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Workers in Hard Times

A Long View of Economic Crises

Leon Fink

Publication Year: 2014

Seeking to historicize today's "Great Recession," this volume of essays uses examples from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia to situate the current economic crisis and its impact on workers in the context of previous abrupt shifts in the modern-day capitalist marketplace. Contributors argue that factors such as race, sex, and state intervention have mediated both the effect of economic depressions on workers' lives and workers' responses to those depressions. Further, the direction of influence between politics and economic upheaval, as well as between workers and the welfare state, has often shifted with time, location, and circumstance. These principles inform a concluding examination of today's "Great Recession": its historical distinctiveness, its connection to neoliberalism, and its attendant expressions of worker status and agency around the world. Ultimately, the essays in this volume push us toward a rethinking of the relationship between capital and labor, the waged and unwaged, and the employed and jobless.Contributors are Sven Beckert, Sean Cadigan, Leon Fink, Alvin Finkel, Wendy Goldman, Gaetan Heroux, Joseph A. McCartin, David Montgomery, Edward Montgomery, Melanie Nolan, Bryan D. Palmer, Scott Reynolds Nelson, Joan Sangster, Judith Stein, Hilary Wainright, and Lu Zhang.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The Working Class in American History


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Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-16

Across the industrialized world, urgent questions have been raised and in some cases reopened by recent events. The financial crisis that rocked the global economy and led to a steep downturn in 2008 has caused mass suffering and taken a severe toll on working people and their collective organized strength. The accompanying loss of popular confidence in governments and financial institutions...

Part I. Depressions and Working-Class Lives

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1. Marching under Flags Black and Red: Toronto's Dispossessed in the Age of Industry

Gaetan Heroux, Bryan D. Palmer

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pp. 19-44

When capitalism is understood not merely as a political economy of development, advance, and progress but also as a social order of destruction, how we view workers necessarily changes. For capitalism is not merely a regime of accumulation giving rise to a complex amalgam of contradictory impulses and episodic clashes of antagonistic interests. It has historically also been fundamentally...

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2. Working People's Responses to Past Depressions

David Montgomery

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pp. 45-59

Since the founding of the Republic, working men and women have been all too familiar with alternating periods of boom times and hard times, with seasonal unemployment, with marked differences in availability of jobs among various parts of the country, and with general depressions abruptly precipitated by overproduction of wares or by bank panics. Not all downturns...

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3. Soviet Workers and Stalinist Terror: The Crisis of Industrialization

Wendy Goldman

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pp. 60-80

As capitalism scours the globe, leaving no remote rural corner untouched, it is worth noting that its dynamic destruction began almost half a millennium ago. A systemic transformation that began in England in the sixteenth century continues to uproot peasantries, fuel new industrial revolutions, and remake classes and markets today. In the Soviet Union, many of these vast...

Part II. Economic Dislocation as Political Crisis

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4. The Labor of Capitalism: Industrial Revolution and the Transformation of the Global Cotton-Growing Countryside

Sven Beckert

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pp. 83-98

A new specter is haunting labor historians: transnational labor history. Wherever we encounter labor history today, it is often pursuing the history of labor across national boundaries.1 In these stories, workers migrate, capital swooshes around the globe, techniques for organizing work are telegraphed to and from distant labor markets, even working-class political ideologies and institutions...

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5. The Ordeal of Eugene Debs: The Panic of 1893, the Pullman Strike, and the Origins of the Progressive Movement

Scott Reynolds Nelson

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pp. 99-110

The American panic of 1893 had origins in—of all places—the fiscal policy of the U.S. Congress. No grand conflict between workers or owners started it; no fear of a growing socialist movement extended it. Yet within a year, the 1893 panic ushered in one of the most famous labor conflicts in American history. The American Railway Union’s support for workers locked out of the Pullman...

Part III. Social-Welfare Struggles from the Liberal to the Neoliberal State

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6. Workers' Social-Wage Struggles during the Great Depression and the Era of Neoliberalism: International Comparisons

Alvin Finkel

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pp. 113-140

The early working-class movements scorned notions of a “social wage” provided by state programs, extolling equal wages for all workers, though Karl Marx argued that such abstract equality ignored the special needs of individuals and households.1 The organized-labor and socialist movements disdained early bourgeois proposals for social insurance because these were actuarially based...

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7. Politics and Policies in the 1970s and Early Twenty-first Century: The Linked Recessions

Judith Stein

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pp. 141-160

The Great Recession had its origins in the political economy created by politicians and business leaders in the 1970s. The decisions made and patterns put in place reshaped the structure of the U.S. economy and politics, fostering the wage stagnation, indebtedness, and global imbalances that led to the Great Recession and continue to afflict workers and their unions.
There were two crises of...

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8. Neoliberalism at Work in the Antipodean Welfare State in the Late Twentieth Century: Collusion, Collaboration, and Resistance

Melanie Nolan

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pp. 161-184

Neoliberalism is critical to understanding the experience of working people in the crises of capitalism from the 1970s to the global financial recession of 2008. Bob Jessop and others have pointed to its “ecological dominance” in the capitalist world from the late twentieth century.1 Neoliberalism is a political project supporting competitive market forces. Under its influence, the social and moral...

Part IV. Workers and the Shakeup of the New World Order

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9. Want amidst Plenty: The Oil Boom and the Working Class in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1992-2010

Sean Cadigan

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pp. 187-212

Newfoundland and Labrador, the easternmost province of Canada, had long been the poor cousin of Confederation.1 By 2008 this all changed, as Newfoundland and Labrador became a “have province” within the Canadian system of calculating federal transfers of income to poorer provinces. Since 2000, average personal incomes have increased steadily, and the unemployment...

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10. Whose Hard Times? Explaining Autoworkers Strike Waves in Recent-Day China

Lu Zhang

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pp. 213-242

In contrast to the generally passive responses of organized labor in the West to the 2008 global economic crisis, China has witnessed a major wave of labor unrest in the forms of wildcat strikes, legal disputes, protests, and demonstrations.1 A showcase of this autonomous worker insurgency was a wave of auto-manufacturing strikes that rocked China in the summer of...

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11. Transformative Power: Lessons from the Greek Crisis and Beyond

Hilary Wainwright

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pp. 243-262

In a context of uncertainty and flux, it helps to start from the specific. My starting point is the rise of Syriza, the radical left coalition rooted in the movements resisting austerity that has become the main opposition party in the Greek Parliament. Syriza’s ability to give a focused political voice to the anger and despair of millions has made a breakthrough from which we can learn. This is...

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12. How Workers and the Government Have Dealt with Economic Crisis and Industrial Decline: 1929 and 2007

Edward Montgomery

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pp. 263-288

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of recessions in the United States, lists some thirty-three business cycles since 1854. On average, every fifty-six months workers in the United States go through a period of growth and expansion and then contraction and crisis. While growth periods have been on average longer and contractions shorter in duration since World...

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pp. 289-292

Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University, specializes in the history of the United States in the nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on the history of capitalism, including its economic, social, political, and transnational dimensions. He has published The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie...


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pp. 293-304

Other Works in the Series, Production Notes

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pp. 305-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095979
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038174

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Working Class in American History
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 884725769
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Workers in Hard Times