock (University of Maine at Orono, Emeritus Professor of History) and myself, the Portland Longshoremen’s Benevolent Society (PLSBS), International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 861 agreed to archive and store its records at the Maine Historical Society (MHS) in Portland. This forward-looking decision by the union instantly resulted in the presence of the first labor-related manuscript collection at the historical society. This collection, numbering nearly one hundred individual components , contains the minutes of regular union meetings starting in 1880; financial, dues, and sick reports; and even a few volumes of the predominantly Italian Freight Handler’s Union, ILA Local 912. These manuscripts [MA 85–15] in collections 359 and 360 will preserve these vital records for future analysis by the union itself, local and regional historians, Maine and ethnic and labor scholars, and many others well into the foreseeable future . This book has employed a multifaceted and thematic approach. The abundance of resources, including the union records, allows one to analyze these maritime laborers in several ways. Any study over such a lengthy period must be selective by its very nature, thus consciously choosing to leave out far more than it includes. My choice has been to concentrate on 3 Introduction the critical years of 1880–1923 and to...


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