“Coping with crisis: labor market, public policy and household economy in unequal industrialized regions from the mid-18th century to interwar period (Mediterranean Europe, Central and Sourthern America)”

Pre-session of the WEHC (Boston, August 2018)

Barcelona 28th June

“Seminario de la sección de Historia Contemporánea del Departamento de Historia y Arqueología”

Financial support from the university of Barcelona, the ANR Programme Time-Us and the LARHRA-UMR 5190

Organizers: Cristina Borderías and Manuela Martini


Recent economic historiography completely reframed the narrative of the macroeconomic causes of crises. By reducing significantly the weight of agrarian crises and reinforcing that of financial and commercial crises, it allows us to understand the crises of the second half of the eighteenth century in line with those of the following century.  Instead, the impact of crises at the micro analytical scale is much less known, as well as its consequences at the household economy level, the dominant production units throughout the period considered here in most of the regions of Mediterranean Europe and Central and South America we would like to compare. Sharing the idea of a connection between crises and the different waves of globalization, the aim of this panel is to compare the effects of crises in regions with different levels of industrialization and to focus on the local institutional responses and the families’ adaptive strategies face to a radical change in their economic environment. If we consider the crisis not as a simple reversal of the economic cycle, but as a moment of systemic change, where the economic assets are redefined by the social actors due to the impossibility for them to consider satisfactory the normal compensation mechanisms and the usual forms of redistribution operative within a given economic and social system, the importance of a micro-analytical approach in the study of this phenomenon becomes evident. In this perspective, the whole range of the economic actors’ reactions is at the core of the analysis, including the ability to cope with changes by those who are at the bottom of the social ladder. Feminist economists and development economists have insisted more recently, in this respect, on the differential effects of economic crises on gender relations. This change of perspective in observing the consequences of crisis helps to pay a renewed attention to the inner workings of household based economies and to the families’ ability to adapt to economic and systemic changes. What is the impact of these crises on localized household economies? How do their dynamics contribute to construct, and deconstruct, the labor relations around them? In what way the social dynamic they create affects the relationships between men and women in the labor market on one side, and within the families on the other? The purpose of this special issue is to observe in a historical perspective how these socioeconomic mechanisms work in particular economic and social contexts. It deals in a long-term perspective with the (proto)industrial production crises of the second half of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries related to the globalization of trades and exchanges. But it also aims at studying the micro-systemic crises affecting specifically – because of changes in technology, energy sources, communication routes, etc. – economies and local labor market. The participation as discussants of scholars who specialize on other industrial regions, Asia, Northern Europe or North America, will address these issues in a global perspective.

Organizers of the session in Boston: Cristina Borderías (University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain), Aurora Gómez Galvarriato (Department of History, El Colegio de México, Mexico), Manuela Martini (University of Lyon 2 Lumière, France),



9.15 Openning: Manuela Martini and Cristina Borderías

9.30-10.45.- Llorenç Ferrer, Angels Solà y Lluis Viros (University of Barcelona), Adaptive strategies and the transformation of silk production and producers of Catalonia, 1790-1860 (Barcelona and Manresa).

Chair: Manuela Martini

 Abstract: In eighteenth-century Catalonia, silk manufacture, which was comprised of different sub-sectors, grew strongly in some populations.  The three great silk centres were Barcelona, Manresa, and Reus.  In Barcelona, the Guilds of the Great Art of Silk produced luxury and high-quality textiles while those of Manresa would specialise in the production of low-quality handkerchiefs and in narrow strips of ribbon that were exported massively to America and the rest of the Peninsula. Production was organised in guilds with organisational flexibility and an ability to adapt to the needs of the markets that varied from one population to another.  Some activities would allow a very important accumulation of capital, above all, in Manresa. The maritime wars at the end of the eighteenth century, and later the War of Spanish Independence (known locally as “la guerra del Francès”, or, the War of the French) and the loss of the majority of the colonial market (1808-1823) would provoke a profound crisis in silk production, above all in some populations, in which they had to deal with the hundreds of people that lived from these activities.  This would have repercussions of which we still know almost nothing.  This would give rise to the migration of businessmen and qualified labour to those nuclei that maintained activity or that developed similar activities, like cotton processing, as well as the adaption of new market opportunities in similar economic sectors (the elaboration of cotton knit-work or fabrics of silk blended with other fibres) in their place of origin. In Manresa, everything seems to indicate that the silk activity was practically abandoned.  Some master silk-weavers (velers) were displaced to Barcelona, where they would continue the activity; whereas others invested in the cotton industry, especially in the ribbon industry, which would prove to be highly profitable.  Likewise, some silk-weavers would become weavers of blended fabrics, surely taking advantage of the experience garnered as silk-weavers.  During the second-half of the nineteenth century, these weavers would disappear and we are ignorant of their destiny. In Barcelona, the production of silk textiles was maintained.  The silk-weavers’ guild would continue to restrict the hiring of apprentices and the concession of mastership before a notary beyond the definitive abolition of labour corporations, until the end of the 1840s.  In this continuity, the arrival of numerous master silk-weavers from Manresa who joined the Barcelona guild in the 1820s was noteworthy.  Steam-powered machinery and the confection of cloth with modern frames were introduced in the 1840s.  The survival and modernisation of the silk sector, together with the development of cotton spinning and weaving, would continue to attract artisan and manufacturers from Manresa who would enter the Barcelona textile industry.  It is necessary to underscore that the majority of silk-weaver apprentices in Barcelona of 1815-1840 would not become manufacturers in the silk sector, but in that of cotton. The objective of this communication is to analyse how, from two different trajectories and experiences, the guilds of Barcelona and Manresa adapted and were transformed after the silk manufacturing crisis at the end of the eighteenth century, based on the evaluation of the general data of the tax-contributors of the sector and the tracking of individual trajectories. The documents used in this investigation are from guild archives, the residence registries, industrial tax contributions, and the notary acts of Manresa and Barcelona.

11-12.30.  Lina Gálvez, Paula Rodriguez-Modroño, Mauricio Matus-López (Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla),  A historical and gender analysis of economic crises in Europe. From the 1970s crisis to the Great Recession. 

Chair: Anne Montenach

 Abstract: This work presents a comparative analysis of the gender impacts of economic crises affecting the European Union (EU-15) in the last century. Research on economic crises from a gender perspective shows three main historical patterns. The first pattern is that crises result in an intensification of women’s total work, particularly unpaid care work. The second one is that male employment always recovers previous to female employment in the aftermath of the crisis. The third pattern is that crises lead to setbacks in gender equality in terms of legislation, gender norms, and policies. Based on EU data, this study compares the Great Recession with previous European economic crises and recessionary periods in order to detect similarities and differences in gender inequalities and the gender division of work, since the Great Recession might have modified some of these patterns. The analysis specially focuses on the second pattern, by comparing the different time lapse in the recovery of male and female employment through a set of indicators that allow to cover different aspects in the quantity and quality of work for women and men.

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.30 Anne Montenach (Université Aix-en-Provence), Coping with economic uncertainty and gender inequality: women, work and the protoindustrial family in eighteenth-century Lyon.

Chair: Juanjo Romero

Abstract: In the eighteenth century Lyon was the second-largest city in France with a population that had grown from 100,000 to nearly 150,000 between the early eighteenth century and the end of the Old Regime. The textile sector, the city’s largest industrial sector, was dominated by the silk industry (Grande Fabrique), which employed up to 35,000 workers in 1788. Between the 1740s and the 1780s, the Grande Fabrique labour structure evolved into a large capitalist export industry, with master weavers becoming proletarianized labourers dominated by large-scale merchants. Moreover, during the last decade of the Old Regime, the silk industry began a serious decline, which made silk workers’ lives became increasingly miserable and led to periodical wage disputes (Garden, 1970). Women’s voices and experiences hardly appear within this grand narrative, whereas their work was crucial for silk production in Lyon. In fact, the Grande Fabrique increased its female workforce tenfold during the eighteenth century (Bayard et al., 2007) and relied heavily on female labour, despite the fact that women’s right to work was regularly challenged by urban guilds (Garden, 1970; Cayez, 1978; Juratic and Pellegrin, 1994; Hafter, 1995 and 2007). While the spouses and daughters of masters, who numbered around 4,000 at the end of the eighteenth century, had special privileges allowing them to weave outside of family workshops, up to 19,000 ancillary workers – women and children carrying out most of the other tasks – were underpaid to do exhausting work. The aim of this article is thus to analyse how female working conditions and remunerations were affected by the structural and economic crises that impacted Lyon silk industry in the second half of the eighteenth century. It will concentrate, at a micro level, on different circumstances in which sources allow us to see women – and their families – coping with economic uncertainty: small-scale wage conflicts with their employers (male or female), clandestine work and illicit activities. In discussing these developments, this essay will study how women’s work was a real issue in power conflicts – which can be analysed at different levels – and a tool for household adaptive strategies, allowing the development of gendered interactions within the couple and the family.

16.00-17.30 Francesca Sanna (Paris Diderot University), Rationalizing the family: actions and reactions to scientific management in Nord-European and Mediterranean mining communities during the interwar crisis.

Chair: Paula Rodriguez

Abstract: The inter-war period marked a crisis for mining industry, following the consequences of Black Thursday, but also the fluctuation of mineral stock prices on the London stock market exchange. At the same time, the inter-war period also represents a “transition”, from a technical and technological point of view, for the extractive industry. The two phenomena are linked one another in many ways, the most obvious of which is the acceleration of rationalization practices in order to face the challenges of the new performances’ standards. However, rationalization had also a more global scope, going beyond the technique to become a sort philosophical principle. So the idea of ​​total and scientific control of the productive structure and the workers was sometimes transferred to social life in order to optimize performance through the disciplinization of the private sphere. Rationalization, conceived as the scientific management of the workforce, became the new core of the paternalistic practices. Thus family represented the privileged terrain for these practices, in order to reformulate its economy and organization. In relation to mining environment, as the technical change went along with a permanence of old habits, thus the maintenance of certain uses or traditions demonstrates the actors’ resistance or the search for alternative ways to the new model. To this extent we can consider these permanencies as forms of adaptive family’s economy in mining environment, where communities were often organized in company towns under the strict control of the Companies. Through some case studies on Mediterranean mining in Southern Europe and in Northern France, this contribution aims to shed light on some practices of adaptive family’s economy facing rationalization and mining crisis.

Other papers that will be presented at Boston conference.

Chairs, Cristina Borderías&Manuela Martini:

Ida Fazio, (Università degli studi di Palermo), Women and men in illicit trades between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples during the commercial crisis of the Continental Blockade and the Napoleonic wars (Stromboli, 1808-1816)

 Abstract: The period of the Napoleonic wars is universally regarded as a period of commercial crisis due to the Continental Blockade established by Napoleon forbidding his allies and conquests and all neutral shipping from trading with the United Kingdom and her allies. Historians debate whether corsairing and smuggling were forms of reaction to the blockade, or different ways to   go on with trading. Illicit trades between the Bourbon Kingdom of Sicily (a British protectorate) and the Napoleonic Kingdom of Naples during the Continental Blockade are crucial in the current debate on the crisis of Mediterranean trade during the Napoleonic Wars. The paper aims to shed some light on the impact of this crisis on family economies using a micro-historical approach, focusing on women and men involved in salt smuggling between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples, and in fraudulent sales of prizes of the Bourbon corsairs. These illicit trades show some overlaps and differences between the roles of women and men, as they were carried out together by islanders, local custom officers and the border health inspectors, and led to inquiries on the part of the Government and of the Prize Court of the Kingdom of Sicily, who judged whether prizes had been lawfully captured  and ordered the sale of the goods seized by the privateers sailing on behalf of the Bourbon Monarchy. The paper explores the different ways couples, families and individuals were involved in networks, bargains and complicities with corsairs and local officers.

Aurora Gómez Galvarriato (El Colegio de México), Technological change in corn tortilla production and its impact on Mexican women labor.

Abstract. Until the end of the 19th century the production of corn tortillas, the main food staple of Mexicans, was carried out through rudimentary methods. The delayed technological change in its production meant a greater share of women’s labor used for the production of food than in other parts of the world that consumed other grains, such as wheat. The mechanization of the production of tortillas started in the larger cities, at the beginning of the 20th century in the grinding of the nixtamal The analysis of the nixtamal mills and the tortilla shops in Mexico City in 1924 shows that as the production process mechanized and incorporated new technologies, it became increasingly controlled by men both in terms of its property and of its labor. Moreover, the wage-gap between male and female workers and the concentration of its property increased.

Keywords: mechanization, masculinization, corn tortillas, nixtamal, female labor.

Cirila Quintero (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Campus Matamoros, Mexico), Coping with Continuous Crises in Maquiladoras. The Case of Mexican Women Workers.

Abstract:  This paper points out how the evolution of assembling companies in Mexico (named Maquiladoras) during little more than fifty years has been very irregular, coping with contestant crises. These crises have affected women workers in this industry. Due to these crises, women in maquiladoras have learnt different strategies of surviving in difficult times.  This paper distinguishes three very critical moments and their effects in women workers: first, the modernization of maquiladoras in the eighties; second, the years of the NAFTA, from 1995 to 2000, and finally, the automobile crises, from 2009 to 2010. In these three stages, hundreds of women lost their jobs. This paper look for knowing what happened with these women after being fired. Different questions should be solved: Did they come back to the maquiladora?, Did they returned  to home?  Were they hired in other sectors? Besides these labor questions, the paper studies how the dismissal affected women´s home?, and if these women´s relationship with member of their family changed. The objective of this paper is to know if the strategies used are similar or different in the different stages of the maquiladora evolution, how the micro, meso and macro-economic and social level are connected with female workers in the labor market, and how the strategies used by these women weakened or strengthened their social and domestic role. The paper is based on interviews with women workers in the different stages of crises in two of the most important maquiladora cities: Ciudad Juárez and Matamoros. The information is complete with the revision of news from local newspaper in each period.

Key words: mechanization, maquilas, female labour, masculinization, feminization

Mario Matus  González y Nora Reyes C. (Universidad de Chile) Impacto de las crisis externas en los salarios chilenos entre 1886 y 2009” (Impact of external crises on Chilean salaries between 1886 and 2009).

Entre 1886 y 2009 los salarios chilenos sufrieron 5 episodios de profunda caída (1905-15, 1931-32, 1954-55, 1972-73 y 1982-85) que afectaron seriamente la economía familiar de los trabajadores. Dos de ellos correspondieron a crisis externas que dañaron la cuenta corriente y la cuenta financiera de la balanza de pagos (Gran Depresión de 1929 y Crisis de la Deuda Latinoamericana en 1982, respectivamente). Pero en los otros tres casos (1905-15, 1954-55 y 1972-73) actuaron graves desórdenes monetarios internos que desembocaron en brotes inflacionarios severos. Debido a su naturaleza diferente, mientras que en las 2 situaciones generadas externamente se respondió con políticas expansivas (devaluación para recuperar el consumo y financiar el gasto público), en las situaciones de inflación desatada se generaron motines sociales o fue imperativo ejecutar políticas fiscales y monetarias contractivas que, al acentuar el desempleo, empeoraron el conflicto social. Ante entornos desfavorables que diferían en su gravedad, las estrategias familiares deben haber tenido tonalidades diferentes.

Between 1886 and 2009 Chilean wages suffered 5 episodes of deep decline (1905-15, 1931-32, 1954-55, 1972-73 and 1982-85) that seriously affected the family economy of workers. Two of them corresponded to external crises that damaged the current account and the financial account of the balance of payments (Great Depression of 1929 and Crisis of the Latin American Debt in 1982, respectively). But in the other three cases (1905-15, 1954-55 and 1972-73) there were serious internal monetary disorders that led to severe inflationary outbreaks. Due to its different nature, while in the 2 externally generated situations it was responded with expansionary policies (devaluation to recover consumption and finance public spending), in situations of unleashed inflation, social riots were generated or it was imperative to execute fiscal and monetary policies contractions that, by accentuating unemployment, worsened the social conflict. In the face of unfavorable environments that differed in their severity, family strategies must have had different tonalities.

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