Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 4pm (GMT)
‘Working Women and Global Industrialization: From Puerto Rican Needleworkers to Export Processing Zones’
Exploitation of women’s labor and exemptions to sovereignty in Puerto Rico drove the experimentation that fostered export processing zones (EPZs) in the late-twentieth century. Although free-trade advocates present EPZs as a postwar modern business practice, the roots lie much earlier. In the early 1900s, the U.S. government, metropolitan corporations, and Puerto Rican elites in needlework contracting encouraged colonial industrialization on the main island. Puerto Rican women worked in the textile and apparel industry, and also found ways to resist its extreme exploitation by migrating, striking, and unionizing. During the 1970s, as EPZs eroded their industrial employment, Puerto Rican women in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) fought to challenge the terms of globalization.
Aimee Loiselle is currently a postdoctoral fellow with the Reproductive Justice History Project at Smith College. She studies the modern U.S. as a hub for transnational labor and capital with an interest in women workers, gender, race, and citizenship. Her work also explores the ways popular culture obscures the complexities of global labor. Loiselle’s first book project Creating Norma Rae: Puerto Rican Needleworkers and Southern Labor Activists Lost in Reagan’s America examines the globalization of textile and apparel labor and manufacturing, and how the movie image of a white southern millhand erased women of color and diverse union activism. She recently received the Lerner-Scott Prize from the OAH and the Prelinger Award from the CCWH.
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