57. ITH-Konferenz: The Political Ecology of Work in Times of Disaster

22.-24. September 2022, Linz


Veranstaltet von:
Internationale Tagung der HistorikerInnen der Arbeiter- und anderer sozialer Bewegungen (ITH) mit freundlicher Unterstützung der Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte Oberösterreich, Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte Wien, der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, der Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Politische Bildung, dem Karl Renner-Insitut und der Stadt Linz.

Rolf Bauer (ITH, Wien), Adrian Grama (Leibnitz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Regensburg), Chitra Joshi (Association for Indian Labour History, New Delhi), Stefan Müller (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Bonn) und Susan Zimmermann (ITH, Wien)


The onset of the global pandemic radically challenged the world of work. Lockdowns and other public health policies re-segmented labour markets, reallocated rights and reinforced privileges. Homework exploded, all while workers deemed “essential” kept on risking their health in services, care, slaughterhouses and farms. Both in the Global South and the Global North, labour legislation was rolled back, and trade-unions muted.

The 2022 ITH conference takes from the present epidemiological crisis to reflect on other times of disaster and their implications for workers, organised labour and labour relations. This includes ecological disasters like earthquakes, floods or droughts; technological disasters such as Fukushima in 2011 or the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984; medical crises like epidemics or pandemics, such as the Black Death, the post-World War One influenza pandemic and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

No disaster is purely natural. A disaster takes place within environmental, social, economic and political contexts that ultimately determine the impact of a disaster. Human Intervention is important to the outbreak of such events. It is human society, not nature, that is in crisis due to viruses, geological or climatic changes; it is human society that produces technological disasters; it is the geo-ecological shifts between humans (society) and nature that can produce biophysical hazards. The social and economic impact of a hazard is determined by nature and extent of societal vulnerability. It is this societal vulnerability that turns a hazard into a disaster, the endemic into an epidemic.

How well societies prepare for, cope with or recover from disasters is determined by their social, political, economic and cultural vulnerability and their capacity to absorb these shocks (their resilience). At the ITH conference 2022 we focus on how labour was affected by and dealt with disasters in both a long-term and short-term perspective. We approach this topic through the lens of political ecology, i.e. we take the viewpoint of both environmental history and Marxist political economy.

There are numerous factors that deepen labourer’s vulnerability and their capacity to cope with shocks: environmental, economic or institutional factors. Studying disasters via a political ecology approach allows us to analyse these factors in a combined way. From a political ecology approach, we see that the expansion of capitalism and the inherent exploitation of both labour and nature has had a severe impact on workers’ vulnerability to hazards: it worsened the livelihood of many, and weakened communal institutions (e.g. commons), but has also created the preconditions for environmentally-induced disasters. These pre-conditions materialise in varied ways in different societal contexts – a heterogeneity that needs to be explored.

We invite contributions that explore the following questions:

  • How have the working people experienced and interpreted different forms of disasters in the past and the present?
  • What is the role of organised labour in shaping the outcome of a disaster?
  • What are the short- and long-term effects of disasters for workers and labour?
  • What is the political impact of an epidemic crisis on labour?
  • Who are the workers in the disaster relief sector?
  • Are there any progressive opportunities coming out of a disaster?
  • What is the impact of disasters and crises on patterns of labour circulation and migration?
  • Can we observe selective effects of disasters along racial, ethnic or gender lines?
  • Has the Anthropocene changed disasters / led to more disasters?
  • How have workers adapted to disasters, e.g. via social movements, solidarity, etc.?
  • How have state interventions, law and legislation mediated the impact of pandemics and other crises and to what extend has labour influenced this?

AK-Bildungshaus Jägermayrhof, Römerstraße 98, 4020 Linz, Österreich

Linz ist eine Industriestadt ca. 180 km westlich von Wien und eines der historischen Zentren der österreichischen ArbeiterInnenbewegung. Der Österreichische Bürgerkrieg im Februar 1934 zwischen den austrofaschistischen Milizen (“Heimwehren”) und dem Bundesheer auf der einen und der paramilitärischen Organisation der Sozialdemokratischen Arbeiterpartei, dem Republikanischen Schutzbund, auf der anderen Seite begann in Linz. Die Umgebung des Jägermayrhofs war eines der Zentren der Kämpfe.

Laurin Blecha
International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH)
c/o Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes
Altes Rathaus, Wipplinger Str. 6/Stg., A-1010 Wien, Österreich
e-Mail: conference[a]ith.or.at