Technological Change before Globalization

Race and Declining Employment for Mexicans on Railroads, 1945-1970


  • Michael Calderon-Zaks University of California, San Diego



Automation, Railroads, Employment, Race, Globalization


Though the world-systems school has argued that globalization has been a long process over the last five centuries, globalization is often only synonymous with the late twentieth century. Globalization has gained a lot of attention in the context of declining blue-collar job sectors, but the technologies that enabled it had already displaced workers on U.S. railroads. To bridge both schools, railroads are the perfect setting for this study since it’s at the intersection of race, labor, technological changes, and globalization. Mexicans once accounted for ninety percent of track workers in the U.S. Southwest, but after gaining higher wages by the early 1950s, most of their jobs were lost to automation by the 1960s. While faster and larger cargo ships and railroads in recent decades have been synonymous with globalization, the technologies and infrastructure didn’t enable that global process until the 1970s at the earliest. Technological changes eliminated more jobs on the tracks before 1970 than to globalization since. Globalization was not possible without those technological changes.


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How to Cite

Michael Calderon-Zaks. (2022). Technological Change before Globalization: Race and Declining Employment for Mexicans on Railroads, 1945-1970. Journal of World-Systems Research, 28(1), 77–97.



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