‘Working as Though For Their Self’: Coalwood, Class Struggle and Capitalism’s Cracks

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Department of Social Sciences


Much of the archaeology and history of labor is based on organized labor, unions, and strikes, and the common rhetoric emphasizes the success or failure of union strike activities. This frames labor activism with clear winners and losers and inadvertently adopts the vantage point of capital. Given the modern world where union membership is plummeting, “success” seems even more unlikely. In this paper, I use the case of the Coalwood lumber camp to argue that labor’s “success” was much more complicated than simply winning strikes. Recognizing the difference between concrete and abstract labor provides a way to think about worker’s decisions to structure their lives based more on concrete than alienated labor that gives them more autonomy over their lives.

Publication Title

International Journal of Historical Archaeology