Beverly Silver’s “Forces of Labor” Since 1870


The left’s separation from the proletariat in the USA has a long history. It took the form of pessimism in the sixties, based on the flourishing of the life of working middle-class representatives since they were perceived as a threat by the government. In the modern world, such a negative view is related to America’s labor competition with the numerous cheaper labor reserves of Asian states. This paper is a review of the book by Beverly Silver Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870. This review contains an examination of the book’s content and determines its value.

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The book under analysis provides Silver’s description of the research she carried out over the decades. The purpose of her study was the exploration of the labor movement. In this book, Silver suggests that individuals who consider the crisis of the labor movement nowadays as urgent tend to perceive the 21st century as a radically fresh and unprecedented time. Remarkably, people who have a desire for significant labor movements to rise to think that capitalism is only about a conflict between capital and labor.[1] Therefore, Forces of Labor fully recasts labor-related studies in terms of geographic location and history.

One of the essential points of this work was to demonstrate that there are significant continuities that undermine the claims of the “neoists” behind the novelty of the present. The disappearance of the class struggles in developed capitalist countries allowed establishing ideas that reinforce post-modernist arguments, meaning that class stratification is over. In spite of this thesis, Forces of Labor also examines a possibility of a gradual return to the world order.

The discussion of new technologies further in the book underlines that new products on the market have replaced the concentration on automotive manufacturing across the globe. The reality of mass production of these commodities in developing countries, particularly the ones located in Asia, lies behind the analysis of consumer facilities in Europe and the US. Nevertheless, the crucial consistency with the post-war policies and practices is shown by the book’s central focus, the section on the car industry’s successive relocations. Car manufacturing businesses have been spread throughout the globe, but they are far from being one of demanded mass production areas.

Howsoever, while it is undeniable that Silver is portraying the similarity of the present with the capitalist era, she depicts significant disparities between these periods. The proof is given by the examination of the “spatial fix,” as well as the cycles of proletariat struggles. The author clarifies that capitalist powers in different parts of the world were fixed and stable from the 19th century until the 1970s. Throughout this time frame, the hub of mass production remained firmly anchored in Western European countries as well as the USA. The underdevelopment-versus-development situation offered the base for voicing social antagonism through the political modes of liberation movements.

The transfer process of mass-production industries, such as automobile manufacturing, has shaped the industrial development in third-world countries and gave jobs to millions of working-class representatives there. However, what Silver highlighted in her study of spatial relocations is that such a process, accompanied by the movements against it, has drastically changed the framework of industrial capitalism and the view on it.


Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870, critically analyze the situation in the labor arena in the USA as well as in both wealthy and developing countries across the globe. Furthermore, the author thoughtfully describes the similarities and differences of two industries: the automotive and textile ones, which are thought of as essential manufacturing of the 19th century. Such a comparison is made to shed light on the fact that once financial gain is reduced in one industry, new investments are transferred to another manufacture with more significant market potential. Thus, Beverly Silver made an attempt to explain to a reader the basics of market and industry, which was successful.

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First, the author argues that in the later stages of the product cycle, the evolution of industry was on the rise, particularly in wealthy countries. However, the situation of the working class appears to be difficult because the employers have less income from the windfall entrepreneurs to make concessions, and there is more rivalry. Secondly, the book provides elaboration on the matter of different “fixes,” which are the key elements influencing a country’s labor market. According to Silver, the main one is the “economic fix,” capital flowing entirely out of development and into financial manipulations.[2] Third, the author distinguishes between two contrasting types of labor struggle: “Marx-type,” driven by strong-minded workers, and “Polyani-type,” driven by workers who feel vulnerable and challenged by market pressures.

The strategic and institutional transformation of resources is also given insufficient importance by Beverly Silver. Remarkably, even the term “privatization” possesses a comparatively infrequent appearance throughout the book. Furthermore, Silver lacks addressing the implications of the substantial reduction of manufacturing workplaces in recent decades (measured by a number of workers). Although the author discusses the increased intensity of global capitalist rivalry since the 1970s, she does not emphasize the same period’s dramatic technical-organizational transformation of capital enough.

Importantly, Beverly Silver views the USSR as an external element affecting the current political situation globally. Whereas the state of the proletariat in socialist countries is not examined in Silver’s book, their history is valuable regarding the progress of the labor movement in the world. Notably, in the twentieth century, a majority of the world’s employers worked under communist and socialist regimes; thus, it would have been useful to discover the labor movement of such states.


This book contributed significantly to the examination of labor and class ideology in the past, as well as its potential re-appearance in the present. All in all, it might be stated that the book by Beverly Silver is a valuable source of information concerning matters related to the labor movement. It is important to emphasize that the book offers a reflective analysis of social elements of globalization, labor, and economy. Even though the research lacks evidence and elaborations on the discussed subject, Silver’s Forces of Labor still provides numerous interesting insights into the labor movements throughout the three centuries and effectively draws parallels with past and present. In addition, despite all of the inaccuracies mentioned above, Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870 deliberately examines challenges in the labor market and prompts a reader for the analysis of this matter.


Silver, Beverly J., Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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