2018 - present

Academic

Creating Norma Rae: Cultural Contests over the American Working Class, 1970s-1980s

under contract with University of North Carolina Press

This project centers the 1979 film Norma Rae to demonstrate how the larger society, through capitalist means of cultural production, erases diverse women workers; reconstructs narratives of labor that are infused with the notion of an American working class that is white, native-born, and industrial; and serves the neoliberal political economy.

Starting at the turn of the twentieth century, U.S. and insular government offices with textile and garment businesses incorporated women of the New South and Puerto Rico into manufacturing in distinct yet interrelated ways. Gloria Maldonado and Crystal Lee Sutton each became active with her local union in the 1970s. Despite such complexities, however, a popular fascination with poor white southerners led commercial media to focus on Sutton.

U.S. Imperialism and Puerto Rican Needleworkers: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and Women’s Labor in a Deep History of Neoliberal Trade,”

International Labor and Working-Class History – ILWCH (Fall 2020): 142-172.

In 1898, US occupation of Puerto Rico opened possibilities for experimentation with manufacturing, investment, tariffs, and citizenship because the Treaty of Paris did not address territorial incorporation. Imperial experimentation continued through the liberal policies of the New Deal and World War II, consistently reproducing drastic exceptions. These exceptions were not permanent, but the rearrangements of sovereignty and citizenship established Puerto Rico as a site of potential and persistent exemption. Puerto Rican needleworkers were central to the resulting colonial industrialization–not as dormant labor awaiting outside developmental forces but as skilled workers.

Cooptation of the needlework contract system led to colonial industrialization for export processing, which generated bureaucratic and financial infrastructure. Labor unions and aggrieved workers contested and resisted this colonial industrialization. They advocated their own proposals and pushed against US and insular economic policies. Throughout these fights, the asymmetrical power of the federal government and industrial capital allowed the colonial regime to assert US sovereignty while continually realigning exemptions for liberal economic objectives. It provided scaffolding for Operation Bootstrap, an economic plan devised in the 1940s that gave colonial export processing a gloss of modern business that carried it into neoliberal projects as export processing zones (EPZs).

 

Book Review, The Last Orator for the Millhands: William Jennings Bryan Dorn, 1916-2005, by John Herbert Roper

Journal of Southern History (May 2020): 537-538.

Puerto Rican Needleworkers in Colonial Migrations: Deindustrialization as Pathways Lost

Journal of Working-Class Studies (December 2019): 40-54.

When Puerto Rican needleworkers become visible in the history of the US textile and garment industry, their colonial migrations complicate deindustrialization, and its linear logic collapses. From the perspective of these colonial women, industrialization of Puerto Rico began at the turn of the twentieth century – the same time factories and mills increased in the South. Thousands of women also migrated to the Northeast metropole, especially from the 1950s to the 1970s, when many white workers were mourning the loss of textile and garment jobs. Puerto Rican women moved to the old factories of the Northeast, which had become outposts for large transnational corporations that did not relocate their manufacturing in a direct geographic path but rather spread their processes over any arrangement that offered the best cost-benefit analysis. For Puerto Rican women, employment in the plants of the Northeast during the 1960s and 1970s offered hope rather than despair, and many took pride in meeting their quotas and providing wages for their families. In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration initiated financial policies that made closing old plants a better return on investment, Puerto Rican women mourned the loss of jobs in an industry many experts had already declared ‘dead.’

 

Book Review, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide, by Lane Windham

Canadian Journal of History (Winter 2019): 449-451.

 

Book Review, Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s, by Traci Parker

Black Perspectives (October 2019): www.aaihs.org.