This volume comprises the papers presented at the Third International Conference in Economic and Social History, “Labour History: production, markets, relations, policies”, held at the University of Ioannina in May 2017. Labour history, as an academic discipline, developed in the 1960s with a focus on the working classes and labour movements of industrial societies, as well as the issues of gender, race and other social factors in the urban, industrial world.
The articles collected in this volume are concerned with labour history in Southern Europe, which is defined by the editors as a “semi-periphery”. Their introductory chapter explains in detail the concepts of Southern Europe and the semi-periphery. They then discuss the existing literature on labour history in Southern Europe at the transnational level, followed by a comprehensive bibliography.
Typically (and historically) Southern Europe has been depicted as economically and socially “backward”, i.e. slowly reacting to the challenges of modernization, and characterized by Catholicism and the Latin languages. In addition, the term “Mediterranean model”, has been widely used and is usually defined in terms of specific marriage practises concerning the age of marriage (prior to demographic transition), unpaid work by women, low literacy rates, lower investment in human capital, and economic systems based on intensive labour. After the Cold War, Southern Europe increasingly came to include Greece, Portugal and Spain – counties that all went through the transition to democracy in the mid- 1970s, and sometimes even non-European Mediterranean countries. However, the editors of this volume are trying to go beyond these aforementioned definitions, by explicitly including the ex-communist Balkan countries – the “mixed market political economy” being the common denominator for the south of Europe as a whole. Therefore, Southern Europe is defined in this volume not only as a geographical category, but also in terms of its social and economic structure, and in the context of political and intellectual history. In addition, Southern European labour movements are distinguished from those in the north-western Europe by the preeminent local chambers of labour instead of national trade union federations.
The concept of semi-periphery emerges out of the core-periphery theory of the capitalist world system, defined by Immanuel Wallerstein, alongside Raúl Prebisch’s dependency theory. If the notion of periphery was developed in relation to the so-called Third World, then semi-periphery designates regions characterized by the more or less powerful role of the state (in comparison to the west European countries of liberal economic model) and an emphasis on economic activity “in-between” the core and periphery. This intermediary category is an appropriate choice for this volume’s approach towards an analysis of the global division of labour. As such, it actually contributes to the world system theory, giving it more complex and precise definition, and is certainly not trying to rebuke it or to go beyond it.
The volume under review here contains fourteen studies on Southern European labour history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are divided into four parts, each dealing specifically with the one aspect of labour: the first section discusses small enterprises and small-scale ownership; the second concerns formal and informal labour and family patterns; the third turns to industrial labour relations; and the fourth section is dedicated to maritime labour in Mediterranean ports and at sea. Several themes discussed in the chapters of this volume are identified as key features of Southern European labour history, including the role of culture and a tendency towards independent work and self-employment, but also specific institutional frameworks and forms of labour management (such as paternalistic social policies and welfare capitalism), as well as women’s labour and gender relations.
The first two parts of the volume in particular are very appropriate in terms of the editors` intentions: small enterprises, informal labour and family firms are already defined as specific features of the semi peripheral world of Southern Europe. Industrial labour relations, discussed in the third part, is also a very important topic within the global context, and reveals a lot on the subject of whether there are specific features of the south European semi-periphery, or not. However, it is not completely clear why the last section on maritime labour is included in the volume; while providing interesting case studies it can be argued that maritime work is typical far beyond the Mediterranean world – which arguably limits its relevance for this specific volume.
The tendency towards independent work emerges as one of the most significant characteristics of semi-peripheral economies in Southern Europe. High rates of self-employment and the challenges faced by small-scale business and individual entrepreneurship in these societies are discussed by Stavroula Verrarou, Vincent Gouzi, Nikos Potamianos, and Kostas Paloukis in the case of Greece, and by Anna Pina Paladini in her chapter on artisans in Italy.
Forms of labour management (such as paternalistic policies and welfare capitalism) are elaborated by Daniel Alves in the case of the controversy over closing the shops on Sundays in Lisbon 1870–1910), by Anna Pelegrino (on arbitrations between the Italian workers and their employers in the early 20th century), by Milan Balaban (on paternalistic social policy in a company town of interwar Yugoslavia), by Paolo Raspadori (on corporate welfare policies in Italy across different twentieth-century political regimes), and by Andrea Umberto Gritti (on labour management strategies in post-war Italy, specifically in the case of the Falck steelworks company). These are all case studies on the welfare institutions and their operational mode in this part of the world. Namely, the regulation of workers` welfare within the limits of either of a single factory, or between the employers and employees in a certain branch. In all cases, however, welfare for workers was not regulated by the laws of the state, and that is perhaps the most important point helping to define the specific features of the south European societies.
Institutional frameworks and the problems of regulating the labour market are discussed by Svetla Ianeva (on guilds and home manufacturing in rural areas of the central Balkans during the 19th century), by Enrico Garcia Domingo (on Spanish engineers of the merchant navy and their professionalization from 1877 to 1980), and in the aforementioned chapters by Paladini and Potamianos dealing with Italy from 1925 to 1960 and Athens of the early 20th century, respectively. Welfare state institutions are analysed in cases of Italy and Yugoslavia by Raspadori and Balaban. Paladini also discusses the problems of social security for artisans in post-war Italy where since 1956 artisan firms were defined by the size of the firm (small number of employees and apprentices), and not by either the type of activity or the use of machines vs. manual work. These contributions point to the need of further studies on the delayed introduction of labour laws and their incomplete implementation in Southern Europe, which accelerated the growth of the informal sector. All these phenomena can be observed as fundamental characteristics of the Southern Europe semi-periphery, as defined in the introductory chapter of this volume. The role of the wider political context is discussed specifically in cases of Italian fascism and the Communist Party of Greece (by Raspadori and Paloukis respectively), in connection to chambers of labour and corporate welfare.
Finally, gender roles and the work of women – both at the workplace and in the family – are also discussed across many chapters of this volume, even though none of them is specifically dedicated to this subject. The specificity of gender relations in southern Europe features prominently in a chapter on the street vendors in Athens in the first decades of the 20th century by Nikos Potamianos, and in a chapter on the Athenian neighbourhood of Peristeri in interwar period by Kostas Paloukis. Svetla Ianeva deals with the role of women in proto-industrial manufacturing in the Ottoman Balkans and their exclusion from labour unions. Pellegrini also deals with non-permanent female employment in manufacturing and the unequal treatment of women before labour arbitration tribunals. Balaban explains that women were expected to leave their jobs after marriage in the Bata shoemaking industry in Borovo, Yugoslavia.
Labour History in the Semi-Periphery represents a relevant contribution to the ongoing research dialogue among labour historians, both within this region and on the global level, which began back in the 1970s. By the use of term “semi-periphery” the editors are following the traits of world system theories, and are successful in making these approaches more elaborate and complex. All the chapters of the volume are case studies and do not take a comparative approach, either within the regional or the global context. They are mostly focused on the subjects within national states, or empires. While in the concrete cases this is convincing and useful – especially given the accessibility of sources – it highlights the fact that comparative and transnational approaches to this field are still lacking, especially with regard to the societies of Southern Europe. Hence, much remains to be done. This critique none withstanding, the volume still contributes a lot to the research of labour history, the authors have given a solid analysis of their subjects which can be very useful for some future scholarship on global labour history, and economic history in general.