The triumph of the state: Singapore’s dockworkers and the limits of global history, c. 1920–65
Cambridge University Press (CUP)
COPYRIGHT: © Cambridge University Press 2017 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Labour history has been revitalised by the global turn. It has encouraged historians to look beyond national frameworks to explore issues relating to mobility and inter-territorial connection. This article, while accepting the benefits of a global approach, argues that historians should not lose sight of the factors that constrain mobility or lead to the collapse of cross-border exchanges. Singapore’s dockworkers were at the forefront of the island’s anti-colonial campaigns of the 1940s and 1950s. Inspired by anti-colonial movements elsewhere in the world, dockworkers drew on international discourses relating to self-determination to place their local struggles in a global context. This activism, however, coincided with the emergence of countervailing forces, including the universalisation of the nation-state and the rise of state-led developmentalism. In this context dockworkers’ internationalism came to be regarded as a threat to state sovereignty and development. As a result, once Singapore achieved independence the ruling People’s Action Party encouraged dockworkers to abandon their globalised outlook in the name of modernization and nation-building. Global history then, should be as much about the rise of the national as the transnational, and the loss of connection as the forging of inter-territorial networks.
The research for this article was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant ref: ES/K008749/1).
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from CUP via the DOI in this record.
Published online: 03 April 2017