Ulbe Bosma, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam
Karin Hofmeester, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam
Gijs Kessler, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam
Most human beings work, and growing numbers are exposed to labour markets. These markets are increasingly globally competitive and cause both capital and labour to move around the world. In search of the cheapest labour, industries and service-based enterprises move from West to East and South, but also, for example, westwards from China’s east coast. People move from areas with few employment opportunities to urban and industrial hubs, both between and within continents. However, labour relations have been shifting already for centuries, labour migrations go back far in time, and changing labour relations cannot be comprehended without history. Therefore, understanding these developments and their consequences in the world of work and labour relations requires sound historical research, based on the experiences of different groups of workers in different parts of the world at different moments in time, throughout human history.
The research and publications department of the International Institute of Social History (IISH) has taken on a leading role in research and publishing on the global history of labour relations. In the context of Global Labour History, three central research questions have been defined: (1) What labour relations have emerged in parallel with the rise and advance of market economies? (2) How can their incidence (and consequently the transition from one labour relation to another) be explained, and are these worldwide transitions interlinked? (3) What are the social, economic, political, and cultural consequences of their changing incidence, and how do they relate to forms of individual and collective agency among workers? These three questions are interconnected in time, but also in space. Recent comparative Global Labour History research demonstrates that shifts in one part of the globe have always been linked to shifts in other parts.