Like those in other fields, labor historians are challenged to rethink their work in light of the ubiquitous border-crossings of people, money, and ideas taken for granted in the current era of globalization. This book is the first broad intellectual response by labor and working-class historians to what we might call the “transnational turn” in historical studies. Not only will one find here gleanings from a wide variety of research projects leading outward from a U.S. focus but also readers will encounter important work from Canadianists, Caribbeanists, and Latin American specialists, all following historical developments that cross national boundaries. As distinct from comparative histories built around the integrity of their nation-state subjects (a tradition boasting distinguished examples within labor studies), transnational works emphasize the supranational or subnational aspect of their subjects.
Yet, rather than deny the power of nation-states or national cultures, the transnational approach offers an additional angle of approach as we interrogate the origins and authority of nation-states, as well as their contradictions. As the La Pietra Report (2000), prepared by the Organization of American Historians’ Project on Internationalizing the Study of American History, defined the current imperative, “If historians have often treated the nation as self-contained and undifferentiated, it is increasingly clear that this assumption is true in neither the present nor the past.” This published collection began as an intellectual event. Befitting its own hemispheric aspirations, the journal Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas organized an international conference at the Newberry Library in Chicago in September 2008 on “Workers, the Nation-State, and Beyond: The Newberry Conference on Labor History across the Americas.” Across two-and-a-half intense days, some one hundred scholars arrayed in twenty panels digested dozens of precirculated papers; to provoke discussion, the panels regularly matched a U.S.-centered presentation with a Canada- or Latin America–based counterpart, as well as a senior scholarly commentator. The call for papers for the Newberry conference provided the initial framing ideas for this volume. As the organizers declared.
We understand global processes, historically conceived, to be fundamental to labor’s history, be it capital and labor mobility, imperial and neo-imperial political economies, or the mobilization of labor internationally and/or across borders …. The transnational also opens new avenues for understanding—over time and . . .