Labor historian to discuss Bloomington labor history, ‘just wages’

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Outsourcing an American call center to India or a factory to China hardly feels like news today. Often outsourcing is talked about as a uniquely modern facet of the labor market, a necessary evil of expanding globalization in the post-Internet world.

Jefferson Cowie

Jefferson Cowie

But in Bloomington, the community felt these labor tensions before the turn of the century when Thomson Consumer Electronics, RCA’s successor, left Indiana for Mexico. The 1998 move took over 1,000 jobs from Bloomington.

Thompson’s outsourcing move was not uncommon for the electronics company. RCA came to Bloomington in 1940 after fleeing a strong union and higher wages in Camden, N.J. No stranger to moving, Thomson has since relocated a third time to Asia.

Jefferson Cowie, author of “Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor” and professor of labor history at Cornell University, is an expert in the relationship between Thomson’s move and Bloomington’s labor market. His most recent book is “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class,” which received a number of awards.

Cowie will present two lectures at IU as part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ fall 2015 Themester “@Work: The Nature of Labor on a Changing Planet.” The lectures are free and open to the public. Topics and times are:

  • “Bloomington Labor History” – 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, in the Monroe County History Center, 202 E. Sixth St.
  • “Just Wages: The World History of an Idea” – 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, in the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 416 N. Indiana Ave.

During Wednesday’s event, Cowie will discuss Bloomington’s labor history alongside Joseph Varga, assistant professor in IU’s Department of Labor Studies, and local labor leaders.

On Thursday, Cowie will discuss the complexity of the wage relationship between freedom and manipulation, the historical flux and instability of wages, and the transition and the move from slavery and servitude to labor wages.

The talks are sponsored by the College Arts and Humanities Institute and Themester.

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