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Questions of labor market and labor intermediation have been a political concern in most European countries as well as the USA and Canada since the late 19th century. In contemporary debates, public labor exchanges were depicted as a tool to cope with the confusing complexity of labor markets and to match the supply and demand of labor more effectively.
Up to now, only a few studies have asked how public labor exchange contributed to the emergence and differentiation of nationalized labor markets. However, public labor exchange did not just coordinate or regulate a given labor market but also contributed to the historical creation of labor and the segregation of labor markets. By defining regular employment, it helped to impose a particular distinction between formal and informal (or casual) work, between an officially “real” economy and a shadow economy. It established formal criteria of classifying occupational skills and employability. Finally, it aimed at distinguishing those willing and able to work from those deemed “workshy”.
Contemporary and recent research has mostly focused on the political aims and formal regulations of labor intermediation. By contrast, we know little about how labor exchanges functioned practically and what it meant to be subjected to those practices. Moreover, it seems necessary to reflect on the impact of public labor exchange on job search and to discuss it in the context of the variety of all forms of intermediation. Public labor offices have always been only one of many possible ways of finding employment or employees, but they have not necessarily been the most commonly used one. According to contemporary and recent estimates, placement by commercial mediation, charitable organizations, trade unions or associations was quite usual as well. Moreover, informal practices of finding employment by help of kin or other social networks, newspaper ads or direct inquiries have been important practices of job search until today.

The workshop will compare practices of labor intermediation and ways of finding
employment in the 19th and 20th centuries across a variety of countries.

Production of Work
Institut für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte
schaftliche Fakultät
Universität Wien

Universitätsring 1
A-1010 Wien

Maria Theresienstraße 9/4
A-1090 Wien
T: +43-1-4277-41340
F: +43-1-4277-40899
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