UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The creation and organisation of cheap wage labour in the British Columbia fishing industry Muszynski, Alicja


This thesis is concerned with the manner in which labour has been employed in the British Columbia fishing industry, and with the more general historical development of a labour force which provides labour power at wages below full subsistence costs. The phrase "cheap labour" refers to this labour force. The thesis briefly traces the emergence of capitalism in feudal England and argues that labour power was priced in two ways. Organised male craft workers fought for the "family wage"; that is, for wages that would cover not only their own costs of production and reproduction, but also those of their dependents. This meant, however, that when women and children worked for wages, these were not designed to cover their subsistence requirements. They were employed as "cheap labour." With European colonisation, gender criteria were extended to incorporate racial criteria. It is argued that cheap labourers came to be distinguished by race and ethnicity, in addition to gender and age. The differentiation of labour based on biological criteria was adopted elsewhere, and the main body of the thesis is concerned with how this process occurred within British Columbia's fishing industry. The B.C. industry began with canners who had to recruit a new labour force in regions without large supplies of European workers. The thesis traces how canners employed native peoples and Chinese male labourers. The argument is advanced that these groups were paid wages below the costs of subsistence, and that the groups survived because they were embedded in pre-capitalist social relations. They subsisted through a combination of wage labour and unpaid work. The thesis examines Marx's labour theory of value for its utility in explaining the development of a "cheap labour force." Although the theory must be re-worked to incorporate two forms of labour power, it provides a more appropriate model than that of the dual labour market theories. The method of historical materialism, which Marx employed, can be used to re-work the labour theory of value. In particular, the method allows for an analysis of resistance by labourers (for example, through trade union organization, such as the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union). These theoretical applications are discussed in the thesis.

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