The Poverty of Work

Selling Servant, Slave and Temporary Labor on the Free Market


In The Poverty of Work, Van Arsdale goes inside the world of temping and discovers a type of work dreadfully insecure yet growing rapidly. Furthermore, through a comprehensive historiography, he illustrates how employment agencies moved from England to North America during the colonial period, where they sold workers into many deprived employment statuses, including indentured servitude and slavery. Van Arsdale contends that had the history of employment agencies been better understood, they would have likely been abolished with slavery, or at the very least, more tightly controlled by government. Today, left largely unregulated, employment agencies are powerful corporations generating astonishing revenue by selling flexible, on-demand temporary workers. Unfortunately, this labor is trapping millions in a cycle of unemployment, despair, and poverty.
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EUR €104.00USD $125.00

Biographical Note

David Van Arsdale, Ph.D. (2004), Syracuse University, is Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Onondaga Community College. His research commonly addresses issues of work and culture, economy and development, and race and ethnicity.

Table of contents

Preface Acknowledgements List of Figures and Tables 1. A Perfect Marriage: Flexible Employment Standards and the Staffing Industry Flexible Fields, Flexible Factories The Globalization of Flexible Employment Standards Non-Corporate Employment Agencies Corporate Employment Agencies Aims of the Book Organization and Methodology 2. Inside Employment Agency Labor: Participant Observation Experiences Anatomy of a Corporate Employment Agency Getting Hired, Demographics, Health Risks Waiting Rooms, Dispatch Anxiety, Low-Wages The Dawn of Virtual Waiting Rooms Dispatch from a Corporate Employment Agency Waiting for Work On a Ticket The Revolving Door “Why Don’t You Get a Job Someplace Else?” “Catch 22:” Trapped in Temping The Paradox of Flexible Labor The Growth of Unregulated Hiring Dispatch from a Non-Corporate Employment Agency Temping at the Food Factory Temping at the Plastics Factory 3. Exchange Alley: The Origins of Employment Agencies A Labor of investment Capitalism Early Contradictions in At-Will Employment Relations: Registering Servants and Masters The Privatization of Employment Agencies Case Study: The Intelligence Office for Seamen Growth and Competition among Intelligence Offices in London Public Criticisms of Employment Agencies in London Adam Smith on Intelligence Offices 4. From Slave Agency to Temporary Help: The Historical Development of Employment Agencies The Labor Trade West of London Marketing Racial and Ethnic Employment Statuses: The Limitation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Theory on the Labor Trade The Rise of Benevolent Intelligence Offices The Anti-slavery Intelligence Office The Emigrant Depot Intelligence Office Selling Bridget Trafficking Women Into Brothels From Intelligence Office to Employment Agency The Discontents of Employment Agency Labor From Employment Agency to Temporary Help Misrepresenting Intelligence Offices in North American Literary Rhetoric 5. The Poverty of Work: Shifting from Jobs that Solved Poverty to Jobs that Make It Returning to the Contemporary Labor Trade The Changing Nature and Provisions of Work The Production of the Idea of Work as a Solution to Poverty The Production of Poverty in Work Selling the Unemployed as Leverage for Capital Gains 6. Preventing the Reproduction of Deprived Employment Statuses among Temporary Laborers The Pitfalls of Unregulated Triangular Employment Exchanges: Revising Stowe’s Thesis on the Labor Trade Solutions for Preventing Deprived Employment Legislative Solutions Community and Organized Labor Actions Appendix International Staffing Companies, Economic Overview U.S. Staffing Companies, Economic Overview Bibliography Index


All interested in sociology, labor studies and history, race and ethnic studies, social and economic stratification, political economy, and American studies.