Laboring for the Day: The Pacific Coast and the Casual Labor Economy, 1919-1933
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation explores the economic and cultural (re)definition of labor and laborers. It traces the growing reliance upon contingent work as the foundation for industrial capitalism along the Pacific Coast; the shaping of urban space according to the demands of workers and capital; the formation of a working class subject through the discourse and social practices of both laborers and intellectuals; and workers’ struggles to improve their circumstances in the face of coercive and onerous conditions. Woven together, these strands reveal the consequences of a regional economy built upon contingent and migratory forms of labor. This workforce was hardly new to the American West, but the Pacific Coast’s reliance upon contingent labor reached its apogee after World War I, drawing hundreds of thousands of young men through far flung circuits of migration that stretched across the Pacific and into Latin America, transforming its largest urban centers and working class demography in the process. The presence of this substantial workforce (itinerant, unattached, and racially heterogeneous) was out step with the expectations of the modern American worker (stable, married, and white), and became the warrant for social investigators, employers, the state, and other workers to sharpen the lines of solidarity and exclusion. Beginning in the 1920s, and coming to a point under the economic weight of the Great Depression, these various constituents created new urban spaces, expressive cultures, and discourses, along with new regulations and forms of protest that would shape the politics of labor in the coming decades. Highlighting the centrality of contingent labor, this study calls into question predominant liberal narratives about modern industrial capitalism. It challenges our understanding of capitalism’s stability and the opportunities afforded to workers in a so-called free market, and lays plain the economic and cultural realities of a workforce segmented by class and race.
- History