The International Union of Seamen and Harbour Workers (ISH) 1930-1937: interclubs and transnational aspects

Spring 2015

This paper explores the history of the International Union of Seamen and Harbour Workers (ISH), which was a spin-off of the Moscow-based Red International of Labour Unions’ (RILU or, more commonly, the Profintern).  It was set up as part of the new ‘trade union’ strategy adopted by the USSR in 1928.  The Profintern’s main goal at this time was to mobilise opposition to the threat of an ‘imperialist’ war, so it assigned the ISH the task of rallying seamen to this cause.  One of the ways that the ISH garnered seamen’s support was through the lodging houses provided for communist seamen called ‘interclubs’, which were scattered all over the world.  Interclubs were not only places to stay, but also offered opportunity for recreation, education and social activities, and thus played a key role in disseminating propaganda as well as acting as a conduit for espionage activities. Drawing upon a transnational and prosopographical approach, this paper demonstrates how the ISH operated in a ‘multi scale’ bundle: at the local level, the interclubs were dependant on union policy, at the national level they were connected to national trade union sections or communist parties (such as the KPD or the PCF), while at the international level, they were linked to the Profintern and Comintern in Moscow. It explores how this transnational dimension acted as a kind of guiding principle between the different levels, which were all interwoven and interacted with each other.

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