Book Notes: Summer 2022

Check out new work by and of interest to members of the Working-Class Studies Association in this summer issue of Book Notes. Enjoy!

A People’s Guide to New York City (U. of California Press), Carolina Bank Munoz, Penny Lewis, Emily Tumpson

The latest in the University of California Press’ people’s guides, this new volume on New York City explores more than 150 sites, mostly in the outer boroughs, where immigrants, people of color, and working classes of all shades have made history and shaped landscapes, some of which are left today and others merely noted with plaques or simple monuments.  According to the publisher, “Delving into the histories of New York’s five boroughs, you will encounter enslaved Africans in revolt, women marching for equality, workers on strike, musicians and performers claiming streets for their art, and neighbors organizing against landfills and industrial toxins and in support of affordable housing and public schools. The streetscapes that emerge from these groups’ struggles bear the traces, and this book shows you where to look to find them.”  This volume, like others in the series, uses the tourist guidebook form to aid both tourists and locals to find significant parts of the people’s city.

A People’s Guide to Orange County (U. of California Press), Elaine Lewinnek, Gustavo Arellano, Thuy Vo Dang

Another new entry in the California Press’ series teases out the huge Orange County part of the Greater Los Angeles area.  The site of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the county attracts more than 40 million tourists a year and includes some of the richest oceanfront property on the planet.  But inland, Orange County is an agricultural and industrial landscape of current and historical significance, as are the neighborhoods peopled by workers in the tourist service economy, many of them immigrants.  The guidebook “documents sites of oppression, resistance, struggle, and transformation.”  Previous people’s guides California Press has produced are still available, exploring the San Francisco Bay Area, Greater Boston, and Los Angeles.

Hard Rain: Bob Dylan, Oral Cultures, and the Meaning of History (Columbia U. Press), Alessandro Portelli

The doyen of oral history in Italy and the US, Allessandro Portelli uses this slim volume to reflect on his lifetime of work with oral history, originally inspired by the folk music revival in the 1950s when Portelli was in high school.  Tracing the roots of Bob Dylan’s classic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” back not only to the traditional English ballad “Lord Randall,” but to an Italian version that translates as “The poisoned man’s testament,” Portelli talks with others in the US, UK, India, and Italy who were influenced by the bracing lyrics and “awful voice” of Minnesota’s Robert Zimmerman.  Portelli presents the book as “a multidisciplinary investigation on history and memory through the prism of the primary orality of folklore, the secondary orality of mass media, and the conversation between them.”  A multinational tribute to Dylan, Hard Rain presents folk music and oral history “as ways in which the popular classes give voice to their relationship to and presence in history.”

The Lockdown Diaries of the Working Class by The Working Class Collective. (Available in Kindle Edition through Amazon.)

The first project of The Working Class Collective is made up of lockdown diaries submitted by working-class people across the UK, gathered by Lisa McKenzie. The entries are supplemented by the work of six style-diverse working-class illustrators. Graham Scrambler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University College London, writes: “What the Diaries did for me was transport me momentarily into the lives and circumstances of a variety of people who lacked the protection of so many, even all, of Bourdieu’s types of capital. In a way, the fact that the Diaries contained snippets of lives added force. Sometimes an intimate glimpse into a life, allowing the imagination a freer reign, carries more punch than the putative academic summary of a life course. Lisa McKenzie’s linking pieces are exquisitely judged.”

Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education (Pluto Press), Joe Berry and Helena Worthen

Most of this book is a detailed analysis of how contingent faculty in the California State University (CSU) system organized across the system and won what the authors think is the best contingent faculty union contract in the country.  In that process, Joe Berry and Helena Worthen manage to develop an historical analysis of higher education in the US and a vision for the future while at the same time systematically exploring the various options CSU faculty organizers faced at different junctures and how and why they chose the options they did.  The result is a guidebook for contingent faculty organizing embedded in a series of narratives with dramatic decision points.  Berry has been a faculty organizer for decades and a leader of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) since its founding.  Worthen is a novelist and long-time labor educator.

Our Veterans: Winners, Losers, Friends, and Enemies on the New Terrain of Veteran Affairs (Duke U. Press), Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, Jasper Craven

The American military, especially now as an all-volunteer force, is a working-class institution in the same way as any private firm or government agency.  Though even more hierarchical than other workplaces, its on-the-ground ethos is created by the workers who do the job of preparing for and fighting wars.  This new book by a trio of experienced scholars and journalists explores military workers both in service and, especially, after when they are entitled to a series of benefits as veterans.  The authors frame their comprehensive study within a long political tradition that uniformly praises and honors veterans, but then cheats on the benefits they have been promised.  Even “self-styled helpers of veterans have at times actually jeopardized their access to better healthcare, a decent education via the GI Bill, and later employment with good working conditions and opportunities for advancement.” They propose a new agenda for veterans that is more firmly anchored in broader social programs benefitting all Americans, while providing for veterans’ specific needs.

Young Mungo (Grove Press), Douglas Stuart

Stuart’s first novel won the Booker Prize. Young Mungo, his second, is based in Glasgow and tells the tale of James, a Protestant, and Mungo, a Catholic, as they grow up together and eventually fall in love in a world where potential brutality and violence loom large. Mungo’s older brother is the leader of a vicious local gang. The book explores themes of masculinity, queerness, and religion, and how all intersect with working-class life. Library Journal writes: “After the splendid Shuggie Bain, Stuart continues his examination of 1980s Glaswegian working-class life and a son’s attachment to an alcohol-ravaged mother, with results as good yet distinctly different . . . In language crisper and more direct than Shuggie Bain’s, Stuart heightens his exploration of the sibling bond and the inexplicable hatred between Glasgow’s Protestants and Catholics, while contrasting Mungo’s tenderly conveyed queer awakening with the awful counterpart of sexual violence.”

After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back (U. of California Press), Juliet Schor

This latest effort from sociological economist Juliet Schor first traces how the initial promise of the gig economy – flexibility, autonomy, and decent incomes for workers, for example – has degenerated into “exploited Uber drivers, neighborhoods ruined by Airbnb, racial discrimination, and rising carbon emissions.”  But then she attempts to show how the basic model of “a peer-to-peer structure augmented by digital tech” still has the potential to fulfill its early promise.  To that end she puts forward a series of regulatory reforms to foster cooperative platforms owned and controlled by users that would lead to “an equitable and truly shared economy.”  One reviewer explains: “Schor’s case studies skillfully represent the full spectrum of optimism and disenchantment—those previously bullish on being their own boss, who have since been dragged to despair . . . .  The takeaway from this book is that a complete reimagining of city governance is required if the sharing economy is ever going to work for the people.”

Class Struggle Unionism (Haymarket Books), Joe Burns

In this historically informed manual for labor organizing in the 21st century, Joe Burns advances a form of class struggle unionism that places rank-and-file workplace militancy and fights within the larger fight between workers and the owning class, the one dialectically building on the other.  In doing so, he addresses a key set of questions faced by those who want to renew a fighting labor movement: “How to relate to the union establishment which often does not want to fight? Whether to work in the rank and file of unions or staff jobs? How much to prioritize broader class demands versus shop floor struggle? How to relate to foundation-funded worker centers and alternative union efforts? And most critically, how can we revive militancy and union power in the face of corporate power and a legal system set up against us?”

The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Cornell ILR Press), Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta

Erica Smiley is the current and Sarita Gupta a former director of national Jobs with Justice, and they bring their broad and deep experience in a variety of labor and community struggles across the country to this effort to chart a future for democratic and progressive forces.  Over the past several decades, Jobs with Justice (JwJ) has demonstrated how involving the broader public in labor struggles and labor in community struggles expands the effectiveness of both. Likewise, JwJ has especially focused on those fights where labor, women’s, black, brown, and immigrant interests can intersect in powerful ways. The book charts a course along those lines, with chapters titled “Beyond Workers,” “Organizing All People,” and “Building Long-Term Labor-Community Power”.  Thomas Kochan calls it a “really thoughtful and creative mix of labor history, analysis of current policies and institutions, and wonderful personal stories―including their own. . . . [and] a powerful statement about what we need to do, and can do, to shape a better future for all.”

Pest (Keylight Books), Elizabeth Foscue

Pest’s protagonist Hallie Mayhew is a working-class high school senior in Santa Barbara, who is balancing multiple part-time jobs while navigating divorced parents, getting into and paying for college, and getting away from her hometown where she feels trapped. She finds herself struggling with a classic working-class student dilemma: how to make ends meet and keep up her grades, while also trying to weave in the extra-curriculars that colleges and scholarship committees expect. The Washington Post says the book is “Laugh-out-loud funny,” and that “Cheering for this scrappy underdog will appeal to younger and older adults alike.”

Urban Legends: The South Bronx in Representation and Ruin (Harvard U. Press), Peter L’Official

Long an iconic stereotype for urban decay as an “inner-city hell hole,” the Bronx has a mythic place in our national imagination, only partly relieved by its cultural creativity as the hometown of hip-hop and a premier site of artistic graffiti.  Bronx native Peter L’Official aims to bust those stereotypes by showing the real complexity of a borough of nearly 1.5 million people.  Drawing on literature and the visual arts, L’Official focuses on the history, people, and place beyond its myths and legends, revealing a social and culture vitality that is far from its image of “a decades-long funeral pyre.”  Luc Sante calls it the “great Bronx book we have needed for decades. L’Official cuts through the foliage of lazy journalism, unexamined assumptions, and political rhetoric and brings together the voices of writers, rappers, social scientists, and people on the street. The result is a nuanced picture of the South Bronx, which for almost a century has been mostly neglected, scorned, and viewed as expendable―perhaps one of New York City’s biggest crimes.”

Talking to the Girls: Intimate and Political Essays on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (NYU Press), Edvige Giunta and Mary Anne Trasciatti, editors.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911 killed 146 workers, most young immigrant women and girls, in 15 minutes.  But it was an event that has mobilized garment and other workers around the world for more than a century.  This collection of 19 essays reflects both on the tragedy itself and the impact it has had in the immediate aftermath of the fire and since.  The diverse voices of the essayists include writers, artists, and scholars from across the globe, as well as family members of Triangle workers.  The publisher promises “a story of contemporary global relevance [that] stands as an act of collective testimony: a written memorial to the Triangle victims.”

Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak (Zubaan Books), Madhumita Duhtta.

While doing doctoral work in Tamil Nadu in southern India, author Madhumita Dutta met several women working in a Nokia electronics factory—and over a course of regular meetings, a radio podcast was born. This book is taken from transcripts of the radio podcast, with the addition of illustrations by Madhushree Basu. It presents the women’s experiences of factory work, but also explores their larger lives and dreams. Writing in The Hindu, P.V. Srividya says, “It is striking how the secular migrant work space also makes [the women’s] camaraderie possible. The women show us how female bodies that work on the assembly line negotiate bodily pain, scheming ways of rest and forming quiet solidarities.”

Division Street (Dewi Lewis Publishing), Robert Gumpert

In 2016 San Francisco hosted the Super Bowl, and to clean up the city’s image, officials herded its homeless people and families into Division Street, where the extent of homelessness in the city would be out of sight and out of mind.  Photographer Robert Gumpert followed them to Division Street to document the ‘”division of communities, between the wealth of the few and the expendability of the many, in San Francisco, in the USA and across the World.”  This book is built around Gumpert’s photographs, but it adds first-person storytelling, messages left on the street, media headlines, and politician’s characterizations to make the book what the publisher calls “a collaboration between many communities.”

No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy: Memoirs of a Working-Class Reader (Canongate Books), Mark Hodkinson

Today Mark Hodkinson is an author, journalist, and publisher, but he grew up in a working-class household in Rochdale, UK (near Sheffield and Leeds) that had only one book.  He now lives in Rochdale again, surrounded by some 3,500 books.  This memoir is about his growing up working class and his life-long love of reading.  The publisher describes it thus: “It’s about schools (bad), music (good) and the people (some mad, a few sane), and pre-eminently and profoundly the books and authors (some bad, mostly good) that led the way, and shaped his life. It’s also about a family who just didn’t see the point of reading, and a troubled grandad who, in his own way, taught Mark the power of stories.”

Proper Etiquette in the Slaughterhouse Line (Gutter Snob Books), James Duncan

Duncan’s newest collection of poems focuses on office work and the grind of mundane cubicle culture in the beginning, but then spirals into an apocalyptic tale. Writer Frank Reardon: “These are poems in the vein of Carver, Bukowski, and James Wright. Workers, fighters, and people with little hope, trapped in a system they cannot beat, but sometimes can beat late at night during the exhausted hours. These poems take the everyday mundane existence we are force fed eight hours a day and show us there is hope, but only if we are willing to open the doors of the slaughterhouse.” Author John Crochalski says “Duncan does a superb job of showing us our humanity exactly as we are living it, the pain, the struggle, the sickness and all the manifestations of any joys we can find to keep ourselves grounded.”

Romantic Environmental Sensibility: Nature, Class and Empire (Edinburgh U. Press), Ve-Yin Tee, ed.

This collection of essays seeks to reveal how representations of the land and the plants, animals, and people who live on the land are shaped by “habits of thought that are profoundly class-based.”  With a focus on Romantic ideas of nature, one set of essays focus on how “Green Imperialism” shaped British perception and policy in India and elsewhere in Asia.  Other essays show how “current approaches to conservation and animal rights continue to be influenced by a class-bound Romantic environmental sensibility.”

The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past (Harvard U. Press), Mike Savage

The facts of growing income and wealth inequality are clear, everywhere but especially in English-speaking countries like the US and UK.  Sociologist Mike Savage argues here that our increasing levels of inequality threaten much more than statistical gaps in wage and wealth levels.  “By fracturing social bonds and harnessing the democratic process to the strategies of a resurgent aristocracy of the wealthy, inequality revives political conditions we thought we had moved beyond: empires and dynastic elites, explosive ethnic division, and metropolitan dominance that consigns all but a few cities to irrelevance. . . . Westerners have been slow to appreciate that inequality undermines the very foundations of liberal democracy: faith in progress and trust in the political community’s concern for all its members.”

Police, Provocation, Politics: Counterinsurgency in Istanbul (Cornell U. Press)), Deniz Yonucu

In this book Deniz Yonucu shows how counterinsurgency strategies from the Cold War and the decolonization process continue to inform policing in Istanbul.  According to the publisher: “Situating Turkish policing within a global context and combining archival work and oral history narratives with ethnographic research . . . Yonucu presents a counterintuitive analysis of contemporary policing practices, focusing particular attention on the incitement of counterviolence, perpetual conflict, and ethnosectarian discord by the state security apparatus.”

Monetary Authorities: Capitalism and Decolonization in the American Colonial Philippines (Duke U. Press), Allan Lumba

By focusing on American colonization in the Philippines, Allan Lumba shows how “the United States used monetary policy and banking systems to justify racial and class hierarchies, enforce capitalist exploitation, and counter movements for decolonization” in other US imperial adventures.  According to the publisher: “By showing how imperial governance was entwined with the racialization and regulation of monetary systems . . .  Lumba illuminates a key mechanism through which the United States securitized the imperial world order.”

WCSA Book Notes for December 2019

Please take a look at the following WCSA Book Notes for December 2019. You may also download a document with these book notes BkNtsDec2019.FINAL.

Amplified Advantage: Going to a “Good” College in an Era of Inequality (Lexington Books), Allison Hurst

By focusing on small liberal arts colleges – who goes there and what happens to them – Allison Hurst’s Amplified Advantages sheds light on how class works throughout higher education and in American society more generally.  Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class, Hurst demonstrates “how inequalities are met, resisted, and ultimately reproduced across generations.”  According to the publisher, “the book lays out the many ways that class continues to play a role in the college experience, from choosing a major, to frequency of faculty interaction, to participation in the extra-curriculum. The last chapters demonstrate the differential burden of debt on graduates and the impact of varied parental support after graduation. Amplified Advantages adds to our understanding of how class works, the impact of parents and families on social reproduction, and the ways that colleges and universities can contribute to or reduce inequalities.”  Diane Reay recommends it: “Richly theorised, evocatively reflexive, and beautifully written, the book captures and sustains the reader’s interest through a rich synergy of qualitative and quantitative research that weaves together the lived experiences of young people in higher education.”


The Pears: Poems – Harmony Poetry Series (Bottom Dog Press), Larry Smith

“I’ve been reading Larry Smith’s work for over 20 years. That’s long enough to make his work seem like it’s always been there, and maybe that’s because the people Larry writes about are ones I recognize: mill workers and farmers, waitresses and librarians. He writes about family and everyday concerns. Sometimes those are scrambled eggs. Sometimes they are snow birds. He is a very tactile poet…These poems exist right outside of town in a peddler’s encampment where fairy tales and bad luck mingle with white bread and pennies. These are magical riddles made up of the real and the nearly so. Feast on them and dance.” ~ Mike James


We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America (Oxford U. Press), Jennifer Silva

Jennifer Silva’s new book is based on more than 100 interviews with black, white, and Latinx working-class residents of a declining coal town in eastern Pennsylvania, some of them recent immigrants from Philadelphia and New York City.  According to the publisher, Silva finds: “The routines and rhythms of traditional working-class life such as manual labor, unions, marriage, church, and social clubs have diminished. In their place, she argues, individualized strategies for coping with pain, and finding personal redemption, have themselves become sources of political stimulus and reaction among the working class.”  Historian Jefferson Cowie calls the book “a punch-in-the-gut examination of blue-collar America trying to navigate the unraveling of a secure economy and moral universe” and “an urgent, must-read book for understanding the landscape of American politics.”


Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility (Princeton U. Press), Jennifer Morton

For working-class, low-income, and immigrant college students, going to college is both an exciting and treacherous pathway to upward mobility.  Recently colleges and universities have recognized the difficulties these first-generation students face in succeeding.  Now Jennifer Morton’s new book explores “the ethical dilemmas of upward mobility—the broken ties with family and friends, the severed connections with former communities, and the loss of identity” as well as “the deep personal compromises such students have to make as they enter worlds vastly different from their own.”  A philosophy professor at City College of New York, Morton draws on personal stories, social science, and interviews to show how “student strivers” tend to give up essential relationships with family, friends, and community, and she argues that educators need to “empower students with a new narrative of upward mobility” that recognizes the ethical and personal costs common in education-based upward mobility.


Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers (Unbound), Edited by Kit de Waal

Working-class stories are not always tales of the underprivileged and dispossessed. Common People is a collection of essays, poems and memoir written in celebration, not apology: these are narratives rich in barbed humour, reflecting the depth and texture of working-class life, the joy and sorrow, the solidarity and the differences, the everyday wisdom and poetry of the woman at the bus stop, the waiter, the hairdresser. Here, Kit de Waal brings together thirty-three established and emerging writers who invite you to experience the world through their eyes, their voices loud and clear as they reclaim and redefine what it means to be working class. Original pieces include those by Damian Barr, Malorie Blackman, Lisa Blower, Jill Dawson, Louise Doughty, Stuart Maconie, Chris McCrudden, Lisa McInerney, Paul McVeigh, Daljit Nagra, Dave O’Brien, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Anita Sethi, Tony Walsh, Alex Wheatle.


Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy (U. of California Press), Alexandrea Ravenelle

Alexandrea Ravenelle won the Working-Class Studies Association’s Constance Coiner Dissertation Award, and Hustle and Gig is the book version of that dissertation.  Based on the personal stories of more than 70 predominately millennial workers at Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, and Kitchensurfing, the book shows how “the autonomy these young workers expected has been usurped by the need to maintain algorithm-approved acceptance and response rates.”  Ravenelle also documents how the so-called “sharing economy” evades generations of workplace protections such as the right to unionize, workplace health and safety, and protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse says: “Hustle and Gig takes a smart, penetrating look at what’s happening in the platform economy—how it resembles an earlier industrial age when workers toiled long hours doing piecework for meager pay while lacking many basic protections.”


Meander Belt: Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working-Class South (U. of Nebraska Press), M. Randal O’Wain

This memoir of growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, where the meandering of the Mississippi River defines neighborhoods and lives, is a reflection on how a working-class boy “came to fall in love with language, reading, writing, and the larger world outside the American South.”  The son of a carpenter described as “hardworking but wounded,” Randal O’Wain “examines what it means to value mental rather than physical labor and what this does to his relationship with his family, whose livelihood and sensibility are decidedly blue collar.”  O’Wain did some meandering himself, roaming from place to place, doing odd jobs, and touring with his band, but “ultimately discovers that his working-class upbringing is not so antithetical to the man he has become.”


Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor (Knopf), Steven Greenhouse

Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in this book does a number of different things.  He updates the situation of American workers today who face what his 2008 book called The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker.  He presents a highly selective but dramatic historical sketch of what unions achieved in the first two-thirds of the 20th century and a thoughtful summary of how and why unions have declined to their current state.  But he finishes with a hopeful round-up of recent and current worker struggles, including the Fight for $15 and teachers’ strikes, farmworkers and the Las Vegas’ culinary union, gig workers organizing and the renewal of the Los Angeles labor movement.  In doing so, Greenhouse argues that the current weakness of unions is “reflected in some of the most pressing problems facing our nation today, including income inequality, declining social mobility, the gender pay gap, and the concentration of political power in the hands of the wealthy,” and he rebuts the oft-stated mainstream view that labor unions are outmoded and no longer relevant.


The Yellow House (Grove), Sarah M. Broom

Broom’s stirring memoir, the winner of the 2019 National Book Award for nonfiction, is set in New Orleans East, a part of the city that tourists don’t visit. The yellow house of the title, Broom’s family home, is the pride, hope and prison of a black, working-class family. After it is destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, it also becomes a symbol of the issues confronting us today: pernicious racism, corporate greed, displacement and the improbable arithmetic of survival as a member of the working poor.


Labor in the Time of Trump (ILR Press), Jasmine Kerrissey, Eve Weinbaum, Clare Hammonds, Tom Juravich, and Dan Clawson, editors.

According to the publisher, “While President Trump’s election in 2016 may have been a wakeup call for labor and the Left, the underlying processes behind this shift to the right have been building for at least forty years.  The contributors [to this volume] show that only by analyzing the vulnerabilities in the right-wing strategy can the labor movement develop an effective response.”  The contributors include a wide range of academics from various disciplines and parts of the country and a few labor leaders as well.  The essays examine the conservative upsurge, explore key challenges the labor movement faces today, and draw lessons from recent activist successes.


Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso), Eric Blanc

The wave of successful teachers’ strikes that started in West Virginia, spread to Oklahoma and Arizona and now to similar actions gaining steam in Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, Virginia, and elsewhere are, Eric Blanc argues, “winning the fight for the soul of public education.”  Blanc is a former high school teacher and longtime activist who was able to embed himself with the rank-and-file leaderships of the red-state walkouts.  He had access to internal organizing meetings and secret Facebook groups inaccessible to most reporters.  The publisher calls the result “one of the richest portraits of the labor movement to date, a story populated with the voices of school workers who are . . . redrawing the political map of the country at large” as they demand better pay for educators, more funding for students, and an end to years of austerity.


Only as the Day is Long: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton), Dorianne Laux

The publisher promises: “The wealth of her life experience finds expression in Laux’s earthy and lyrical depictions of working-class America, full of the dirt and mess of real life. From the opening poem, ‘Two Pictures of My Sister,’ to the last, ‘Letter to My Dead Mother,’ she writes, in her words, of ‘living gristle’ with a perceptive frankness that is luminous in its specificity and universal in its appeal. Exploring experiences of survival and healing, of sexual love and celebration, Only as the Day Is Long shows Laux at the height of her powers.”


Dust and Dignity: Domestic Employment in Contemporary Ecuador (ILR Press), Erynn Masi de Casanova

The publisher promises that Dust and Dignity “offers a new take on an old occupation,” one that “identifies patterns in domestic workers’ experience that will be helpful in understanding the situation of workers elsewhere . . . far beyond Ecuador.”  Erynn Masi de Casanova conducted her research by collaborating with Ecuador’s pioneer domestic workers organization, and she finds three reasons for persistent exploitation based on gender and class dynamics: “First, the tasks of social reproduction are devalued. Second, informal work arrangements escape regulation. And third, unequal class relations are built into this type of employment.” Casanova also offers possible solutions for promoting and ensuring domestic workers’ rights that may be relevant everywhere.


City of Workers, City of Struggle: How Labor Movements Changed New York (Columbia U. Press), Joshua Freeman, editor

Working-Class New York author Joshua Freeman edited this volume of essays that promises to be “the definitive account of the four-hundred-year history of efforts by New York workers to improve their lives and their communities.”  The book recounts how in many different circumstances, workers developed formal and informal organizations that not only advanced their own immediate interests, but also pursued “a vision of what the city should be like and whom it should be for.”  According to the publisher, “The book goes beyond the largely white, male wage workers in mainstream labor organizations who have dominated the history of labor movements to look at enslaved people, indentured servants, domestic workers, sex workers, day laborers, and others who have had to fight not only their masters and employers but also labor groups that often excluded them.”


Variations of Labor (Chin Music Press), Alex Gallo-Brown

Alex Gallo-Brown explores through poetry, essays, and fiction what it means to labor in modern-day America. Stories about semiprofessional poker players, line cooks in high-tech company cafeterias, and an activist trying to drum up support for a union paint a bleak picture of dead-end jobs and truncated hopes, but also depict the roiling just underneath the surface of all those who have been disrespected and written off.

Monument: Poems New and Selected (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Natasha Trethewey

The publisher writes: “Layering joy and urgent defiance—against physical and cultural erasure, against white supremacy whether intangible or graven in stone—Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and witness to unsung icons. Monument, Trethewey’s first retrospective, draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina. Through the collection, inlaid and inextricable, winds the poet’s own family history of trauma and loss, resilience and love.”


Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (U. of Illinois Press), Peter Cole

Dockworkers have an unusual power to bring economies to a halt by withdrawing their labor.  Because they are at a strategic choke point in the supply chain on which we all depend, dockworkers can strike both to improve their own conditions and to gain attention for larger issues of social and economic justice.  Dockworker Power explores how that power has been used in Durban, South Africa, and the San Francisco Bay Area.  According to the publisher: “First, dockworkers in each city drew on longstanding radical traditions to promote racial equality. Second, they persevered when a new technology–container ships–sent a shockwave of layoffs through the industry. Finally, their commitment to black internationalism and leftist politics sparked transnational work stoppages to protest apartheid and authoritarianism.”  One reviewer calls it “a sweeping, panoramic narrative” that shows how “workers maintain power, even in our increasingly connected globalized world.”



The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland (Haymarket Books), Toni Gilpin

This book is about the class war between International Harvester and its workers, which stretched from the late 19th to the late 20th century.  The heart of the story is about how the McCormick family in Chicago, who long owned Harvester and ran it in an especially autocratic way, was eventually tamed in the 1930s when the workers organized the Farm Equipment Workers Union (“the FE”).  Both Harvester (now Navistar) and the FE (now part of the United Auto Workers union) are gone now, but in their time their battles affected many others.  The publisher promises: “This evocative account . . . reads like a novel. Biographical sketches of McCormick family members, union officials and rank-and-file workers are woven into the narrative, along with anarchists, jazz musicians, Wall Street financiers, civil rights crusaders, and mob lawyers. [It] provides alternative models from the past that can instruct and inspire those engaged in radical, working class struggles today.”


Where the Crawdads Sing (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens. Through Kya’s story, Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.


Remembering Lattimer: Labor, Migration, and Race in Pennsylvania Anthracite Country (U. of Illinois Press), Paul Shackel 

In 1897 in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, police shot into a crowd of 400 striking coal miners, killing 19 and wounding another 38.  This book gives a fresh retelling of that event and how it spurred membership in the United Mine Workers.  But it is primarily interested in how the Lattimer massacre has been remembered – and forgotten – up until today.  The publisher explains: “Now in positions of power, the descendants of the slain miners have themselves become rabidly anti-labor and anti-immigrant as Dominicans and other Latinos change the community. Shackel shows how the social, economic, and political circumstances surrounding historic Lattimer connect in profound ways to the riven communities of today.”


The New Politics of Transnational Labor: Why Some Alliances Succeed (ILR Press), Marissa Brookes

Based on six comparative case studies spanning four industries, five countries, and fifteen years, this book tries to determine why some transnational labor alliances succeed while others don’t.  In doing so Marissa Brookes finds that successful alliances depend “not only on effective coordination across borders and within workers’ local organizations,” which are necessary but not sufficient conditions for success.  Rather, she shows how success is determined by workers’ “ability to exploit vulnerabilities in global value chains, invoke national and international institutions, and mobilize networks of stakeholders in ways that threaten employers’ core, material interests.”


Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns (Chatto & Windus), Kerry Hudson

The publisher writes: “’When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’ Kerry Hudson is proudly working class but she was never proudly poor. The poverty she grew up in was all-encompassing, grinding and often dehumanizing. Always on the move with her single mother, Kerry attended nine primary schools and five secondaries, living in B&Bs and council flats. She scores eight out of ten on the Adverse Childhood Experiences measure of childhood trauma. Twenty years later, Kerry’s life is unrecognizable. She’s a prizewinning novelist who has travelled the world. She has a secure home, a loving partner and access to art, music, film and books. But she often finds herself looking over her shoulder, caught somehow between two worlds. Lowborn is Kerry’s exploration of where she came from, revisiting the towns she grew up in to try to discover what being poor really means in Britain today and whether anything has changed. She also journeys into the hardest regions of her own childhood, because sometimes in order to move forwards we first have to look back.”


When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921 (Haymarket Books), Robert Ovetz

This book covers a period of extraordinary class conflict and violence from the rolling national railroad strike of 1877 through the series of massive strikes at the end of World War I.  Robert Ovetz uses his narrative to argue that “the escalation of working-class conflict drives rather than reacts to capital’s consolidation and reorganization.”  Immanuel Ness calls the book “a revelatory and illuminating account of the uses of political violence by workers in American history.”