Labor History as World History

Aviva Chomsky

in Workers Across the Americas

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199731633
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894420 | DOI:
Labor History as World History

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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As Caribbean scholars recognized in the early 20th century, labor history has been embedded in global processes since European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. Labor was at the core of European colonization of the Americas, with Africans outnumbering Europeans until the 1880s. Industrialization depended on relationships with regions outside the industrial sector, both for raw materials and for reproducing a labor force. Regional inequalities, often maintained by colonialism or neocolonialism, created an ongoing source of low-cost labor. Employers accessed subsistence workers by recruiting or forcing them to migrate to the point of production or by moving all or part of the productive process to the subsistence regions. The latter increasingly depend on remittances from the industrialized regions to sustain their own reproduction. In the late 20th century, industrial restructuring in the United States created a new low-wage labor market. Even as labor organizations and the welfare state crumbled, high levels of consumption, subsidized by Third World labor, continued to characterize the global north. In the global north and south, workers' cultures and their organizations have incorporated local, national, transnational, and international identities.

Keywords: migration; colonialism; slavery; subsistence; inequalities; production

Chapter.  4334 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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