Labour History, no. 116 (May 2019)

Maritime labour has a history as old as labour itself and is of continuing significance in the modern world. This issue includes a thematic, edited by Diane Kirkby, which recognises the vitality of maritime labour studies with articles on a range of topics: employment conditions on British steamships, Lascar resistance in the age of sail and steam, the struggles of the Australian Maritime Union, the Queensland wharf labourers’ strike of 1928, maritime unionism in Timor-Leste, and the life of Harry Bridges. In this issue, you’ll also find non-thematic articles exploring new areas of research in Australian labour history. These include the Union of Australian Women’s support for Aboriginal rights, the Whitlam government’s controversial social welfare reforms, and the activity of Melbourne’s fascists and anti-fascists. Taken as a whole, the articles in this issue, even where focused empirically on Australia, enlighten questions of wider relevance and demonstrate a lively research agenda. Click here for more information.

Launch Invitation

Labour History and the “Coolie Question”

A special issue of Labour History, no. 113 (November 2017) edited by Diane Kirkby and Sophie Loy-Wilson

Launch hosted by Julia Martínez

  • When: 6–7.00pm (EST), Friday, 8 December 2017
  • Where: Faculty of Law Boardroom, level 5, Building 5B, UTS, Haymarket NSW 2000.  Go to the Faculty of Law entrance on Quay Street, next to UTS Library (  Take the lift just inside the entrance. When you step out at level 5, you will be beside the Boardroom.
  • RSVP: Carl Power,

A substantial body of research in labour history explores the relationship between capitalism, racialisation and categories of free and unfree labour. The papers gathered here bring this important research to the foreground in an exploration of the “coolie question.” By grappling with the history of Asian indentured labour systems, the authors help us better understand contemporary debates over labour rights and labour migration.

Encompassing and embodying the contradictory imperial imperatives of enslavement and emancipation, the ‘coolie question’ compels us to explore the messy ways that racial capitalism and liberal nation-states expanded and operated hand in hand to advance and elide empire.

– Moon-Ho Jung, University of Washington

Click here for the launch flyer.


Diane Kirkby and Sophie Loy-Wilson, “Introduction”

Moon-Ho Jung, “What Is the ‘Coolie Question’?”

Tracey Banivanua Mar, “Stabilising Violence in Colonial Rule: Settlement and the Indentured Labour Trade in Queensland in the 1870s”

Evelyn Hu-DeHart, “From Slavery to Freedom: Chinese Coolies on the Sugar Plantations of Nineteenth Century Cuba”
Phil Griffiths, “The Coolie Labour Crisis in Colonial Queensland”

Audrey Peyper, “Bound for Slavery? A Quaker Humanitarian Critique of Waged Labour at Koloa Plantation, Hawaii, 1836”

Margaret Slocomb, “Preserving the Contract: The Experience of Indentured Labourers in the Wide Bay and Burnett Districts in the Nineteenth Century”

Mei-fen Kuo, “Reframing Chinese Labour Rights: Chinese Unionists, Pro-Labour Societies and the Nationalist Movement in Melbourne, 1900–10”

Liam Byrne, “Coolies or Comrades? Labor Socialism and the Contradictions of Internationalism, 1909–22”

Fiona Paisley, “Sexuality, Nationalism, and ‘Race’: Humanitarian Debate about Indian Indenture in Fiji, 1910–18”

Diane Kirkby and Lee-Ann Monk, “Indian Seamen and Australian Unions Fighting for Labour Rights: ‘The Real Facts of the Lascars’ Case’ of 1939”

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