The International Longshoremenu2019s Association, AFL-CIO is the largest union of maritime workers in North America, representing upwards of 65,000 longshoremen on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Great Lakes, major U.S. rivers, Puerto Rico and Eastern Canada. Organized in 1892 along the U.S. Great Lakes; the ILA is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations; the Canadian Labour Congress and the world-wide International Transport Workersu2019 Federation.
To explore the origin of the word u201cLongshoremen,u201d we will begin with the roots of the ILA. The roots of the International Longshoremenu2019s Association lie deep in the history of colonial America when the arrival of each new ship bearing goods from the Old World was greeted with cries for u201cMen u2018long shore!u201d The longshoremen who rushed up to the ships were colonists, normally engaged in any number of full-time occupations. In the first hard years of life in this country, they left their occupations freely to unload the anxiously awaited, sometimes desperately needed, supplies without pay. As the new land began to develop a fledgling economy, and the ships were too many to count, the men were drawn to the shores by the extra money they could earn stevedoring precious cargo on and off the ships.
As the nation matured, European imperialism gave birth to exploitative mercantilist trade practices. Land was no longer cheap or easy to get, and many new immigrants congregated in the cities, hoping to find work amid the bustle, especially along the coast, where the bulk of the growing countryu2019s business was still being done. The number of professional longshoremen grew by thousands.