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

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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 and then follows the path of the textile industry from New England to the U.S. South, 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. Focusing on Colombia between the 1960s and the present, Chomsky looks at the Uraba 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.

About the Author:
Aviva Chomsky is Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Linked Labor Histories clearly establishes Chomsky as one of the foremost innovative labour historians of América—North and South.” - David C. Carlson, Canadian Journal of History

Linked Labor Histories is a book with a story that scholars can certainly learn from, but it has an even more important message to concerned citizens and labour activists about the necessity of building a movement that confronts globalisation with global strategies.” - James P. Brennan, Journal of Latin American Studies

“[A] valuable contribution in the movement to revive (and revise) analytical tools that shed light on the past in order to illuminate the paths we walk today.” - Louis Segal, A Contracorriente

“What in many text books easily turns into a dry account becomes in Chomsky’s skilful narrative a fascinating and lively story, where the personal is never far from the general. In particular, I like the way in which each of the seven chapters ends with snippets of life histories from workers and unionists, whose personal experiences reflect the more abstract development of global capitalism. It is this putting flesh on social history that makes Linked Labor Histories such a captivating read. . . . Linked Labor Histories is a tremendous achievement and a fascinating read.” - Ulrich Oslender, Bulletin of Latin American Research

Linked Labor Histories is an informative, thought-provoking explanation of how workers’ struggles within the imperialist centers are linked to those in countries dominated by imperialism.” - Ted Zuur, Socialism and Democracy

“Chomsky challenges readers to rethink their assumptions about regional and global power relations, as well as the parts played by governments, workers, and their unions in capital’s continual search for cheap, controllable labor. . . . Aviva Chomsky has written an exciting book about globalization and how the creation and maintenance of global inequalities over time have empowered capital over labor. . . . Chomsky’s work explores new avenues of inquiry. She pushes readers to engage with the long history of the global South, and consider the strategies workers, unions, corporations, consumers, and governments have used to shape its development in the past, and the ways they could do so in the future.” - Beth English, Labor

“By looking at globalization from the perspective of labor history, and labor history through the lens of globalization, Aviva Chomsky transforms our understanding of both. In Chomsky’s hands, global labor history becomes a compelling tool for understanding and challenging the social inequalities that capitalism creates and depends on. The result is not only a wonderfully rich and detailed look at particular places and times, but a pathbreaking study that forces us to rethink how we understand the Americas as a whole. Students, scholars, labor leaders, and activists should all read this magnificent book.”—Steve Striffler, author of In the Shadows of State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular Struggle, and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900–1995

“The early-twentieth-century export of Draper looms from Hopedale, Massachusetts, to Medellin’s domestic textile industry sets the stage for a remarkably creative transnational study, documenting the eerie connection between the fates of both American and Colombian working people. Aviva Chomsky jumps skillfully across time and space to link capital flight and the early globalization of the New England textile industry to patterns of low-wage international immigration, even as she dissects the role of the United States (at times aided by American trade unions) in the suppression of Colombian labor radicalism.”—Leon Fink, author of The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South

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Product Details

Meet the Author

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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Read an Excerpt


New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class
By Aviva Chomsky

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4173-4

Chapter One

THE DRAPER COMPANY From Hopedale to Medellín and Back

Let me tell you what has happened in Fall River; it was told to me by one of the spinners there. "Twenty-five years ago," this man said, "we had 2,000 men in our union, spinners, and there has never been a time since then that a spinner working in that city did not belong to our union," and he felt proud of his union. He was asked "how many power mules have you here now?" and he answered "About 350." Now, this is what has happened: In these twenty-five years the number of mules had decreased from 2,000 to 350. What has become of them? They have been carried to the scrap heap, and their places have been taken by the spinning frame, and the father is out on the street looking for a job at whatever he can get, and the child is in the mill working at spinning. I want to tell you about the loom, the Draper loom. No one would have been more surprised at this than the textile worker of twenty five years ago. To-day in the town of Waterville a cotton weaver is running forty looms. Do you know what that means? Well, that means ten times as many looms as the weaver in India ran ten or twelve years ago. That means four times the number of looms that the most expert cotton weaver ran in the city of Fall River ten years ago, and is nearly four times as many as they are running there to-day, but that loom has not come there as yet.... I doubt very much if there is cotton enough grown in the world to supply the production which is made possible through the introduction of this loom. -THOMAS POWERS, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND, AT THE FOUNDING CONVENTION OF THE IWW IN CHICAGO, JULY 7, 1905

The troops, the older people that were in the mill, came to me and said, "Hey, I don't want any more students. I'm through teaching." So I got 'em together. I sat 'em down in the back room and said, "How come? What's the matter?" They're thoroughly disgusted that people don't want to learn. They're wasting their time; and they're wasting my money; and they don't want to have any part of it. O.K. Then comes the time when my first Colombian came in here.

Oh, Christ, it must have been 1970. Can't remember, somewhere in there. He was legal. His name was Mario. I'll never forget the guy as long as I live. He drove up in a car, he spoke English, he asked me if I needed a Draper loom fixer. And I said, "Buddy, I'll give you a kiss if you know how to fix a Draper loom." He says, "Let me show you." He ... puts on a set of coveralls, takes his tool box out, walks out in the mill, and shows me that this man knows what he's doing. I said, "Jesus Christ, you've got a job." He said, "Would you like some more Colombian people?" I said, "I sure as hell would." -TED LARTER, PRESIDENT OF WANNALANCIT TEXTILE COMPANY, LOWELL, MASSACHUSETTS, 1979, QUOTED IN ELEANOR E. GLAESSEL-BROWN, "A TIME OF TRANSITION: COLOMBIAN TEXTILE WORKERS IN LOWELL IN THE 1970S"

If Mario was an expert at fixing Draper looms, he came by this knowledge, and brought it to Lowell, as part of a long historical process that intertwines the labor and industrial histories of New England and Latin America. The capital that initiated New England's industry had its origins in the slave trade between Africa and Latin America, and its new pattern of industrial investment quickly spread beyond New England. The Hopedale, Massachusetts, Draper Loom Corporation-the largest in the world-supplied looms to Latin America's burgeoning textile industry in the early twentieth century. New England capitalists invested in mills in the U.S. South and in Latin America; they exported their products to Latin America, they built mill equipment to sell there, and, when they closed their New England mills, they shipped the machines, obsolete or not, to these locales. The Colombian textile workers who migrated to New England in the 1970s were the heirs to decades of the intermeshing of capital, machinery, education, ideology, and labor management techniques that shaped a global textile industry. And if unions in the United States at the end of the twentieth century were facing the so-called race to the bottom as industries challenged regions and countries to offer them the most lucrative deals and the lowest wages, they were only the latest players in a drama that textile workers and unions have been facing for many decades.

Many of the paradoxes inherent in the process of industrialization, deindustrialization, and the waves of immigration that have accompanied both processes can be seen played out in the history of the Draper Corporation, producers of textile machinery for the global textile industry. Owned by a family with many members prominent in Massachusetts politics, Draper was built over the remnants of the nineteenth-century utopian community of Hopedale. The mills employed immigrant workers-including Italian anarchist Nicola Sacco-and when the IWW organized a bitter four-month strike at the Hopedale plant in 1913, the Drapers were not loathe to use scabs and violence to break it. The Drapers were major players in the creation of the southern U.S. textile industry and Latin America's textile industry. Like Salem's Pequot Mills, Draper opened a plant in, and eventually moved to, one of the largest textile-producing regions in the South, Spartanburg, South Carolina. Draper fortunes supported anti-immigrant legislation in the 1920s and right-wing racist and eugenicist causes throughout the century, even as the Draper plant brought immigrants to the United States. The looms that the Drapers sent to Latin America were a key factor in bringing Latin American workers to New England in the 1960s and 1970s.

The drive to lower costs is an inherent aspect of the capitalist system of production, and technological development and automation are inherent aspects of industrialization. Few companies, however, embody the system as overtly and as enthusiastically as Draper. The power loom that the company perfected in the early 1900s allowed textile companies to dramatically increase production while decreasing the hours of work. Draper's advertising relentlessly pursued this theme: to compete successfully, textile factories must reduce the cost of labor, and Draper's Northrop loom was the way to do it.

Over the course of the early twentieth century, as state and federal legislation began to restrict hours of work and establish minimum wages, Draper explicitly offered companies a way to avoid suffering any decrease in profits. "High cost labor with shorter working hours makes a large increase in manufacturing costs," a company newsletter warned in 1919. "Should the mills adopt a 48 hour week, this reduction in hours will largely increase the overhead expense as the product per loom, or other textile machine, per hour will be the same whether the working hours are more or less per week. THE NORTHROP LOOM under such conditions has a greater advantage than ever before." "With the trend towards less hours per annum the advantages of automatic machinery in general and Northrop Looms in particular need no argument. The capacity of the Northrop Loom to be operated during the noon hour and a corresponding time night or morning without any weavers at all is a great advantage both to stockholders in the mills and to the weavers. Looms under such conditions increase the amount of cloth 15 to 25 per cent per loom compared with common looms on the same goods running mill hours only," the Draper newsletter enthused a year later. Best of all, "Looms under such conditions VIOLATE NO LABOR LAWS. The shorter the working day the greater the proportional advantage of the Northrop Loom in product both per loom and per weaver."

The Drapers and Their Corporation: Profits and Perfection

The capitalists who invested in New England's early industries brought to their operations a curious ideological heritage. They were the elites in a society that was founded on principles of racial inequality, yet they considered themselves the purveyors of an unprecedented egalitarianism. They trembled at the social ills they saw in England's nascent industries, yet believed that they could avoid those ills in their own industrial experiments. Their capital had its origins in international commerce and in the slave economy, yet they fought for protective tariffs and against slavery (sometimes). They prided themselves on their American independence, yet clung to their Anglo-Saxon identity. They invested their money to make a profit, yet were fervently committed to using their wealth for the betterment of society. They were at once radical, imagining themselves capable of creating an entirely new world, and conservative, bent on maintaining their privilege and containing movements from below that threatened the social order.

Robert Dalzell's study of the Boston Associates who founded the Waltham-Lowell mill system illuminates many of these paradoxes and provides a useful counterpoint for analyzing the beliefs and actions of the Draper family and the goals of their company. Dalzell argues that for Francis Lowell, Nathan Appleton, and other members of the Boston elite, investing in textiles was a means to an end that went beyond simple profit. They held a particular vision of the role of elites in society based on civic engagement, public service, and philanthropy. "Money alone was never enough; it had to be paired with an appropriate measure of public service." Investment in textile production was a way of amassing the resources and security that would allow these men to fulfill their proper social functions in government and to create and sustain private institutions like colleges and hospitals that would both maintain the class structure and uplift the overall level of society.

The dual goals of class privilege and general uplift also underlay the Associates' decision to establish their mills in rural areas and seek a workforce of young women from "respectable" farming families whose moral character would be overseen by the boarding house system. The industrial revolution in England had brought about "dirty towns, corrupt and debased lower classes, beggars and thieves." Not only was this an undesirable social order, but without the instruments of repression that the English upper classes could rely on, it was downright threatening to American elites. The Boston Associates brought a strong dose of utopian engineering to their industrial experiments.

Other New England utopians engaged in their own forms of social engineering in the nineteenth century, establishing intentional communities such as Brook Farm (founded in 1841 in West Roxbury) and Fruitlands (founded in 1843 in Harvard) in which intellectuals from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Ralph Waldo Emerson to Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May) participated. Among these was Hope Dale, established in Milford, Massachusetts, by the minister Adin Ballou in 1841 to embody his philosophy of Practical Christianity, incorporating "Christian socialism, abolitionism, temperance, nonviolence, and racial and sexual equality." One of the founding members was Ebenezer Draper, the son of Ira Draper, who had invented and patented the rotary temple, an early predecessor of the automatic loom. Unlike some of the other utopian communities, Hope Dale intended to produce for profit at the same time it sought moral perfection, by manufacturing and selling textile machinery. Members purchased stock in the enterprise, combining collective management with individual profit.

In 1856 Ebenezer's brother George Draper joined the community, and the two carried out what historians have referred to as a "coup," violating the voluntary bylaws by withdrawing all of their stock-which amounted to three quarters of the total shares-thus essentially destroying the community. "The Drapers took ... the land, mill, streets, shops, houses, and other buildings; in 1873 they even took possession of the cemetery."

George and his sons William, who became president after his father's death in 1887, Eben Sumner, who took over from William and ran the company until he died in 1914, and George Albert, who took over until his own death in 1923, had little interest in Practical Christianity. Nevertheless, they inherited their own form of utopian thinking, which shaped the way they ran and invested in their business and what was, essentially, their town, Hopedale. In George Albert's son Wickliffe Draper, born in 1891, utopianism emerged as obsession with eugenics.

Like the Boston Associates, the Drapers were committed to a paternalistic view of social betterment and urban uplift, and they committed their company's resources to their town. Hopedale was a company town, "not a tenement-ridden slum associated with many of the era's factories and sweatshops but a rural textile community totally under the paternalistic control of the Draper company, which offered job security, medical aid, and low rent in company houses for its employees in an effort to promote unity of interest between labor and capital.... To preserve the town's rural character, the Draper Company prohibited fences, street signs, and mailboxes and created an extensive system of parks and gardens" and even a pond. The design of their worker duplexes received awards at international expositions from St. Louis to Paris to Milan.

Wickliffe Draper inherited both his father's fortune and his "ardent desire ... to use his wealth for some loftier purpose." Like the Boston Associates, he believed that his wealth should be used to have a "larger impact on the well-being of the society." He found his cause in eugenics, the pseudoscience of the era dedicated to proving the superiority of the white race and enforcing policies toward the Nordicization of the U.S. population, including the repatriation of blacks to Africa, selective sterilization, and immigration restrictions.

Draper was not unique in his infatuation with racial thought and racial betterment. New England's cultural and intellectual elite and its institutions were permeated with these ideas in the early twentieth century. Harvard University, so generously funded by the Boston Associates in earlier years, and Wickliffe Draper's alma mater, was one of the centers of racist scholarship. Draper went beyond many of his contemporaries, however, in choosing racist research specifically as the beneficiary of his philanthropic largesse and in continuing to be faithful to his passion until his death in 1972, long after it had been marginalized from the academic mainstream.

His interest in eugenics put Draper in close contact with men like Harry H. Laughlin and Charles Davenport of the Eugenics Record Office, which conducted the research that helped convince Congress to pass the 1924 immigration restrictions drastically limiting immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Draper served as vice president of the Boston-based Immigration Restriction League, whose best known member was the racist researcher Madison Grant, an important influence on Adolf Hitler in later years.

Draper's financial backing of eugenics began in the mid-1920s with several small grants to Davenport and the Eugenics Research Association. In the 1930s he began to fund Earnest Sevier Cox, who was working assiduously to convince Congress to legislate the repatriation of blacks to Africa. In 1937 Draper founded the Pioneer Fund, appointing his old colleague Harry Laughlin president, as a conduit for distributing his money to racist causes. While the fund was nominally governed by a board of directors, Draper "clearly exercised final authority on whether to fund a proposal because the money came out of his private coffers, and Pioneer had no other resources."


Excerpted from LINKED LABOR HISTORIES by Aviva Chomsky Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1. The Draper Company: From Hopedale to Medellín and Back....................15
2. The Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company: Labor-Management Collaboration and Its Discontents....................48
3. Guns, Butter, and the New (Old) International Division of Labor....................93
4. Invisible Workers in a Dying Industry: Latino Immigrants in New England Textile Towns....................142
5. The Cutting Edge of Globalization: Neoliberalism and Violence in Colombia's Banana Zone....................181
6. Taking Care of Business in Colombia: U.S. Multinationals, the U.S. Government, and the AFL-CIO....................222
7. Mining the Connections: Where Does Your Coal Come From?....................264
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