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Lecture | Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminar (LIMS)

Double Session: Coal and Labor in China & Labour Migration in the Central African Copperbelt

Thursday 19 April 2018
Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars 2017-2018
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Conference Room (2.60)

This edition, the LIMS Talk will consist of two lectures:

Limin Teh (Leiden University): ‘Moored Mobilities of Coal and Labor: Natural Resources, Employment, and International Politics in Fushun Coalmine, 1905-1955’

Coal from Fushun (in present-day Liaoning province) fueled the movement of objects, capital, knowledge, and people throughout north and northeast China during the first half of the twentieth century. In turn, the extraction and transportation of Fushun coal rested on mooring previously mobile Chinese labor to the coalmine. Economic and labor histories often naturalize the rise of a stable labor force as an inevitable stage of industrial development when workers acclimated to the discipline of industrial work, severed ties with the countryside, settled permanently in urban centers, and identified with their occupation. However, an examination of workplace institutions and labor management discourses in Fushun coalmine through three regimes in the period 1905-1955 reveals how transnational processes of empire and nation-state formation and industrial development depended on the mobility of coal and coalmining knowledge, and how this dependency paradoxically contributed to the immobilizing or mooring of the Chinese labor force.

Duncan Money (University of the Free State, South-Africa): ‘The World of Mining Camps: International and Regional Labour Migration on the Central African Copperbelt, c. 1910-1975’

Almost everyone who arrived on the Copperbelt, a vast mining region divided between modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, in the first decades of the twentieth century was a migrant. Two distinct and racialized streams of labour migration flowed into the Copperbelt: mining and skilled white labour circulated internationally during this period, while African labour, often through coercion, traveled considerable distances across central and southern Africa.

Examining these labour migrations helps us understand the connections that developed in these decades between seemingly distant and disparate places and situates the Copperbelt in a world of mining camps stretching across central and southern Africa, and beyond. Labour migrants traveled between places that became profoundly similar. The similarity of different mining regions is often remarked on but has rarely been explored, something which the prevailing tendency to study individual mines within local or national frameworks has contributed to. Connections between different mining regions, which were underpinned by migration, eroded the difference between the Copperbelt and other mining centres.

However, patterns and levels of migration were not consistent. Mining workforces across the Copperbelt were successfully ‘nationalised’ over the mid-twentieth century as mining companies’ assessment of labour costs – that a semi-permanent, stabilised workforce would be more cost-effective – coincided with the emergence of autochthonous demands and the overthrowing of colonial rule.

The Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars

The Leiden Interdisciplinary Migration Seminars (LIMS) aim at fostering further discussion across disciplines on migration-related topics and creating an open dialogue between the speakers and the attendees. The seminars are a platform for those at Leiden University working on migration-related topics.

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