Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Slavery Abolished

1 January 1861
The Old Plantation, c 1790

President Lincoln declared slavery in the Confederate States unlawful on 1 January 1861. Slaves were freed at the stroke of a pen. After the abolition of slavery, most ex-slaves opted for production as small independent operators, and not for wage labour. The former plantation owners then hired “indentured labourers” overseas, especially from Asia, i.e. people who were prepared to exchange a free passage for a commitment to a labour contract tying them for years to work at one and the same plantation, for a fixed wage.

How and why such major transformations in labour relations occur in world history is the subject of Jan Lucassen, Outlines of a History of Labour (IISH Research Paper 2013). Many if not most shifts in labour relations did not occur simply because of measures taken “from above”. They occurred just as much due to the combined and long term effect of what might be dubbed “voters with their feet”.