Who Makes Cents?: A History of Capitalism Podcast

Eileen Boris on the Construct of the Woman Worker

What is work? Who are workers? Which activities are considered work, and which ones are excluded? These questions are some of the most critical questions in political and economic analysis. And how they are answered—both personally and by political institutions—is vital to how people spend their time and thus their lives.

On this episode, we investigate this question specifically through the international debates about the “woman worker” as a unique kind of worker. To do this, Eileen Boris looks at the International Labor Organization—the international body, now housed in the United Nations—that sets global labor standards. She investigates how the ILO has considered this issue across their 100 year history.

Eileen Boris is the Hull Professor and Distinguished Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. She is author of Making the Woman Worker Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards, 1919-2019.

Direct download: Eileen_Boris_on_Making_the_Woman_Worker.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 3:23pm EDT

Students in U.S. history surveys come away from their lessons on World War I with one conflict fresh in their minds: How could Woodrow Wilson, a president who advocated segregation and famously screened the racist film Birth of a Nation in the White House, also have been an architect of the League of Nations and a champion of the self-determination of colonized people in Africa and Asia?

In this episode, we speak with Adom Getachew, who casts Wilson in a different light. She argues that the people who developed ideas of self-determination were instead anti-colonial elites from colonized nations. Wilson worked against their aims and tried to reestablish racial hierarchies and white dominance. These anti-colonial thinkers fought for decolonization as a means to fight global white supremacy and capitalist exploitation of the global South


Direct download: Adom_Getachew.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 9:04pm EDT

Nan Enstad on Multinational Cigarette Corporations and Jim Crow Capitalism


The multinational corporation is a pervasive institution. For example, it’s nearly impossible to listen to this show without interacting with one. But what is the history of this thing we call the multinational corporation? And who gets to count as its constituents?


Today, we investigate this topic and how it has been shaped by cigarettes—from the workers who grew the tobacco to those who governed the tobacco companies. And we discuss what this history can tell us about race, gender, region and geography.


Our guest is Nan Enstad. Nan is the Robinson Edwards Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an affiliate of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department and the Afro-American Studies Department, and the current Director of the UW Food Studies Network. She is. the author of Cigarettes Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism.

When we talk about the 1973 energy crisis, we tend to cast it as a moment when Americans questioned assumptions about how the domestic economy worked and the U.S. role in the global economy. We don’t always spend as much time thinking about why the crisis happened, or what it represented in the Global South. OPEC’s decision to cut production and raise prices stemmed from a longer history of anti-colonial activists demanding a fundamental change in how the global economy operated. As countries with oil reserves pushed out colonial powers, local elites demanded sovereignty over their new nation’s political life but also over their natural resources.

Today we speak with Chris Dietrich, who tells us about the longer history of anti-colonial elite thinking about oil, which culminated in what we in the U.S. tend to call the 1973 “energy crisis.”

Direct download: ChrisDietrich.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 10:58am EDT

We’ve just ended pride month and both the victories and limits of GLBT politics were on view. In San Francisco, protesters engaged in civil disobedience action against the growing corporatization of pride. Activists in San Francisco and elsewhere questioned the role of police in pride, emphasizing that “Stonewall was a riot.”


Our guest today traverses these debates by emphasizing the politics of LGBT families. She documents the rapidly changing political landscape over the past two decades and what this has to do with the history of capitalism during this period.


Liz Montegary is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Stony Brook University in New York. She is the author of Familiar Perversions

The Racial, Sexual, and Economic Politics of LGBT Families.

Direct download: Liz_Monetagry_on_the_Political_Economy_of_LGBT_Families.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 5:06pm EDT

We talk a lot about logistics on this show – the industries, like Amazon or FedEx, that have made fortunes managing the movement of goods from one place to another. Logistics companies undergird the globalized economy, making it possible for companies to benefit from low wages and labor abuses in the global South by moving finished products quickly and cheaply to markets all over the world. Our guest today explains how dock workers have been another force enabling the global economy to function and examines the power they wield even in the era of the container ship.

Direct download: PeterCole.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 2:33pm EDT

The Me Too movement has brought much needed attention to sexual violence and harassment both in and outside the workplace. It has challenged patriarchal norms and practices and illuminated entrenched power hierarchies. It also drew strength from longer struggles against the many manifestations of patriarchal power.


On this month’s show, we speak to Bernice Yeung about how some of the U.S.’s most precarious workers experienced and have fought back against workplace sexual violence. She takes us into office buildings and farm fields. And she shares lessons about what can be done to overcome the epidemic of sexual violence across our society.


Bernice Yeung is an award-winning journalist for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. She was a 2015–2016 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Mother Jones, and The Guardian, as well as on KQED Public Radio and PBS Frontline, and she is the author of In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Amazon's withdrawal from New York City has sparked big conversations about companies' impact on urban space, but less attention has been paid to the fact that, as logistics companies, corporations like Amazon have a particular spatial impact. Juan De Lara discusses how the logistics economy has remade urban regions and racial politics since the 1980s. 

Direct download: JuanDeLara.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

In major cities across the country, skyrocketing rents and housing prices have pushed out workers and everyday people who are no longer able to afford the cost of living. In Los Angeles, this has led to a spike in homelessness and the increased precarity that comes from living on the streets. Since 2017, at least 1200 homeless people in LA have died, many from treatable illnesses like cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and diabetes. What are some of the causes and solutions to this housing crisis?


On today’s episode we speak to Randy Shaw about his new book Generation Priced Out. In this book, Randy poses the question: “who gets to live in the new urban America? He takes us through the political, economic, and generational dynamics of the struggle for housing, both how it is, and how it could be better.


Randy Shaw is Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, San Francisco’s leading provider of housing for homeless single adults. His previous books include The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century; Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century; and The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime, and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

Direct download: Randy_Shaw_on_the_Housing_Affordability_Crisis.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 12:28pm EDT