#Academisch

Meer dan racisme en armoede alleen. Gedwongen winkelnering op Louisiana plantages en Nederlandse veenderijen, 1865-1920

20 januari 2018

In de negentiende eeuw was gedwongen winkelnering een wereldwijd fenomeen. Arbeiders kregen hun loon deels in natura en via de winkel van hun baas uitbetaald. Ze kregen bijvoorbeeld uitbetaald in onofficieel geld dat alleen kon worden besteed in deze winkel, of bij gebrek aan directe loonbetaling kochten ze spullen op krediet wat later van het loon werd afgetrokken.

Dr. Karin Lurvink – Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Dr. Karin Lurvink heeft in haar onderzoek Beyond Racism en Poverty, waar zij in november 2016 op is gepromoveerd, veenderijen in Nederland en suiker en katoenplantages in de Amerikaanse staat Louisiana in de periode 1865-1920 vergeleken om te verklaren waarom dit uitbetalingssysteem bestond. In de Verenigde Staten wordt het beschouwd als ‘tweede slavernij’ na de afschaffing van slavernij in 1865 en sterk geassocieerd met racisme. In Nederland wordt niet racisme, maar armoede gezien als de voornaamste verklarende factor.

Uit dit onderzoek blijkt dat gedwongen winkelnering verklaard kan worden aan de hand van de financiële problemen van de werkgever. Daarnaast had het niet alleen negatieve gevolgen voor de arbeiders. De natura-uitbetalingsmethodes en de winkel werkten namelijk als een wortel of lokmiddel in geïsoleerde samenlevingen waar gebrek was aan contant geld en aan krediet, waar arbeiders niet zelfvoorzienend waren in combinatie met de opkomst van het consumentisme. Aan de andere kant werkte het systeem als een stok of dwangmiddel, en dit was mogelijk doordat de arbeiders gebrek aan macht ervaarden om in opstand te komen tegen het systeem. In Louisiana had dit wel degelijk te maken met racisme en in Nederland met werkloosheid.

English:

Beyond Racism and Poverty. The Truck System on Louisiana Plantations and Dutch Peateries, 1865-1920

The truck payment system was a global phenomenon in the period 1865-1920, in which workers were paid in kind through the company store. The general literature, however, has not discussed this system beyond national boundaries. In order to understand the system as a general and global phenomenon, this dissertation analyzes the system on a transnational comparative level and offers an explanation for its emergence, persistence, and decline. It does so by comparing how this system functioned on plantations in Louisiana and on peateries in the Netherlands.

In the United States, the system is often viewed as a ‘second slavery’ and strongly associated with racism. In the Netherlands, however, not racism but poverty has been seen as the main reason for its continued existence. By using a variety of historical sources and by analyzing the perspectives of both employers and workers in qualitative and quantitative ways, Lurvink provides new insights into how the truck system worked and can be explained. Additionally, she reveals how the system was not only coercive but had advantages for the workers as well, which should not be overlooked. The system was a service for laborers who demanded credit and products in isolated and cash-poor areas. The truck system did not necessarily increase the poverty of the Dutch peat laborers. The consumption of food was one of the aspects historians used to measure poverty. Through the peat employer’s store, poor peat workers had access to more luxurious products. These findings suggest that the truck system and the peat employer’s store did not necessarily increase the worker’s poverty. Poverty and unemployment rates in the peat areas caused the emergence of the truck system instead of the other way around.

Lurvink shows that the ultimate causes of the truck system were the employer’s financial difficulties, the worker’s demand for products (the carrot), and the opportunity to force the workers (the stick). The proximate causes relating to the employer’s opportunity to use ‘the stick’ were class, political situation, and power relations: in the Dutch peat regions it was related to the labor surplus and in Louisiana to racism. Therefore, this study reveals that race was no necessity for the truck system to emerge on plantations in Louisiana. Both black and white laborers worked on plantations and were paid in truck, and no significant differences existed considering the amount of cash payments and credit provided. The truck system was applied to all low-class and poor workers throughout the world, which indicates that the system in itself was not racist, but class oriented. Therefore, racism played a different role in the way workers were paid. At some points the truck system in Louisiana was indeed a racist system. Due to the racial and violent climate that emerged after the abolition of slavery in the U.S. South in 1865, the black workers lacked opportunity to resist their employers. In the end, the fewer opportunities the workers had to raise their voices against the truck system, the easier they could be exploited.