Global Labor Histories

AHA Session 189
Labor and Working Class History Association 3
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
Sven Beckert, Harvard University
Yevette Richards Jordan, George Mason University
Annelise Orleck, Dartmouth College
Junaid Rana, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

By the 21st century, the fate of workers around the globe is increasingly linked across the boundaries of states, a reality that nationalists decry as harmful International treaties like the North American Free Trade agreement, while they accelerated competition between industrial laboring populations, may be simply another phase in a deregulation of labor economies that is not historically new. Furthermore, the modern movement of workers across borders, legally and illegally, coerced and uncoerced, to perform professional, industrial, sexual, service and care work (to name a few forms of labor) is matched by the willingness of many corporations, investors and lawmakers to establish sites of production where the most profitable, and favorable, terms of employment exist. Countries like Mexico, India and China, historically exporters of labor, have now also become importers of corporate employment, serving as sites for white collar and service work as well as factory production.

This roundtable examines a long history of the global labor economy rooted in slavery, migration and world trade. It brings together labor historians whose work is partly rooted in the United States, but who understand labor economies as historically interconnected sites for strategic profit-making, not just in the twentieth and twenty-first century, but from the inception of modern capitalism. Together, they will consider:
  • The conditions under which workers migrate, voluntarily or involuntarily;
  • Strategies for organizing mobile, unfree, or vulnerable workers;
  • Why a profit making enterprise might choose a domestic or foreign site for production or service;
  • The relationship between transformations in international capitalism, the movement of labor, and new consumer economies;
  • Servitude within the free market as well as systems of formal and informal slavery.
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