[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
I don’t know anything about Robert Steinfeld’s book Coercion, Contract, and Free Labor in the Nineteenth Century except the following description, but it sounds interesting:
This book presents a fundamental reassessment of the nature of wage labor in the nineteenth century, focusing on the use of sanctions to enforce wage labor agreements. Professor Steinfeld argues that wage workers were not employees at will but were often bound to their employment by enforceable labor agreements, which employers used whenever available to manage their labor costs and supply. Modern free wage labor only came into being late in the nineteenth century, as a result of reform legislation that restricted the contract remedies employers could legally use.
Anybody know any more about it?