"Labor is Not a Commodity!"

"Labor is Not a Commodity!" : The Movement to Shorten the Workday in Late Nineteenth-Century Berlin and New York

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Analyzing the history of the movement to shorten the workday in late nineteenth-century New York City and Berlin, this book explores what Karl Polanyi has termed the "fictitious commodification" of labor. Despite the concept's significance for present-day social movements, European and North American historiography has largely ignored the impact of free-market rhetoric on the formation of organized labor. Filling this gap, Philipp Reick provides both a contribution to the current reevaluation of Polanyian thought and theory and an interdisciplinary investigation of the trans-Atlantic transmission of ideas. As Reick demonstrates, while on both sides of the Atlantic workers opposed the unchecked commodification of labor power as a violation of their political, social, and economic rights, the emerging movements for protection from commodification did not promote a universalist concept of rights.By showing that American and German workers drew upon a strikingly similar rationality when formulating demands, this book reveals that we cannot label either the US labor movement as a deviation from the supposed norm of industrial contestation or its German counterpart as the embodiment of that norm.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 237 pages
  • 140 x 215 x 23mm | 318g
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • English
  • 3593506270
  • 9783593506272

Table of contents


Acknowledgements 7

Preface 9

1.Introduction: Theory and Methods

1.1.The Polanyian Revival 18

1.2.The Conceptual Toolbox 21

1.3.The Comparative Approach 28

1.4.The Text Corpus38

1.5.The State of Research 40

2.Market: The Commodification of Work and the Birth of Organized Labor

2.1.The Rise of a Free Labor Market 45

2.2.Organized Labor in Berlin in the 1860s and early 1870s 55

2.3.Organized Labor in New York in the 1860s and early 1870s 67

3.Polity: Shorter Hours and the Struggle for Equality

3.1.The Movement for Shorter Hours in New York 79

3.2.The Movement for Shorter Hours in Berlin 88

3.3.Chapter Conclusion 101

4.Society: Shorter Hours and the Struggle for Human Rights

4.1.Commodification as Dehumanization 109

4.2.De-Commodification as Counter-Hegemony 121

4.3.Chapter Conclusion 130

5.Economy: Shorter Hours and the Struggle for Redistribution

5.1.The Political Economy of Shorter Hours 135

5.2.The Decline of the Concept of Commodification 141

5.3.Chapter Conclusion 158

6.Gender: Shorter Hours and the Protection of Female Labor

6.1.Women's Work 165

6.2.Protecting Female Labor 176

6.3.Chapter Conclusion 196

7.Conclusion: The Past and Present of Commodification 202

Abbreviations 211

Bibliography 212

Index of Subjects 234

Index of Persons 236
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About Philipp Reick

Philipp Reick has been a visiting scholar at the City University of New York's Graduate Center and, since 2015, is a Martin Buber Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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