Today in Labour History
Mississippi River Workers
'The average Mississippi River roustabout is a strong black fellow, who has probably been a slave, and leaves the plantation for that supposed freedom and rollicking life which this class take enjoyment in...The usual ways their tasks are performed is to have 'all hands' at work at once, consequently their rest is very broken and irregular; frequently they are obliged to work 36 hours or longer without rest except for meals'. (The New York Times, 25 July 1874). Occupying the lowest rung on the hierarchy of waterfront labour, Mississippi roustabouts were uniformly African-American rural workers who earned a reputation for hard drinking, hard living, and violence. Despite their status as river workers and their presence in New Orleans, roustabouts found few allies among white or black unionists in the city.
Read more? Eric Arnesen, 'Race and Labour in a Southern US Port: New Orleans, 1860-1930' in: Dock Workers. International Explorations in Comparative Labour History, 1790-1970 (vol 1) (Aldershot 2000)