Call for Papers: Only trouble and mayhem? Wage Labour, spontaneous protests and the question of organization from the 19th into the 21st century

Deadline: January 2015

When economic crisis reentered the theatre of global capitalism around the turn of the millennium, labour unrest and conflicts also entered a new stage. Looking at wildcat strikes in China, cross-class popular uprisings in Latin America and the Arab world or urban riots in Europe and North America, it seems as if not only strikes led by labour unions, but also forms considered as „pre-modern“ or „immature“ are more contemporary than labour historians imagined them to be – informal and spontaneous popular protest is part of the social reality in a globalized world.

Looking into the deeper history of the global labour movement, it becomes evident that those forms are neither pre-modern nor a contemporary exception. Spontaneous revolts, wildcat strikes and popular mobilization apart from the classical form of trade-unionism or labour parties have been part of the wider labour movement since its emergence in the 19th century. They also have been part of labour´s theoretical reflection on its policies and history, for example Rosa Luxemburg´s writings on mass strikes in 1905, or the debate on “workers autonomy” kicked off by Italian Operaism in the 1960s and 1970s. Nevertheless, for quite some time, the unorganized forms of labouring men and women´s protests were seen as marginal by institutionalized labour history, that until the 1960s followed a narrative of progress and modernization. Since then, both the British „new labour history“ and concepts from German historiography such as the „andere Arbeiterbewegung“ (Karl Heinz Roth) or the „Eigensinn“ (Alf Lüdtke) have stressed the relative autonomy of workers action.

The Berlin-based journal „Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung“ (Yearbook on Labour History) aims to revisit those debates and seeks for contributions for a special issue on „wage labour, spontaneous protests and the question of organization from the 19th into the 21st century“. We are looking for innovative historical research on working-class protests at shop floor or in streets and neighborhoods. We are interested in case studies of protests that emerged outside the range of classical labour organizations that lived on spontaneous self-organization or eventually evolved into new forms of organization, challenging the classical modes of representation. Our special interest lies at questions of identification, solidarity and institutionalisation, but at the same time we wish to define the relationship between spontaneous protests and institutionalized parties and trade unions. Contributions applying concepts such as cultural history or „Alltagsgeschichte“, i.e. the ’study of everyday history’ or ‘people’s history’ are welcome, as well as contributions that challenge conceptual frameworks. Especially sought are articles with a focus on gender history, since many spontaneous conflicts among the „unorganized“ had working class women as their protagonists. One of the most prominent examples are the food riots occurring during the Great War all over Europe.

This call for papers is asking for articles covering labor history from the 19th century into the present, case studies may cover any country or region as well as comparative studies. Please send us a small abstract (1-2 pages) that outline your ideas by January 31, 2015. The full articles of 6000 words max. are due June 30, 2015. Articles may be submitted in German or English, publication will be in German. Costs of translation are covered by the Jahrbuch. Translations from languages other than German or English may be arranged upon request.

For further questions and to submit your abstracts and articles, please email us:



CfP Spontaneous Protest – Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung

German version of this CfP:

Call for papers 2014 – German Version