For African Americans, the Great Depression and the New Deal (1929–1940) marked a transformative era and laid the groundwork for the postwar black freedom struggle in the United States. The outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929 caused widespread suffering and despair in black communities across the country as women and men faced staggering rates of unemployment and poverty. Once Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), a Democrat, was inaugurated as president in 1933, he launched a “New Deal” of ambitious government programs to lift the United States out of the economic crisis. Most African Americans were skeptical about benefiting from the New Deal, and racial discrimination remained rampant. However, a cohort of black advisors and activists critiqued these government programs for excluding African Americans and enacted some reforms. At the grassroots level, black workers pressed for expanded employment opportunities and joined new labor unions to fight for economic rights. As the New Deal progressed a sea change swept over black politics. Many black voters switched their allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic Party, waged more militant campaigns for racial justice, and joined interracial and leftist coalitions. African Americans also challenged entrenched cultural stereotypes through photography, theater, and oral histories to illuminate the realities of black life in the United States. By 1940, African Americans now wielded an arsenal of protest tactics and were marching on a path toward full citizenship rights, which remains an always evolving process.
African Americans in the Great Depression and New Deal
Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy
American Film since 1945
Over the past seventy years, the American film industry has transformed from mass-producing movies to producing a limited number of massive blockbuster movies on a global scale. Hollywood film studios have moved from independent companies to divisions of media conglomerates. Theatrical attendance for American audiences has plummeted since the mid-1940s; nonetheless, American films have never been more profitable. In 1945, American films could only be viewed in theaters; now they are available in myriad forms of home viewing. Throughout, Hollywood has continued to dominate global cinema, although film and now video production reaches Americans in many other forms, from home videos to educational films. Amid declining attendance, the Supreme Court in 1948 forced the major studios to sell off their theaters. Hollywood studios instead focused their power on distribution, limiting the supply of films and focusing on expensive productions to sell on an individual basis to theaters. Growing production costs and changing audiences caused wild fluctuations in profits, leading to an industry-wide recession in the late 1960s. The studios emerged under new corporate ownership and honed their blockbuster strategy, releasing “high concept” films widely on the heels of television marketing campaigns. New technologies such as cable and VCRs offered new windows for Hollywood movies beyond theatrical release, reducing the risks of blockbuster production. Deregulation through the 1980s and 1990s allowed for the “Big Six” media conglomerates to join film, theaters, networks, publishing, and other related media outlets under one corporate umbrella. This has expanded the scale and stability of Hollywood revenue while reducing the number and diversity of Hollywood films, as conglomerates focus on film franchises that can thrive on various digital media. Technological change has also lowered the cost of non-Hollywood films and thus encouraged a range of alternative forms of filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition.
American Labor and the Working Day
From the first local strikes in the late 18th century to the massive eight-hour movement that shook the country a century later, the length of the working day has been one of the most contentious issues in the history of American labor. Organized workers have fought for shorter hours for various reasons. If they were to be good citizens, workers needed time to follow the news and attend political rallies, to visit lectures and museums, and to perform civic duties. Shorter-hour activists also defended worktime reduction as a tool for moral betterment. Workers needed time to attend religious services and be involved in religious associations, to become better spouses and parents, and to refine their customs and manners through exposure to literature, music, and the arts. Trade unions also promoted shorter hours as sound economic policy. Especially when joblessness was rampant, unionists argued that shorter working days would help distribute available work more evenly among the workforce. During times of economic growth, they shifted the focus to productivity and consumption, arguing that well-rested workers not only performed better, but also had the time to purchase and enjoy the products and services they helped create. As organized labor tended to give preference to full employment and consumption over further working time reductions in the aftermath of the New Deal, the hour issue took a backseat in the second half of the 20th century. It reentered the debate, however, in the late 2000s when high-tech and knowledge industries started to experiment with compressed workweek models. Given the widespread experience of remote work and temporary working time reductions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the question of how much time Americans should, must, and want to spend at work is likely to remain in the focus of public attention.
American Labor and Working-Class History, 1900–1945
Early 20th century American labor and working-class history is a subfield of American social history that focuses attention on the complex lives of working people in a rapidly changing global political and economic system. Once focused closely on institutional dynamics in the workplace and electoral politics, labor history has expanded and refined its approach to include questions about the families, communities, identities, and cultures workers have developed over time. With a critical eye on the limits of liberal capitalism and democracy for workers’ welfare, labor historians explore individual and collective struggles against exclusion from opportunity, as well as accommodation to political and economic contexts defined by rapid and volatile growth and deep inequality. Particularly important are the ways that workers both defined and were defined by differences of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and place. Individual workers and organized groups of working Americans both transformed and were transformed by the main struggles of the industrial era, including conflicts over the place of former slaves and their descendants in the United States, mass immigration and migrations, technological change, new management and business models, the development of a consumer economy, the rise of a more active federal government, and the evolution of popular culture. The period between 1896 and 1945 saw a crucial transition in the labor and working-class history of the United States. At its outset, Americans were working many more hours a day than the eight for which they had fought hard in the late 19th century. On average, Americans labored fifty-four to sixty-three hours per week in dangerous working conditions (approximately 35,000 workers died in accidents annually at the turn of the century). By 1920, half of all Americans lived in growing urban neighborhoods, and for many of them chronic unemployment, poverty, and deep social divides had become a regular part of life. Workers had little power in either the Democratic or Republican party. They faced a legal system that gave them no rights at work but the right to quit, judges who took the side of employers in the labor market by issuing thousands of injunctions against even nonviolent workers’ organizing, and vigilantes and police forces that did not hesitate to repress dissent violently. The ranks of organized labor were shrinking in the years before the economy began to recover in 1897. Dreams of a more democratic alternative to wage labor and corporate-dominated capitalism had been all but destroyed. Workers struggled to find their place in an emerging consumer-oriented culture that assumed everyone ought to strive for the often unattainable, and not necessarily desirable, marks of middle-class respectability. Yet American labor emerged from World War II with the main sectors of the industrial economy organized, with greater earning potential than any previous generation of American workers, and with unprecedented power as an organized interest group that could appeal to the federal government to promote its welfare. Though American workers as a whole had made no grand challenge to the nation’s basic corporate-centered political economy in the preceding four and one-half decades, they entered the postwar world with a greater level of power, and a bigger share in the proceeds of a booming economy, than anyone could have imagined in 1896. The labor and working-class history of the United States between 1900 and 1945, then, is the story of how working-class individuals, families, and communities—members of an extremely diverse American working class—managed to carve out positions of political, economic, and cultural influence, even as they remained divided among themselves, dependent upon corporate power, and increasingly invested in a individualistic, competitive, acquisitive culture.
America’s Wars on Poverty and the Building of the Welfare State
On January 5, 2014—the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty—the New York Times asked a panel of opinion leaders a simple question: “Does the U.S. Need Another War on Poverty?” While the answers varied, all the invited debaters accepted the martial premise of the question—that a war on poverty had been fought and that eliminating poverty was, without a doubt, a “fight,” or a “battle.” Yet the debate over the manner—martial or not—by which the federal government and public policy has dealt with the issue of poverty in the United States is still very much an open-ended one. The evolution and development of the postwar American welfare state is a story not only of a number of “wars,” or individual political initiatives, against poverty, but also about the growth of institutions within and outside government that seek to address, alleviate, and eliminate poverty and its concomitant social ills. It is a complex and at times messy story, interwoven with the wider historical trajectory of this period: civil rights, the rise and fall of a “Cold War consensus,” the emergence of a counterculture, the Vietnam War, the credibility gap, the rise of conservatism, the end of “welfare,” and the emergence of compassionate conservatism. Mirroring the broader organization of the American political system, with a relatively weak center of power and delegated authority and decision-making in fifty states, the welfare model has developed and grown over decades. Policies viewed in one era as unmitigated failures have instead over time evolved and become part of the fabric of the welfare state.
Antebellum U.S. Labor Markets
Joshua L. Rosenbloom
The United States economy underwent major transformations between American independence and the Civil War through rapid population growth, the development of manufacturing, the onset of modern economic growth, increasing urbanization, the rapid spread of settlement into the trans-Appalachian west, and the rise of European immigration. These decades were also characterized by an increasing sectional conflict between free and slave states that culminated in 1861 in Southern secession from the Union and a bloody and destructive Civil War. Labor markets were central to each of these developments, directing the reallocation of labor between sectors and regions, channeling a growing population into productive employment, and shaping the growing North–South division within the country. Put differently, labor markets influenced the pace and character of economic development in the antebellum United States. On the one hand, the responsiveness of labor markets to economic shocks helped promote economic growth; on the other, imperfections in labor market responses to these shocks significantly affected the character and development of the national economy.
Appalachian War on Poverty and the Working Class
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced an unconditional “war on poverty.” On one of his first publicity tours promoting his antipoverty legislation, he traveled to cities and towns in Appalachia, which would become crucial areas for promoting and implementing the legislation. Johnson soon signed the Economic Opportunity Act, a piece of legislation that provided a structure for communities to institute antipoverty programs, from vocational services to early childhood education programs, and encouraged the creation of new initiatives. In 1965, Johnson signed the Appalachian Regional Development Act, making Appalachia the only region targeted by federal antipoverty legislation, through the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission. The Appalachian War on Poverty can be described as a set of policies created by governmental agencies, but also crucial to it was a series of community movements and campaigns, led by working-class people, that responded to antipoverty policies. When the War on Poverty began, the language of policymakers suggested that people living below the poverty line would be served by the programs. But as the antipoverty programs expanded and more local people became involved, they spoke openly and in political terms about poverty as a working-class issue. They drew attention to the politics of class in the region, where elites and absentee landowners became wealthy on the backs of working people. They demanded meaningful participation in shaping the War on Poverty in their communities, and, increasingly, when they used the term “poor people,” they did so as a collective class identity—working people who were poor due to a rigged economy. While many public officials focused on economic development policies, men and women living in the region began organizing around issues ranging from surface mining to labor rights and responding to poor living and working conditions. Taking advantage of federal antipoverty resources and the spirit of change that animated the 1960s, working-class Appalachians would help to shape the antipoverty programs at the local and regional level, creating a movement in the process. They did so as they organized around issues—including the environment, occupational safety, health, and welfare rights—and as they used antipoverty programs as a platform to address the systemic inequalities that plagued many of their communities.
Arab Labor Migration in the Americas, 1880–1930
Stacy D. Fahrenthold
Between 1880 and 1924, an estimated half million Arab migrants left the Ottoman Empire to live and work in the Americas. Responding to new economic forces linking the Mediterranean and Atlantic capitalist economies to one another, Arab migrants entered the manufacturing industries of the settler societies they inhabited, including industrial textiles, small-scale commerce (peddling), heavy machining, and migrant services associated with continued immigration from the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire enacted few policies to halt emigration from Syria, Mount Lebanon, and Palestine, instead facilitating a remittance economy that enhanced the emerging cash economies of the Arab world. After 1920, the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon moved to limit new migration to the Americas, working together with increasingly restrictive immigration regimes in the United States, Argentina, and Brazil to halt Arab labor immigration. Using informal archives, the Arab American press, and the records of diasporic mutual aid and philanthropic societies, new research in Arab American migration illustrates how migrants managed a transnational labor economy and confronted challenges presented by American nativism, travel restriction, and interwar deportations.
Asian American Activism
Activism is a defining element of Asian American history. Throughout most of their presence in the United States, Asian Americans have engaged in organized resistance even in the face of violent exclusion and repression. These long histories of activism challenge prevailing notions of the political silence of Asian Americans, which have persisted since the rise of the model minority narrative in the mid-20th century. Examining Asian American history through the lens of activism shows how Asian Americans were not simply acted upon, but were agents in forging their own histories. In the century after the first substantial waves of migration in the 1850s, Asian Americans protested labor conditions, fought for full citizenship rights, and led efforts to liberate their homelands from colonial rule. Activism has been a key part of determining who Asian Americans are—indeed, the term “Asian American” itself was coined in the 1960s as a radical political identity in a movement against racism and imperialism. In the decades since the Asian American movement, “Asian America” has become larger and more diverse. Contemporary Asian American activism reflects the expansiveness and heterogeneity of Asian American communities.
Autoworkers and Their Unions
Since the introduction of “Fordism” in the early 1910s, which emphasized technological improvements and maximizing productive efficiency, US autoworkers have struggled with repetitive, exhausting, often dangerous jobs. Yet beginning with Ford’s Five Dollar Day, introduced in 1914, auto jobs have also provided higher pay than most other wage work, attracting hundreds of thousands of people, especially to Detroit, Michigan, through the 1920s, and again from World War II until the mid-1950s. Successful unionization campaigns by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in the 1930s and early 1940s resulted in contracts that guaranteed particular wage increases, reduced the power of foremen, and created a process for resolving workplace conflicts. In the late 1940s and early 1950s UAW president Walter Reuther negotiated generous medical benefits and pensions for autoworkers. The volatility of the auto industry, however, often brought layoffs that undermined economic security. By the 1950s overproduction and automation contributed heavily to instability for autoworkers. The UAW officially supported racial and gender equality, but realities in auto plants and the makeup of union leadership often belied those principles. Beginning in the 1970s US autoworkers faced disruptions caused by high oil prices, foreign competition, and outsourcing to Mexico. Contract concessions at unionized plants began in the late 1970s and continued into the 2000s. By the end of the 20th century, many American autoworkers did not belong to the UAW because they were employed by foreign automakers, who built factories in the United States and successfully opposed unionization. For good reason, autoworkers who survived the industry’s turbulence and were able to retire with guaranteed pensions and medical care look back fondly on all that they gained from working in the industry under UAW contracts. Countless others left auto work permanently and often reluctantly in periodic massive layoffs and the continuous loss of jobs from automation.
The Bracero Program/“Guest Worker” Programs
Ana Elizabeth Rosas
On August 4, 1942, the Mexican and US governments launched the binational guest worker program most commonly known as the Bracero Program. An estimated 5 million Mexican men between the ages of nineteen and forty-five separated from their families for three to nine-month cycles at a time, depending on the duration of their labor contract, in anticipation of earning the prevailing US wage this program had promised them. They labored in US agriculture, railroad construction, and forestry with hardly any employment protections or rights in place to support themselves or the families they had left behind in Mexico. The inhumane configuration and implementation of this program prevented most of these men and their families from meeting this goal. Instead, the labor exploitation and alienation that characterized this guest worker program and their program participation paved the way for fragile transnational family relationships. The Bracero Program grew over the course of its twenty-two-year existence, and despite its negative consequences, Mexican men and their families could not afford to settle for unemployment in Mexico nor pass up US employment opportunities of any sort. The Mexican and US governments’ persistently negligent management of the program coupled with their conveniently selective acknowledgment of the severity of the plight of Mexican women and men consistently required Mexican men and their families to shoulder the full extent of the program’s exploitative conditions and terms.
Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement
In September 1962, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) held its first convention in Fresno, California, initiating a multiracial movement that would result in the creation of United Farm Workers (UFW) and the first contracts for farm workers in the state of California. Led by Cesar Chavez, the union contributed a number of innovations to the art of social protest, including the most successful consumer boycott in the history of the United States. Chavez welcomed contributions from numerous ethnic and racial groups, men and women, young and old. For a time, the UFW was the realization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s beloved community—people from different backgrounds coming together to create a socially just world. During the 1970s, Chavez struggled to maintain the momentum created by the boycott as the state of California became more involved in adjudicating labor disputes under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA). Although Chavez and the UFW ultimately failed to establish a permanent, national union, their successes and strategies continue to influence movements for farm worker justice today.
Ann Durkin Keating
Chicago is a city shaped by industrial capitalism. Before 1848, it was a small commercial outpost in Potawatomi country, and then it expanded with the US economy between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Between 1848 and 1929, Chicago grew from under 30,000 to more than 3 million, fueled by the construction of railroads, warehouses, and factories. Working-class immigrants built their own neighborhoods around industrial sites and along railroads, while a downtown dominated by skyscrapers emerged to serve the needs of corporate clients. Since 1929, Chicago remained an industrial powerhouse and magnet for Black and Latino migrants, even as its economic growth depended more and more on commerce and the service industry.
Child Migrants in 20th-Century America
Child migration has garnered widespread media coverage in the 21st century, becoming a central topic of national political discourse and immigration policymaking. Contemporary surges of child migrants are part of a much longer history of migration to the United States. In the first half of the 20th century, millions of European and Asian child migrants passed through immigration inspection stations in the New York harbor and San Francisco Bay. Even though some accompanied and unaccompanied European child migrants experienced detention at Ellis Island, most were processed and admitted into the United States fairly quickly in the early 20th century. Few of the European child migrants were deported from Ellis Island. Predominantly accompanied Chinese and Japanese child migrants, however, like Latin American and Caribbean migrants in recent years, were more frequently subjected to family separation, abuse, detention, and deportation at Angel Island. Once inside the United States, both European and Asian children struggled to overcome poverty, labor exploitation, educational inequity, the attitudes of hostile officials, and public health problems. After World War II, Korean refugee “orphans” came to the United States under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 and the Immigration and Nationality Act. European, Cuban, and Indochinese refugee children were admitted into the United States through a series of ad hoc programs and temporary legislation until the 1980 Refugee Act created a permanent mechanism for the admission of refugee and unaccompanied children. Exclusionary immigration laws, the hardening of US international boundaries, and the United States preference for refugees who fled Communist regimes made unlawful entry the only option for thousands of accompanied and unaccompanied Mexican, Central American, and Haitian children in the second half of the 20th century. Black and brown migrant and asylum-seeking children were forced to endure educational deprivation, labor trafficking, mandatory detention, deportation, and deadly abuse by US authorities and employers at US borders and inside the country.
Cold War in the American Working Class
The US working class and the institutional labor movement was shaped by anticommunism. Anticommunism preceded the founding of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, and this early history affected the later experience. It reinforced conservative positions on union issues even in the period before the Cold War, and forged the alliances that influenced the labor movement’s direction, including the campaign to organize the South, the methods and structures of unions, and US labor’s foreign policy positions. While the Communist Party of the USA (CP) was a hierarchical organization straitjacketed by an allegiance to the Soviet Union, the unions it fostered cultivated radical democratic methods, while anticommunism often justified opposition to militancy and obstructed progressive policies. In the hottest moments of the postwar development of domestic anticommunism, unions and their members were vilified and purged from the labor movement, forced to take loyalty oaths, and fired for their association with the CP. The Cold War in the working class removed critical perspectives on capitalism, reinforced a moderate and conservative labor officialdom, and led to conformity with the state on foreign policy issues.
Communism and the Labor Movement
Communist activists took a strong interest in American trade unions from the 1920s through the 1950s and played an important role in shaping the nature of the American union movement. Initial communist trade union activism drew upon radical labor traditions that preceded the formation of the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Early communist trade unionists experimented with different types of structures to organize unorganized workers. They also struggled with international communist factionalism. Communist trade unionists were most effective during the Great Depression and World War II. In those years, communist activists helped build the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and bring industrial unionism to previously unorganized workers. Throughout the history of communist involvement in the US labor movement, international communist policy guided general organizing strategies. Shifts in international policy, such as the announcement of a Soviet non-aggression pact with Germany, proved politically difficult to navigate on the local level. Yet, Left-led unions proved to be more democratically run and focused on racial and gender equality than many of those without communist influence. Their leadership supported social justice and militant action. The Cold War years witnessed CIO purges of Left-led unions and federal investigations and arrests of communist trade unionists. Repression from both within and without the labor movement as well as the CPUSA’s own internal policy battles ultimately ended communist trade unionists’ widespread influence on American trade unions.
Communist Party USA, 1919 to 1957
James R. Barrett
The largest and most important revolutionary socialist organization in US history, the Communist Party USA was always a minority influence. It reached considerable size and influence, however, during the Great Depression and World War II years when it followed the more open line associated with the term “Popular Front.” In these years communists were much more flexible in their strategies and relations with other groups, though the party remained a hierarchical vanguard organization. It grew from a largely isolated sect dominated by unskilled and unemployed immigrant men in the 1920s to a socially diverse movement of nearly 100,000 based heavily on American born men and women from the working and professional classes by the late 1930s and during World War II, exerting considerable influence in the labor movement and American cultural life. In these years, the Communist Party helped to build the industrial union movement, advanced the cause of African American civil rights, and laid the foundation for the postwar feminist movement. But the party was always prone to abrupt changes in line and vulnerable to attack as a sinister outside force because of its close adherence to Soviet policies and goals. Several factors contributed to its catastrophic decline in the 1950s: the increasingly antagonistic Cold War struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States; an unprecedented attack from employers and government at various levels—criminal cases and imprisonment, deportation, and blacklisting; and within the party itself, a turn back toward a more dogmatic version of Marxism-Leninism and a heightened atmosphere of factional conflict and purges.
Patricia Evridge Hill
From its origins in the 1840s, Dallas developed quickly into a prosperous market town. After acquiring two railroads in the 1870s, the city became the commercial and financial center of North Central Texas. Early urban development featured competition and cooperation between the city’s business leadership, women’s groups, and coalitions formed by Populists, socialists, and organized labor. Notably, the city’s African Americans were marginalized economically and excluded from civic affairs. By the end of the 1930s, city building became more exclusive even for the white population. A new generation of business leaders threatened by disputes over Progressive Era social reforms and city planning, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and attempts to organize industrial workers used its control of local media, at-large elections, and repression to dominate civic affairs until the 1970s.
Ryan S. Pettengill
From its earliest origins through the 21st century, Detroit was a capitalist venture that was tied to the global economy. Throughout the pre-Columbian period, Detroit served as a meeting point where a diverse confederation of Native Americans came together to conduct business and diplomacy. Later, the city became a contested territorial holding that the Western imperial powers of France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States fought over, as it represented a critical gateway that opened up trade to the central and western regions of North America. Between 1835 and 1929, capitalists built wharfs, railroad lines, factories, warehouses, and other forms of industrial infrastructure, attracting throngs of working-class job seekers and causing Detroit’s population to boom from approximately 1,100 in 1819 to more than one million in 1930. The population peaked at nearly two million in 1950 and, by 2020, it had declined to approximately 700,000. Detroit’s history might be thought of in three distinct periods: a pre-Columbian period where the region consisted of a preindustrial space that was occupied by Anishinaabeg peoples, later to be claimed by European colonists; a long industrial era in which businessmen, such as Henry Ford, centralized production within the city; and a slow period of economic decline as the city struggled to adapt to different trends in a global economy. As Detroit entered the 21st century, the city faced a declining population, rising budget deficits, and a crumbling infrastructure. Still, as several multinational corporations based their operations out of Detroit, the city remained a capitalist venture fundamentally tied to the global economy.
Dockworkers in America
The history of dockworkers in America is as fascinating and important as it is unfamiliar. Those who worked along the shore loading and unloading ships played an invaluable role in an industry central to both the U.S. and global economies as well as the making of the nation. For centuries, their work remained largely the same, involving brute manual labor in gangs; starting in the 1960s, however, their work was entirely remade due to technological transformation. Dockworkers possess a long history of militancy, resulting in dramatic improvements in their economic and workplace conditions. Today, nearly all are unionists, but dockworkers in ports along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts belong to the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) represents them in Pacific Coast ports as well as in Hawaii and Alaska (along with British Columbia and Panama). In the mid-1930s, the ILA and ILWU became bitter rivals and remain so. This feud, which has cooled slightly since its outset, can be explained by differences in leadership, ideology, and tactics, with the ILA more craft-based, “patriotic,” and mainstream and the ILWU quite left wing, especially during its first few decades, and committed to fighting for racial equality. The existence of two unions complicates this story; in most countries, dockworkers belong to a single union. Similarly, America’s massive economy and physical size means that there are literally dozens of ports (again, unlike many other countries), making generalizations harder. Unfortunately, popular culture depictions of dockworkers inculcate unfair and incorrect notions that all dockworkers are involved with organized crime. Nevertheless, due to decades of militancy, strikes, and unionism, dockworkers in 21st-century America are—while far fewer in number—very well paid and still do important work, literally making world trade possible in an era when 90 percent of goods move by ship for at least part of their journey to market.