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American Encounters/Global Interactions

Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class

By
Aviva Chomsky
Aviva Chomsky

Aviva Chomsky is Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. She is the author of “They Take Our Jobs!”: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration and West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica, 18701940; editor of The People behind Colombian Coal; and a coeditor of The Cuba Reader and Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State, both also published by Duke University Press.

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Duke University Press
ISBN electronic:
978-0-8223-8891-3
Publication date:
2008

Exploring globalization from a labor history perspective, Aviva Chomsky provides historically grounded analyses of migration, labor-management collaboration, and the mobility of capital. She illuminates the dynamics of these movements through case studies set mostly in New England and Colombia. Taken together, the case studies offer an intricate portrait of two regions, their industries and workers, and the myriad links between them over the long twentieth century, as well as a new way to conceptualize globalization as a long-term process.

Chomsky examines labor and management at two early-twentieth-century Massachusetts factories: one that transformed the global textile industry by exporting looms around the world, and another that was the site of a model program of labor-management collaboration in the 1920s. She follows the path of the textile industry from New England, first to the U.S. South, and then to Puerto Rico, Japan, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Colombia. She considers how towns in Rhode Island and Massachusetts began to import Colombian workers as they struggled to keep their remaining textile factories going. Most of the workers eventually landed in service jobs: cleaning houses, caring for elders, washing dishes.

Focusing on Colombia between the 1960s and the present, Chomsky looks at the Urabá banana export region, where violence against organized labor has been particularly acute, and, through a discussion of the AFL-CIO’s activities in Colombia, she explores the thorny question of U.S. union involvement in foreign policy. In the 1980s, two U.S. coal mining companies began to shift their operations to Colombia, where they opened two of the largest open-pit coal mines in the world. Chomsky assesses how different groups, especially labor unions in both countries, were affected. Linked Labor Histories suggests that economic integration among regions often exacerbates regional inequalities rather than ameliorating them.

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