Political Activism: “Forces of Labor” by Beverly Silver


This book mainly focuses on the birth and growth of labor movements across the world and the way they have contributed to improving the welfare of workers over the years. In addition, it provides an in-depth analysis of the way the concept of globalization has influenced the activities of various labor movements across the world. The author presents arguments to show the role that the working class struggle would play in influencing the social order in the 21st century. The author provides a narrative of the major events that shaped labor movements and capitalism in the last century. She argues that some individuals will expect new labor movements to emerge in the future, as well as reshape the labor and capital paradigm. Although the book does not change the readers’ understanding of the dynamics of labor and capitalism, it challenges one to look at labor and capitalism from a different perspective.

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Book Review

Beverly Silver’s book addresses important questions that have not been sufficiently studied by researchers: why have labor struggles declined, and what are the trends of working-class struggles? Silver starts the book by claiming that geographical restructuring cannot abolish the working-class struggle as claimed by many experts due to capital relocation. She predicts a surge in worker militancy in many countries as they become more industrialized. Silver explains the possible surge in militancy through three main ideas: lack of profits to make concessions, fixes, and worker struggle. The book is very insightful because it includes an empirical analysis of specific industries and countries. In addition, she demonstrates how locations of labor unrest have changed across countries, the rise and decline of new economic sectors, and the influence of labor movements in world politics.

Worker resistance is an important argument that the author presents. She divides the resistance into Marxian struggles and Polanyian struggles. In the former, workers fight to receive a larger share of profits and control over work processes, while in the latter, they fight to mitigate the negative effects of pure market forces on their livelihoods. The author uses the aforementioned examples to explain how capitalism results in resistance among workers. The author describes the changes that have occurred regarding labor movements by referring to the role played by capital mobility. In that regard, she states that the spatial displacement of capital and its relocation to new product lines have been the major forces in the evolution that has spanned more than two centuries. This has happened in response to labor militancy that was the main cause of labor unrest, especially in the auto industry in America and Europe.

The author draws parallels between the current era and that of the 1890s, as both periods are characterized by global crises of labor movements. For example, she describes the 19th century as the Golden Age of Capital that led to the Great Depression of 1873-96 (Silver 131). The depression was caused by several factors that include capital relocation, labor process transformations, capital deployment into new industries, and investment into money lending businesses (Silver 131). These transformations caused widespread unrest, even though the membership of labor unions increased. The author compares this period to the current crisis of labor that has emanated from similar causes that include unprecedented innovation, capital relocation, and growth in finance capital. The author examines the results of these transformations and labor processes over time.

Silver argues that the current labor crisis is temporary and it will subside with time. She uses sociological concepts of global politics to support her claims. In chapter five, she states that the historical progression of labor movements has been largely influenced by global politics. The dynamics of hegemony, war, and conflicts between states have played key roles in shaping the dynamics of labor across the world. Her analysis in chapter two (global economic dynamics) and chapter four (political dynamics) are used to make a conclusion regarding the future of the world of labor. An important point that the author makes is the role of the working class in shaping the labor world. She argues that the working class will be an important force in shaping the social order of the 21st century (Silver 105). Her world systems approach improves the analytical perspective used throughout the book in order to give a clear understanding of her view with regard to the future of labor movements.

One of the book’s strengths is the author’s detailed exploration of the rise and decline of labor unrest in various industries and countries. This approach is effectively used to draw parallels between the labor crises of the current period and the 1800s. An additional strength of the book is the utilization of empirical data to support arguments. The author relies heavily on information from a database compiled by the World Labor Group at the Fernand Braudel Center in Birmingham, New York. The database has a record of all labor unrest that was covered by major newspapers in New York and London since the 1870s (Silver 190). She uses the data to argue that labor unrest originates from the uneven allocation of capital. She also gives examples to support her arguments. For example, she supports her spatial fix argument by recounting the history of struggle in the auto industry (Silver 47-49). The author explains how the American auto industry shaped labor movements in America. She supports her arguments by incorporating a wide range of primary and secondary sources that include books, scholarly journals, websites of international organizations, and newspapers.

One of the book’s weaknesses is the lack of a definite chronological order with regard to the discussion of the topic. The chapters cover the events of the 19th and 20th Centuries. However, it does not discuss the events in the chronological order in which they occurred. The book could have been improved by discussing the events in a sequential manner so that the readers can easily put them into perspective as they progressed through the chapters. Regardless of this inadequacy, the book is organized in an easy-to-read manner. The author argues against the claim that the current labor crisis is terminal and recounts numerous narratives from around the world. She provides examples that demonstrate the novelty of the contemporary crisis of labor movements.

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The book is well written because its content supports the argument that the occurrences of the contemporary labor era are recurrences of past events. The author urges the readers to refrain from accepting populist arguments that assert that the working class and the “mass worker’ are traditional concepts that have no influence on modern labor. Many industries have closed due to capital relocation and innovation. However, she describes this shift as a return to the class struggle that is characterized by workers’ lack of bargaining power. The book posits that these transformations, especially in advanced countries, are temporary measures that will result in conflict between capital and labor. The book is an excellent resource because the author is not biased as she discusses both continuities and discontinuities related to the current era and earlier periods of capitalism.

Work Cited

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

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StudyCorgi. (2021, June 25). Political Activism: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/political-activism-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/

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"Political Activism: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." StudyCorgi, 25 June 2021, studycorgi.com/political-activism-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Political Activism: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." June 25, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/political-activism-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.


StudyCorgi. "Political Activism: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." June 25, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/political-activism-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Political Activism: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." June 25, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/political-activism-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Political Activism: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver'. 25 June.

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