Labor History

labor (in economics)

labor, term used both for the effort of performing a task and for the workers engaged in the activity. In ancient times much of the work was done by slaves (see slavery). In the feudal period agricultural labor was in the main performed by the serf. In medieval towns, however, the skilled artisans of the craft guilds became influential citizens. Many manual labor jobs were eliminated with the introduction of machinery (mid-18th cent.), thus creating a labor surplus (see Industrial Revolution). With increased competition for jobs and consequent decreasing wages, a form of labor contract came into use in Great Britain and its colonies, called indenture, by which people could hire themselves out for a certain number of years either for a lump sum of money or to pay off a debt. This practice disappeared by the end of the 19th cent. From the last quarter of the 19th cent. the condition of most manual labor has improved slowly in industrial countries through organization (see union, labor), permitting collective bargaining with employers and successful pressure on governments for protective legislation. In fact, the term labor is today most frequently used to signify organized labor. For labor disputes, see strike. See also child labor; migrant labor; peonage.

See J. R. Commons et al., History of Labour in the United States (4 vol., 1918–35, repr. 1966); G. D. H. Cole, A Short History of the British Working-Class Movement (new ed. 1960); N. J. Ware, Labor in Modern Industrial Society (1935, repr. 1968); A. Kuhn, Labor: Institutions and Economics (rev. ed. 1967); A. A. Paradis, The Labor Reference Book (1972); R. Fantasia, Cultures of Solidarity: Consciousness, Action, and Contemporary American Workers (1989); T. Roof, American Labor, Congress and the Welfare State, 1935–2010 (2011).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Labor in America: A History
Melvyn Dubofsky; Foster Rhea Dulles.
Harlan Davidson, 2004
Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America
Daniel Jacoby.
M. E. Sharpe, 1998
The American Labor Movement, 1955-1995
Walter Galenson.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Solidarity or Survival? American Labor and European Immigrants, 1830-1924
A. T. Lane.
Greenwood Press, 1987
Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912-1921
Joseph A. McCartin.
University of North Carolina Press, 1997
American Labor in the Era of World War II
Sally M. Miller; Daniel A. Cornford.
Praeger, 1995
American Labor and the Cold War: Grassroots Politics and Postwar Political Culture
Robert W. Cherny; William Issel; Kieran Walsh Taylor.
Rutgers University Press, 2004
Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement
James B. Jacobs.
New York University Press, 2006
Workers across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History
Leon Fink.
Oxford University Press, 2011
Of Moses and Marx: Folk Ideology and Folk History in the Jewish Labor Movement
David P. Shuldiner; Paul Buhle.
Bergin & Garvey, 1999
Wage & Labor Guilds in Medieval Europe
Steven A. Epstein.
University of North Carolina Press, 1991
Socialist Labor and Politics in Weimar Germany: The General Federation of German Trade Unions
Gerard Braunthal.
Archon Books, 1978
The Social History of Labor in the Middle East
Ellis Jay Goldberg.
Westview Press, 1996
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