I was at Brock University last week to begin LABR 2P93 History of the Global Working Class, a course for the Department of Labour Studies. The first class was about introductions, about explaining the course topic, and outlining the work students will be doing. But there was also time to offer a taste of a historical perspective on the study of labour and work.
To that end, I used questions and images to generate discussion about the nature and context for contemporary work. As I have come to expect of Labour Studies enrollees at Brock, students’ responses demonstrated a good level of understanding of work today. Members of the class addressed the practice of outsourcing in the global economy, for example, as well as the relationship of migration and automation to the labour market. When the issue of precarious work came up, one student offered practically a dictionary definition of the term.
Each of the issues students addressed have historical roots, as all things do. Those origins are long-term and more recent, and they are complex. Globalization, the process that produced our economically integrated world, is certainly an example. One explanation of its origins is that it began as a reaction against Keynesian economic policies and the pursuit of freer trade in about 1980. According to this view, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union encouraged global economic integration by eliminating communism as an alternative to capitalism, and technological innovations introduced that same decade permitted increased international connectivity.
This periodization closely parallels the emergence and widening use of the term “globalization”. But global economic integration has been going on for centuries rather than decades, and this longer-term pattern has been closely connected to the emergence and expansion of the working class. It is this historical process that provides the temporal starting point for the course, which is roughly 1500. There is a lot of ground to cover, but I am looking forward to getting started in earnest this week!
Nathan Smith, “Where to Begin,” HIS241.com, 15 January 2018, http://www.his241.com/?p=477