Precarianization, Household Labour and Slavery: a Global-History Perspective

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Marcel van der Linden, International Institute of Social History

What is global labor history? To explain what I mean when I use this concept, I will present a few short historical vignettes from my own research: the rise of a new saint, San Precario/Santa Precaria; the colonization of Barbados; and the debate on the labor of housewives. They are stories taken from very different situations in different places in the world, but there is a connection between them anyhow. We gain important insights: important developments in the history of employment began much earlier than previously thought; they began with unfree workers and not with free workers; they began not in the US or in Europe, but in the Global South. Wage labor as such is very much a multifaceted phenomenon. Insecurity and lack of protection are the historical norm under capitalism, and the Standard Employment Relationship (Normalarbeitsverhältnis) is really only a “blip” on the moviescreen of world history. The feminist discussion has clarified that capitalism cannot exist without subsistence labor. The outsider-perspective of black people, women and precarious workers draws attention to aspects of working life which traditional labor history has previously neglected. Labor history is not just the history of so-called “free” wage earners, but also of slaves and other unfree workers, and of unpaid subsistence-laborers, especially housewives. Thus, global labor history has the task of integrating an international multiverse of class forces in one totalizing analysis.

Venue: Internationales Kolleg Morphomata, Weyertal 59, 50937 Köln, 17.45-19.15