Edited by Alessandro Bonanno and Lawrence Busch
Chapter 13: The political economy of labor relations in agriculture and food
The social, economic, and political relevance of labor relations has made this topic one of the most studied aspects of agriculture and food worldwide. Classical nineteenth-and twentieth-century studies tackled the fundamental phenomenon of the penetration of capitalist social relations in agriculture and the consequent transformation of the peasantry into the modern working class. Subsequent works documented the processes of expropriation, concentration, and redistribution of land that created capitalist farmers, independent family farm holders, part-time farmers, and wage workers of the contemporary era’s agriculture. Arguably, the most decisive trait of the evolution of labor relations in the period leading to the second portion of the twentieth century was the massive rural to urban migration that significantly reduced the size of the agricultural labor force and, concomitantly, allowed the availability of labor for the expansion of the urban industrial apparatus. Interpreted by many as a physiological and necessary stage of the evolution of capitalism, the expulsion of workers from agriculture and their transformation into urban-industrial labor became a defining characteristic of capitalism and a central focus of investigation.
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