Labour on the move: internationalism and colonialism in Southern Africa (1945-1974)

The growing internationalization of imperial affairs during the twentieth century made imperial and colonial authorities and governments increasingly exposed to the scrutiny from external actors. Political, social, economic and cultural policies became the subject of bilateral as well as multilateral debates and exchanges. Portuguese colonial labour policies were a privileged domain of interaction between the imperial formation and international and transnational actors, particularly the International Labour Organization, characterized either by a cooperative exchanges as by vocal criticisms regarding the resilience of modalities of coerced labour.

Central to the Portuguese “native labour system”, the complex circuits of labour mobility, either intra-imperial (e.g. the circulation of serviçais to S. Tomé) or interimperial (mainly to the neighbouring states of Congo, the Rhodesias and South Africa), turned to be a central and recurrent topic of debate and critical appraisal between the Portuguese government and the ILO.

Addressing broader debates about “stabilization”, societal development and migrations in the African colonial context, this article will explore the ways the ILO conditioned and shaped Portuguese native workers migration policies but also the influence of these human movements in the debates within the organization regarding labour policies in southern Africa and in colonial contexts more broadly. By exploring particular events from the end of World War II until the demise of empire, this article will focus on the ways internationalism, imperialism and regionalism intersected, and how they shaped and were conditioned by particular historical, continental and regional contexts such as the post-world war II years (characterized, on one hand, by the policies and politics of colonial developmentalism and, on the other, by mounting anti-colonial pressures) or the final years of empire (deeply conditioned by colonial insurgence and armed resistance and the associated counter-insurgency policies and strategies).

About the Authors

MIGUEL BANDEIRA JERÓNIMO (PhD History, King’s College London, 2008) is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, and Assistant Professor at the New University of Lisbon. He was a Visiting Professor at Brown University (USA) in 2011 and 2012. His research interests focus on comparative histories of imperialism and colonialism. He recently published A diplomacia do império. Política e Religião na Partilha de África and edited O império colonial em questão (2012), co-edited Portugal e o fim do colonialismo (2014) and The Ends of European Colonial empires (Palgrave, 2015), and published The ‘civilising mission’ of Portuguese Colonialism, 1870-1930 (Palgrave, 2015). He is the coordinator of the international collective research project Internationalism and Empire: The Politics of Difference in the Portuguese Colonial Empire in Comparative Perspective (1920-1975). He is
also co-editor of the book series História&Sociedade at Edições 70.


José Pedro Monteiro is  PhD candidate at the Instituto de Ciências – Universidade de Lisboa and a Junior Visiting Fellow at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. He is currently finishing his dissertation concerning the relationship between the Portuguese empire and the International Labour organization regarding native labour policies in Portuguese colonies since 1944 until 1963.

He has published in diverse national and international books and recently co-edited, with Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo, the book Os Passados do Presente: Internacionalismo, imperialismo e a Construção do Mundo Contemporâneo (Edições Almedina, 2015).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s