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  • On the Road to Global Labour History: A Festschrift for Marcel van der Linden ed. by Karl Heinz Roth
  • Neville Kirk
Karl Heinz Roth, ed., On the Road to Global Labour History: A Festschrift for Marcel van der Linden (Leiden: Brill 2018)

Up to 2014 Marcel van der Linden was the Research Director at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam (iish). Since September 2014 he has served as Senior Researcher at the iish. A prolific researcher and writer, distinguished scholar, and generous and valued colleague to many across the world, van der Linden has played a key role for the past 30 years or so in the development of comparative, transnational, and global labour history. Many labour historians, including the editor and contributors to the book under review, convincingly regard van der Linden as the inspiration behind the recent and current upsurge of interest in global labour history. Without doubt Marcel has played a pioneering role in writing manifestos and mapping out the promise of a new global history of the working classes and labour relations, especially in its economic aspects. He is also an extremely efficient and enthusiastic organizer and networker. Whether in Europe, Asia, the Americas, or Australasia, he has inspired a new interest in and helped to set up organizations committed to the study of labour history. In terms of theoretical, conceptual, methodological, and substantive debates van der Linden, moreover, has been a leading critic of the allegedly dominant concerns of both "old" and "new" labour history with methodological nationalism, Eurocentrism, and a narrow interest in mainly "free" male and white urban waged workers in industry. He has called for labour historians to cast their nets wider to embrace, for example, studies of the countryside, of unfree labour, of women, of race, of subsistence workers, and semi-subsistence workers since the early modern period. Perhaps most importantly he has called for more studies across national and other boundaries concerned with the ways in which transnational and global entanglements, exchanges, influences, networks, and so on have developed. Van der Linden's particular exhortation to study global commodity chains and their attendant social relations over time holds a particular appeal and considerable promise in the eyes of this reviewer.

This Festschrift, splendidly produced by Brill in its Historical Materialism book series, is a celebration of van der Linden's work in initiating and developing global labour history. As explained by the editor, Karl Heinz Roth, in the Preface, the collection is broken down into four thematic sections. The first, with contributions by Karin Hofmeester, Chitra Joshi, Prabhu P. Mohapatra and Rana P. Behal, David Mayer and Berthold Unfried, and Angelika Ebbinghaus, praises van der Linden's work as a "scientific organiser and networker." The second comprises five field and case studies, by Michael Zeuske (slavery in Spanish America), Rossana Barragan Romano (Potosi's silver and "the Global World of Trade"), Touraj Atabaki (the 1946 strike of oil workers in Iran), Gorkem Akgoz (petitioning as a form of industrial bargaining in a Turkish state factory) and Jenny Chan (working-class power in post-socialist China). These are all well researched, clearly written, and interesting in their own right. At times they draw out the wider, including global, significance of their particular studies. But they are overly descriptive and not linked in a way one would expect in a book highlighting transnational and global connexions. The third section is something of a mixed bag of "Methodological and Conceptual Aspects." The essays by Peter Alexander, on the importance of comparison in global labour history, Dirk Hoerder, on recent developments in migration research "in a [End Page 261] global perspective," and Christian G. De Vito on the importance of the concepts of labour flexibility and labour precariousness to the historical study of labour relations, are useful and enlightening. Once again, however, no attempt is made to link these essays. The final "aspect," that of Andrea Komlosy on "Labour and Value Transfer under Capitalism," operates at a much higher level of abstraction than the others. As such, and despite its analytical value, it sits somewhat oddly alongside the other contributions. The fourth section consists of an informative essay by Karl...


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