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Early European colonization of North America relied heavily on Native American labor from the formation of the first colonies in New York well into the 20th century in places like the US Great Basin. Contrary to the view that Native Americans either refused wage labor or were an impediment to European settlement, in many places, Native Americans provided significant labor inputs in areas where many European workers refused to work, as on early winter, whaling ships off of Long Island. In many cases, Native Americans accessed wage labor on their own terms, often bringing their entire families with them to labor camps rather than agreeing to the separation of productive from reproductive labor.
Women and men who work as temporary foreign contract workers tend to leave their families for six to eight months per year, completely separated from the reproductive labor contexts of their households, families, and communities. The chapter opens with a woman struggling to maintain meaningful connections with her family at home while working abroad, a process involving balancing the realities of extreme labor control in seafood plants in the United States with the needs of children at home who are at risk of unwed pregnancies, drug abuse, and resentment of absent parents. It lists ten forms of labor found in six communities in Mexico and Guatemala, comparing reproductive labor and foreign contract labor in terms of their ability to generate satisfaction and happiness.
Although employers tend to downplay “leakage” from guest worker programs – or guest workers breaking their contracts or remaining after their contract season in the United States and Canada to become undocumented workers – much of the local ethnic entrepreneurship in Eastern North Carolina originated among women and men who were former guest workers. This chapter profiles two women who established an income tax service after originally coming to North Carolina as seafood guest workers, finding conditions in one of the plants unbearable. It then discusses, more generally, business establishment by immigrants in the region. By founding businesses, these immigrant owners have developed cultural labor – or the labor designed to promote cultural heritage – which serves as a key component of the migration economy of the region.
After profiling a disabled woman who lives by her wits and a meeting of potential guest workers in Jamaica who were subjected to the humiliations of labor recruiters, I raise the central questions that guide the narrative. Why does conventional economics ignore so many forms of labor? What roles do reproductive, domestic productive, cultural, and other forms of labor play in economies? How do they provide theoretical clues to understanding the world's many economies? The chapter ends with a brief history of the preoccupation among early states and employers with labor control, which has been at the heart of today's guest worker programs.
In the early 18th century, around 15,000 people fled southwestern Germany for the British Isles with the hopes that Queen Anne would send them to North America. Once they reached England, they established refugee camps near the Thames in and around London, raising fears of disease, competition of refugee artisans with locals, and other issues. Feeling the pressure, Queen Anne supported three resettlement schemes: one to shore up the Protestant presence in Ireland and two to produce naval stores (tar, pitch, turpentine, etc.) in North Carolina and New York. Naval stores were strategic materials used for shipbuilding and consequently European expansion around the world, yet their production involved onerous work in pine forests. The British, having denuded most of their forests for fuel and building materials, were dependent on Scandinavian sources for them. Although the two resettlement schemes targeting North America failed, they constituted early experiments with deploying immigrant labor for difficult, dangerous tasks in the New World.
Since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Bloc, temporary and part-time wage labor, and particularly the use of immigrant and contract labor, have become increasingly common in the lives of workers, the creation of value, and the distribution of wealth. These conditions have facilitated the emergence of multiple economic formations often referred to, in popular media and scholarly writing, as new “economies” such as the gig economy, the informal economy, the sharing economy, and the gift economy. These formations have served as subsidies to prevailing capitalist political economics and alternatives to engaging in wage labor, simultaneously complementing and competing with dominant economic formations. This chapter discusses the dynamic relations that workers of the 21st century have forged among multiple livelihoods and economic formations, considering, in particular, how they derive value from distinct yet complementary formations.
Focusing on one of the six communities introduced in the previous chapter – the one in Guatemala, Mantiox de Dios, where peasant agriculture is the basis of the local economy – this chapter delves into the relationships between domestic economic labor and foreign contract labor. It profiles two families represented by a couple that produce a wide variety of crops and livestock for home consumption and for sale, indicating how closely related reproductive and domestic productive labor are tied to one another through household consumption practices. The centerpiece of the chapter is a map drawn by a young woman in the community that shows the tight connections among domestic production, the spatial arrangement of the community, and local religious values.
This chapter shifts from a focus on the domestic economics of peasant farming to the domestic economics of artisanal fishing in Latin America and commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. After a brief profile of Las Brisas, a fishing community in Mexico that, like Mantiox de Dios, also sends guest workers abroad, the narrative shifts to a focus on changing property relations in Gulf of Mexico fisheries and how those changes have affected methods of labor exploitation on commercial fishing vessels. It considers how the scholarship on forms of exploitation among peasants applies to contemporary Gulf of Mexico fishing crews, who complain of being transformed from captains and crew who shared the catch more or less equally with vessel owners to “sharecroppers” responsible for paying the leasing and administrative rents required to enter the fishery.
The 21st century has not been good to the science of economics. Economic crises such as the 2007–2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession were neither predicted by economists nor perceived to be the result of economic planning based on neoclassical models. This chapter combines insights from the history of economic anthropology and sociology to develop a theory of economic behavior that returns economic practice to its social and cultural contexts. It is less a critique of the science of economics than a synthesis of economic and social theory that speaks to the changes outlined in the previous chapters and questions of value raised in part two of this book.