On Manila’s Waterfront: Lead Pipe Diplomacy and Dock Strikes at the US Military Port of Manila, 1945-1949

Authors: Michael Hawkins*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Historical Geography
Keywords: infrastructure, empire, Philippines, historical geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the aftermath of WWII, the unloading of US Army rehabilitation supplies ushered in a boom for Manila’s dockworkers. Despite the end of formal American colonial rule of the Philippines in 1946, the US Army maintained jurisdiction over Manila’s port area to oversee post-war rehabilitation and, perhaps more importantly, supply and fortify its massive military bases at nearby Subic Bay and Clark Airfield. This paper focuses on the labor struggles unfolding on and the geopolitics flowing through the US Military Port of Manila from 1945-1949. Reading now declassified intelligence and diplomatic files from the US National Archives and documents published by leftist Filipino labor organizers, the paper recounts how the Communist Party of the Philippines attempted to organize waterfront strikes against the US Army to protest both low wages and increasing US militarization. In their bid to secure permanent military bases in the Philippines and thwart labor organizers, the Army strategically aligned itself with an anti-communist labor union prone to lead pipe diplomacy. A close reading of these labor struggles and the spectacular union violence that followed, reveal broader questions about the infrastructures of American empire in Asia-Pacific during the era of decolonization.

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