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Making the Empire Work

Making the Empire Work: Labor and United States Imperialism

Daniel E. Bender
Jana K. Lipman
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Making the Empire Work
    Book Description:

    Millions of laborers, from the Philippines to the Caribbean, performed the work of the United States empire. Forging a global economy connecting the tropics to the industrial center, workers harvested sugar, cleaned hotel rooms, provided sexual favors, and filled military ranks. Placing working men and women at the center of the long history of the U.S. empire, these essays offer new stories of empire that intersect with the "grand narratives" of diplomatic affairs at the national and international levels. Missile defense, Cold War showdowns, development politics, military combat, tourism, and banana economics share something in common-they all have labor histories.

    This collection challenges historians to consider the labor that formed, worked, confronted, and rendered the U.S. empire visible. The U.S. empire is a project of global labor mobilization, coercive management, military presence, and forced cultural encounter. Together, the essays in this volume recognize the United States as a global imperial player whose systems of labor mobilization and migration stretched from Central America to West Africa to the United States itself.

    Workers are also the key actors in this volume. Their stories are multi-vocal, as workers sometimes defied the U.S. empire's rhetoric of civilization, peace, and stability and at other times navigated its networks or benefited from its profits. Their experiences reveal the gulf between the American 'denial of empire' and the lived practice of management, resource exploitation, and military exigency. When historians place labor and working people at the center, empire appears as a central dynamic of U.S. history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-2284-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Daniel E. Bender and Jana K. Lipman
  4. Introduction: Through the Looking Glass: U.S. Empire through the Lens of Labor History
    (pp. 1-32)

    If one were to hold up a mirror to the U.S. empire, what would one see? Historians have focused on charging armies, busy bureaucrats, emerging local elites, and anti-empire skeptics at home. To be sure, the empire had its key dates and government and military infrastructure. Historians have often cited the War of 1898, the bureaucratic organization of the U.S. Department of Insular Affairs, the imposition of colonial governors in Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and the technological spectacle of U.S. military bases. Yet alongside these potent political markers, one would see the hundreds of thousands of men and women...


    • 1 The Wages of Empire: Capitalism, Expansionism, and Working-Class Formation
      (pp. 35-58)

      In 1963, Edward Thompson focused our attention on the ways the working class made itself, framing class formation as an active and dynamic process; in 1973, Herbert Gutman demonstrated that the U.S. working class in effect madeandremade itself as waves of immigrants, possessing a variety of cultural traditions and workplace strategies, entered the country between 1815 and 1919.¹ Then, in 1990, David Roediger broadened our understanding by exploring how the crucible of whiteness made class formation possible. Building upon the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, Roediger coined the phrase “wages of whiteness” to denote the psychological and emotional...

    • 2 Revolutionary Currents: Interracial Solidarities, Imperial Japan, and the U.S. Empire
      (pp. 59-84)

      Infused by a wave of migrations and radical politics, Harlem was abuzz at the end of World War I. And no one demanded to be heard more than Hubert Harrison, the self-described “radical internationalist” whose West Indian roots had led him to see beyond Harlem, beyond the United States. “We must organize, plan and act, and the time for the action is now,” he argued in 1921. “A call should be issued for a congress of the darker races, which should be frankly anti-imperialistic and should serve as an international center of cooperation from which strength may be drawn for...

    • 3 The Secret Soldiers’ Union: Labor and Soldier Politics in the Philippine Scout Mutiny of 1924
      (pp. 85-103)

      On the morning of July 6, 1924, a group of 380 soldiers at Fort McKinley, a U.S. Army installation just outside Manila, refused to turn out for duty. They were proud members of a newly formed organization they called the Secret Soldiers’ Union. All of them were Philippine Scouts, Filipinos who had enlisted in Uncle Sam’s army to fight on behalf of the United States and in defense of its ongoing colonial rule of the Philippines. That morning, in what they called a “strike,” the men of the Secret Soldiers’ Union protested disparities in wages between white and Filipino soldiers,...

    • 4 The Photos That We Don’t Get to See: Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia
      (pp. 104-134)

      Sometime between August and November 1928, five men posed for a picture in Magdalena, Colombia. About six months later, a United Fruit Company (UFC) supervisor sent that same photograph, along with a memo describing each of the subjects it depicted, to managers in the company’s other divisions, including the one in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where the photo and memo were discovered by an anthropologist some fifty years later. Despite its apparent ordinariness, this photograph, in two slightly different iterations, has been reproduced countless times, appearing in YouTube videos, Wikipedia, and Google Images as well as in scholarly books and...


    • 5 Sexual Labor and the U.S. Military Empire: Comparative Analysis of Europe and East Asia
      (pp. 137-160)

      In June 2013, SBS, a major South Korean media network, reported trouble between U.S. military authorities and owners of entertainment clubs catering to American soldiers in the city of P’yŏngt’aek. For several years, many of these owners had been taken to U.S. bases where they were interrogated about prostitution involving their clubs’ women employees.¹ While news reports focused on how U.S. authorities had violated the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by seizing and interrogating Korean citizens, they also cast unwanted light on the persistent problem of “prostitution” coupled with the U.S. military presence in South Korea. As late as...

    • 6 Making Aloha: Lei and the Cultural Labor of Hospitality
      (pp. 161-182)

      In her landmark essay on the tourism industry’s prostitution of Native Hawaiian culture, feminist indigenous activist Haunani-Kay Trask critiques the reduction of Hawaiian culture, lands, and people into attractions, destinations, and entertainers.¹ Attending to the rise of mass tourism in Hawai‘i that began in the 1950s and 1960s, Trask identifies the commodification of the islands and its indigenous culture by corporate tourism as a primary cause of the social problems that shape the lived realities of the islands’ Native population. Her manifesto strikes two particularly dissonant notes: a pointed critique of Native Hawaiians who allow their cultural practices to be...


    • 7 The Advantages of Empire: Chinese Servants and Conflicts over Settler Domesticity in the “White Pacific,” 1870–1900
      (pp. 185-207)

      Over the course of eighteen days in the fall of 1876, the United States Congress’s Joint Special Committee to Investigate Chinese Immigration conducted hearings in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. During the proceedings, a testy exchange about domestic labor arose between Aaron Sargent, the vehemently anti-Chinese Republican senator from the state of California who would write the majority report for the committee, and the Reverend Otis Gibson, a leading Methodist missionary involved in Protestant outreach to Chinese immigrants in the city. The dispute centered on whether the employment of male Chinese servants prevented white women from being hired to those positions....

    • 8 Empire and the Moving Body: Fermin Tobera, Military California, and Rural Space
      (pp. 208-226)

      Fermin Tobera’s story began much like those of the thousands of other Filipino men who flocked to the United States in the early twentieth century for work and educational opportunity. He was born on July 5, 1908, to Valentina Ibarra and Mariano Tuvera of Sinait, Ilocos Sur. His mother reported that although the family could not afford to send him to public school, he learned how to read and write. As she commented, “From childhood, Fermin had always shown himself gentle, courteous to the old and always ready to obey.”¹ In 1928, Tobera followed other young Filipino men migrating to...

    • 9 Slavery’s Stale Soil: Indentured Labor, Guestworkers, and the End of Empire
      (pp. 227-264)

      On October 11, 2013, I sat on a human rights commission assembled to hear four Jamaican workers testify to the ways they had been exploited during the months they had spent cleaning luxury hotels and condos on Florida’s Emerald Coast.² All four Jamaicans—one man and three women—had arrived in the U.S. on legal, temporary—guestworker³—visas that bound them to a company called Mr. Clean for a nine-month period. Promised forty-hour workweeks and furnished apartments, they paid $2,000 each to the company, flew to the U.S. at their own expense, and then arrived in Destin, Florida, to find...


    • 10 The Colonization of Antislavery and the Americanization of Empires: The Labor of Autonomy and the Labor of Subordination in Togo and the United States
      (pp. 267-288)

      In the first decade of the twentieth century, the German colony of Togo, in West Africa, employed graduates and a faculty member from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute as part of an agricultural development program.¹ Their immediate purpose was to transform Togolese cotton growing from a small economic sector that supported local spinning and weaving into a large monocropping sector for the export of raw cotton to European mills. It was thus a classic case of what Andre Gunder Frank called the “development of underdevelopment.”² The Tuskegee expedition members were the first to develop a cotton varietal that would grow...

    • 11 Progressive Empire: Race and Tropicality in United Fruit’s Central America
      (pp. 289-311)

      In 1914, U.S. writer and inventor Frederick Upham Adams publishedConquest of the Tropics, a triumphalist account of the United Fruit Company (UFC). Crafted in close consultation with company officials, the book called on readers to praise the U.S. banana “pioneers” whose hard work was bringing order and progress to Central America. In contrast to earlier visitors, who often portrayed Central America as a land of natural abundance and easy living, Adams depicted a harsh and perilous landscape where white men proved their manhood and extended U.S. civilization. Combatting the “seen and invisible dangers of the tropical fastnesses,” Adams declared,...

    • 12 What Is Imperial about Coffee? Rethinking “Informal Empire”
      (pp. 312-334)

      What is imperial about coffee? On the one hand, imperialism in the specific sense of territorial conquest and political control has been a salient factor in coffee’s long global history. Empires have produced coffee colonially in South and Southeast Asia, in the Americas and the Caribbean, and in Africa. But on the other hand, and in contrast to the tropical commodities with which it is often lumped—especially sugar and tea—coffee became a mass-consumer commodity only after newly independent Latin American countries turned to export-led development in the nineteenth century.¹ Moreover, unlike commodity forms of enclave colonialism—especially bananas,...

    • 13 Home Land (In)security: The Labor of U.S. Cold War Military Empire in the Marshall Islands
      (pp. 335-356)

      During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Americans came the closest to the Cold War’s unthinkable hot consequences, as the prospect of mutually assured destruction moved from distant hypothetical to proximate reality. As President Kennedy worked to negotiate a resolution to the crisis, the repercussions of the nuclear arms race threatened to penetrate the security of American domestic life, both within the interior of the nation and the intimate spaces of the American home.

      While Americans imagined these horrific possibilities, thousands of miles away Marshallese colonial subjects within the U.S. empire were already coping with the Cold War arms race in their...

    (pp. 357-360)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 361-374)