Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880-1930

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One of the most infamous villains in North America during the Progressive Era was the padrone, a mafia-like immigrant boss who allegedly enslaved his compatriots and kept them uncivilized, unmanly, and unfree. In this history of the padrone, first published in 2000, Gunther Peck analyzes the figure's deep cultural resonance by examining the lives of three padrones and the workers they imported to North America. He argues that the padrones were not primitive men but rather thoroughly modern entrepreneurs who used corporations, the labour contract, and the right to quit to create far-flung coercive networks. Drawing on Greek, Spanish, and Italian language sources, Peck analyzes how immigrant workers emancipated themselves using the tools of padrone power to their own advantage.