Cover image for Capital moves : RCA's seventy-year quest for cheap labor
Capital moves : RCA's seventy-year quest for cheap labor
Cowie, Jefferson.
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Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 272 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
In defiance of their master's voice: Camden, 1929-1950 -- "Anything but an industrial town": Bloomington, 1940-1968 -- Bordering on the sun belt: Memphis, 1965-1971 -- The new industrial frontier: Ciudad Juárez, 1964-1978 -- Moving toward a shutdown: Bloomington, 1969-1998 -- The double struggle: Ciudad Juárez, 1978-1998 -- The distances in between.
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HD9696.A3 U5334 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Find a pool of cheap, pliable workers and give them jobs--and soon they cease to be as cheap or as pliable. What is an employer to do then? Why, find another poor community desperate for work. This route--one taken time and again by major American manufacturers--is vividly chronicled in this fascinating account of RCA's half century-long search for desirable sources of labor. Capital Moves introduces us to the people most affected by the migration of industry and, most importantly, recounts how they came to fight against the idea that they were simply "cheap labor."Jefferson Cowie tells the dramatic story of four communities, each irrevocably transformed by the opening of an industrial plant. From the manufacturer's first factory in Camden, New Jersey, where it employed large numbers of southern and eastern European immigrants, RCA moved to rural Indiana in 1940, hiring Americans of Scotch-Irish descent for its plant in Bloomington. Then, in the volatile 1960s, the company relocated to Memphis where African Americans made up the core of the labor pool. Finally, the company landed in northern Mexico in the 1970s--a region rapidly becoming one of the most industrialized on the continent.

Author Notes

Jefferson Cowie teaches labor history at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Much has been written to document and lament the loss of American jobs to cheap labor abroad. Cowie's study of RCA, though, shows that U.S. companies have a long history of seeking out inexpensive labor. Before moving to Juarez, Mexico, in the 1970s, RCA had already moved its television manufacturing operations twice within the U.S. Cowie traces RCA's journey from Camden, New Jersey, to Mexico. After its manufacturing facilities were successfully unionized in the 1930s, RCA decided to decentralize operations and relocated a major factory to nonunion southern Indiana in 1940. In the 1960s, the company experimented with expansion into the South, but operations in Memphis were shut down within five years. Cowie shows how the same factors that determined RCA's first two moves were the same ones that influenced the move to Mexico. He does not focus, however, on the painful economic consequences of plant closures. In spite of the shutdowns, he shows that wherever RCA opened a new plant, each community was permanently transformed by the economic empowerment of its workforce. --David Rouse

Library Journal Review

Cowie (industrial and labor relations, Cornell Univ.) highlights the power of financial capital in his examination of four RCA factory sites: Camden, NJ; Bloomington, IN; Memphis, TN; and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. RCA moved production from one site to the next in search of cheap, compliant, and usually female labor; as workers developed a sense of entitlement to their jobs and demanded better conditions, the company saw them as less desirable and looked for less-sophisticated substitute workers. Cowie outlines the history of labor relations at each site along with the surrounding political conditions. He also takes a wider look at labor organization and its ties to politics, noting that while capital became international, labor organization remained local, giving workers less power. In describing one company in depth, Cowie provides valuable insight into the increasingly global work force. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.ÄA.J. Sobczak, Covina, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The continued loss of high-paying US industrial jobs to low-wage competition is often perceived to be a recent phenomenon. As this study points out, over a 70-year period RCA moved consumer electronics work from Camden, New Jersey, to Bloomington, Indiana, to Memphis, Tennessee, to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in pursuit of increased management control, reduced labor costs, greater productivity, and higher profitability. Beyond the economics of plant relocation, Cowie (Cornell Univ.) examines how this process transformed workers and their communities. The coming of stable, relatively high wage work to economically distressed areas fundamentally changed people's perceptions of themselves and their world. The loss of these same jobs years later proved a major blow from which some towns and cities have never recovered. This is a book that should have been longer. The author's attempts to link historical formulations of workers' culture with the economic policies of a modern multinational corporation fall short; greater length would have permitted a much needed exploration of this relationship. Overall this is a thought-provoking and innovative piece of scholarship that deserves a wide audience. Upper-division undergraduate through professional collections. H. Harris; Pennsylvania State University, New Kensington Camp

Table of Contents

Abbreviationsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 In Defiance of Their Master's Voice: Camden, 1929-1950p. 12
2 "Anything but an Industrial Town": Bloomington, 1940-1968p. 41
3 Bordering on the Sun Belt: Memphis, 1965-1971p. 73
4 The New Industrial Frontier: Ciudad Juarez, 1964-1978p. 100
5 Moving toward a Shutdown: Bloomington, 1969-1998p. 127
6 The Double Struggle: Ciudad Juarez, 1978-1998p. 152
7 The Distances In Betweenp. 180
Notesp. 203
Bibliographyp. 243
Acknowledgementsp. 263
Indexp. 267