Politics: “Forces of Labor” by Beverly Silver

In the book “Forces of Labor” Beverly Silver carries out an in-depth analysis of the impact of local labor movements on the development of the modern economy and society. Using data from the automobile and textile industries, the author shows how the relocation of production leads to the geographical shift of labor unrests and leads to major changes in society all over the world. The book covers the period from the second part of the nineteenth century up to the begging of the twenty-first century. “Where capital goes, the conflict goes”1 is the phrase that embodies the leading theme of the book. In the course of the work, Silver follows the way relocation of capital and production shapes the economic, political, and social structure of the world. The scholar takes a close look at the underlying factors that cause crises of labor. Using multiple historical examples to support her theory, Silver shows the repeating patterns of economic, political, and social processes, thus providing a big picture of the relationship between labor movements and geopolitical and economic events.

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In the first part of the book, Silver argues that despite globalization, the modern world remains divided into two parts: technologically developed rich regions and underdeveloped areas. The author refers to these regions respectively as the North and the South. As Silver shows in her book, the labor unrest in the North has led to the relocation of production to the South. It happened because the labor movements in the South lack strength and organization and the cost of labor is much lower2. Silver argues that despite the relocation of the capital to the South, wealth keeps being accumulated in the North, which means that inequality between the two regions will always exist.3 This conclusion leads the author to rejection the thesis that “race to the bottom” 4 might bring about more equality through global competition.

The types of potential power that the labor class can use to oppose capitalists are discussed in much detail in the introductory chapter of the book. Silver distinguishes two such types, namely associational and structural power. Associational power has its roots in the ability of the working people to unite and act together in pursuit of common goals and interests. Workers can increase the amount of associational power by creating labor unions and forming political parties. Structural power is determined by workers’ skills, position in production, location and situation in the market. The author links these types of power to different forms of protest. Silver relates the proper use of structural power with what she calls “Polanyi-type labor unrest” 5. This form of protest is characterized by collective bargaining of workers and the creation of improved legal standards that can protect the interests of the working class. In contrast, structural power is linked to “Marx-type labor unrest” 6. This type of unrest includes individual or collective activity of workers who are unsatisfied with working conditions or payment and might take a form of a strike.

The author makes a distinction between crises of profitability and crises of legitimacy. Crises of profitability happen when product development leads to the strengthening of labor movements and keeping the workers under control start require concessions from the capitalists. Crises of legitimacy, on the other hand, are characterized by intensified commodification of labor and weaken labor movements that are caused by capitalists’ strive to increase profitability. The scholar points out the two kinds of labor crises are inherently interconnected. The author says in her book, “One type of crisis can be resolved only by measures that eventually bring about the other type of crisis”7. Silver argues that the process of relocation of capital is driven by these two kinds of crises8. Taking a close look at these forms of crises and studying the phenomenon, the author draws attention to the contradiction that is internal for capitalism.

The concept of free trade is studied in this book with the help of the theoretical framework that is developed in the introductory chapter. Silver argues that the promotion of the idea of global free trade was a major tool employed by capitalists to bypass labor unrest using the relocation of production9. The scholar points out that relocation of capital requires free trade because it does not lead to the relocation of consumers, which creates a necessity for unhindered shipment of goods between the two countries. Silver shows how the process of relocation of production from the United States to less developed countries in the twentieth century led to the rise of public unrest in these areas. The author uses historical data from the car manufacturing industry to support her argument.

Silver dedicates the third chapter of her book to the discussion about the connection between product cycles and public unrest. By studying the development of the textile industry in the nineteenth century, the author further investigates the relationship between labor movements and the relocation of capital. Silver concludes that the biggest concessions can be obtained by workers during the innovation phase of the product cycle10. This fact also contributes to the inequality between the North and the South, because the North has long been the center of technologically innovative activity.

The relationship between labor unrest and politics is disused in the fourth chapter of the book. Silver describes the connection between war and the workers’ movement. Using examples of World War I and the following Revolution in Russia and the spread of unrest of the working class throughout European nations, the author shows how major military conflicts led to an increase in public protest. Silver then points out that a similar tendency can be found in the post-colonial world after World War II and investigates the development of the subject during the Cold War.

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The book “Forces of Labor by Beverly Silver made a significant contribution to the discussion about the current situation in the economy. She outlines repeating patterns inherent to labor crises by pointing out the similarities between today’s labor crisis and similar events in history. In her work, Silver uses an extensive database and turns to a wide range of studies and research to back up her arguments by various data sets and references to previous studies. The theoretical framework that is developed by Silver in her book helps analyze the mechanisms behind the social and economic events. By taking a close look at the nature of labor crises, the author shows that the current situation is not unprecedented. The scholar argues that labor movements play an essential role in history and influence political and economic world dynamics. Silver’s work helps develop a better understanding of the subject and create potential solutions for existing problems and prepare for future challenges.

Bibliography

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

Footnotes

  1. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 74.
  2. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 43-47.
  3. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 67-71.
  4. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 71.
  5. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 20.
  6. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 20.
  7. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 36.
  8. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 37.
  9. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 74-77.
  10. Silver, Beverly J. Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870. (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 163-168.
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StudyCorgi. (2021, July 12). Politics: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/politics-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/

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"Politics: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." StudyCorgi, 12 July 2021, studycorgi.com/politics-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Politics: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." July 12, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/politics-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.


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StudyCorgi. "Politics: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." July 12, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/politics-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Politics: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver." July 12, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/politics-forces-of-labor-by-beverly-silver/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Politics: "Forces of Labor" by Beverly Silver'. 12 July.

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